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Tillis declares narrow victory, dispelling predictions of N.C. flipping U.S. Senate

When asked about a new COVID-19 stimulus bill, Senator Thom Tillis explains there is "no question Congress will pass another coronavirus relief bill after the election" on Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020.
Buy Photos When asked about a new COVID-19 stimulus bill, Senator Thom Tillis explains there is "no question Congress will pass another coronavirus relief bill after the election" on Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020.

This article has been updated to reflect the N.C. State Board of Elections dashboard

On Tuesday, Nov. 10, Cal Cunningham called Sen. Thom Tillis to offer his concession in U.S. Senate race in North Carolina. With 100 percent of precincts reporting in North Carolina, Tillis defeated Cunningham by more than 95,000 votes.

"This was a hard-fought campaign and I wish nothing but the best to Cal and his family going forward," Tillis said in a statement. “I am incredibly humbled by the chance to serve the people of North Carolina in the United States Senate for six more years and I pledge to continue keeping my promises and delivering results. 

Election results in North Carolina will be finalized on Nov. 12, according to the Board of Elections.

Republican incumbent Sen. Thom Tillis declared victory in the U.S. Senate in North Carolina over Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham Tuesday. 

In a narrow race that has yet to be called, Tillis received 48.73 percent of the vote, giving him a slim 1.78 percent margin over Cunningham, according to unofficial results. 

At an election watch party in Mooresville, Tillis celebrated his victory alongside family, campaign staffers and other supporters. 

“I’m here to tell you tonight, with six more years in the U.S. Senate, I will work tirelessly to make sure that we continue to provide opportunities and continue to fulfill promises and continue to make this nation and this state as great as it can possibly be,” Tillis said in a victory speech Tuesday night. 

The final month of the Senate race, scandals rocked both campaigns. On Oct. 2, Tillis contracted COVID-19 after attending a White House Rose Garden ceremony for then-Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett. That same day, news broke of intimate, romantic text messages between a public relations strategist from California and Cunningham, who is married. 

According to FiveThirtyEight, Tillis trailed Cunningham in polls for most of 2020 but clinched the victory despite his opponent’s advantage. Tillis was elected to the Senate in 2014, when he ousted incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan. Throughout his term, Tillis has heavily sponsored bills in areas like finance, armed forces and national security. 

Michael Bitzer, a professor of politics and history at Catawba College, cited the U.S. Senate race in North Carolina as one that could determine which party controls the Senate in 2021. With Tillis’ victory, it is unlikely — though not impossible — that Democrats will regain control of the legislative body. He said states like Georgia, Montana and Iowa are also key to determining the partisan control of the Senate. 

As a conservative and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Tillis pushed for the nomination of Coney Barrett just weeks before the election, despite his opposition to considering former President Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, months before the 2016 election. 

Bitzer said Tillis’ reelection could foreshadow the re-election of President Donald Trump, or at least his winning of North Carolina’s 15 electoral votes. 

“If President Trump wins reelection, and Tillis is returned to the Senate, I think you will see even greater partisan loyalty and adherence to the president,” he said. 

Trump endorsed Tillis in the North Carolina Senate race. 

Tillis will return to Washington, D.C., alongside U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., North Carolina’s other conservative senator who is currently serving his third term. After his victory, he expressed his gratitude for his supporters in North Carolina.  

“I did have a heavy burden on me thinking that NC could be the majority maker for the U.S. Senate,” Tillis said in his speech. “I told people across the state that they needed to carry the same burden. And in the election today they proved to me that they were willing to carry that burden all the way to victory tonight.” 


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