Sunday, October 26th, 2014

GOP candidates battle for Senate nod in North Carolina

North Carolina GOP senatorial candidates Greg Brannon, left, and Thom Tillis shake hands as Mark Harris and Heather Grant, right, look on at a debate on April 28, 2014.
North Carolina GOP senatorial candidates Greg Brannon, left, and Thom Tillis shake hands as Mark Harris and Heather Grant, right, look on at a debate on April 28, 2014.

One of the hottest Senate campaigns in the country goes to the voters for the first time Tuesday, as North Carolina Republicans choose a challenger to Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan.

The primary is a four-way fight between Thom Tillis, the state House speaker, and three others -- Greg Brannon, Mark Harris and Heather Grant. A key question is whether Tillis can reach the 40 percent threshold to avoid a runoff. While Tillis is considered the frontrunner and an establishment favorite, he would face a stiff challenge if any of the other three could galvanize tea party support in a runoff.

The incumbent, Hagan, is finishing her first term and is considered a crucial part of the Democrats’ line of defense for keeping control of the Senate. She’s seeking re-election in a state that has been competitive between the parties in recent history, but which shifted toward the Republicans in state legislative and gubernatorial races in 2012. Over the past two years, enactment of an aggressively conservative agenda by state Republicans has elevated the already high stakes.

We’ve done four fact checks on the race, two of which were by outside groups. Outside groups have taken a big role in the contest -- they have spent more than $7 million so far, more than in any other race in the 2014 cycle that hasn’t already been decided, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The next highest total for outside spending is the contest in Arkansas between Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor and GOP Rep. Tom Cotton.

• One ad, by the pro-Democratic group Patriot Majority USA, said Tillis would let insurance companies "deny coverage for pre-existing conditions."

Tillis’ staff told us he is open to replacing President Barack Obama’s health care law, rather than just repealing it, but he hasn’t endorsed the main Republican replacement proposal yet. More importantly, we found no examples in which Tillis publicly advocated replacing Obamacare with something else.

Given this, we found it hard to blame Patriot Majority USA for drawing the conclusion that Tillis would repeal Obamacare and not replace it. We rated the claim Mostly True.

• Patriot Majority USA also charged that Tillis "supports a plan that would end Medicare as we know it."

We found that Tillis has acknowledged supporting aspects of the budget plans proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., but he hasn’t specifically said whether or not he supports provision in Ryan’s original budget that would have made significant and mandatory changes to the program. (Subsequent versions of Ryan’s plan have made such changes optional to beneficiaries.)

We noted that Tillis could clear this up by more forthrightly stating his views on the matter. Still, we found that ad exaggerated by assigning a specific position to Tillis that he hasn't actually taken. We rated this claim Mostly False.

• The Senate Majority PAC, another pro-Democratic group, criticized Tillis for his handling of two disgraced staffers in 2012. Tillis responded to the PAC's ad by calling it "false" and claimed he "fired" the two staffers in question.

But we looked at the news coverage at the time and found that it painted a different picture -- Tillis accepted their resignations, rather than firing them. This generally supported the Democratic ad’s description, so we rated Tillis’ claim Mostly False.

• Finally, Hagan, hit hard by attacks over her vote for Obamacare, aired a radio ad that said Tillis actually said he liked the health care law.

We concluded that that was a severely edited quote. What Tillis actually said was that Obamacare is "a great idea that can’t be paid for." Pulling out that tiny sound bite gave a highly misleading view of what Tillis said in the interview. We rated the claim Mostly False.