Wednesday morning, Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky was in Raleigh to support Republican state Speaker of the House, Thom Tillis, in his race for the U.S. Senate. Tillis is running against the incumbent, Democratic Senator Kay Hagan, and the race is close. Republicans hope that Paul’s appearance will give Tillis a boost.
Big Ed’s restaurant in Raleigh was packed with diners and Tillis supporters long before the two men slipped in through a side door to work an appreciative crowd.
"Hey everybody, Welcome to Big Ed’s and good morning! I’m Thom Tillis, I’m running for the U.S. Senate," Tillis addressed the crowd.
As reporters and cameramen gathered around him in the center of the restaurant, Tillis told them he was thrilled to have Senator Paul in town. He said Paul is someone who ultimately wants to take more power away from the federal government and give more freedom to individuals:
"This man is one of the lions in the Senate responsible for that. I’m proud to have him in North Carolina, I’m proud to have his support, ladies and gentlemen, let’s welcome Senator Rand Paul!"
Then, Paul, who was wearing a shirt and tie with jeans stepped forward in his scuffed cowboy boots.
"I’m happy to be in North Carolina today and to endorse my friend Thom Tillis for the U.S. Senate," said Paul. "As some of you know I spent seven years here, I did my medical training over in Durham at Duke University. And, as a physician, it bothers me that we have senators like Kay Hagan who frankly think that you’re not smart enough to choose your own doctor."
Paul was alluding to a frequent Republican talking point that claims Hagan broke a promise that people could keep their doctors under the Affordable Care Act. But fact checking organizations call that claim misleading. Paul’s appearance today in Raleigh was no accident. It’s part of an effort by the national Republican party to eke out support among Libertarians and Tea Party members- the very people who like Rand Paul.
"Almost anything -- tripping, walking on the stage could swing the election -- it’s so close," says John Aldrich, a professor of political science at Duke University. He calls Paul a kind of political rock star -- one who might run for president.
Aldrich says the national Republican party is hoping Paul’s visit will benefit Tillis:
"It will help him because there is a Libertarian party candidate, and if the Libertarian party perceives Rand Paul as not selling out but supporting them and therefore they can switch over to Tillis, that would be a big help to Tillis."
Right now polls show the Libertarian candidate, Sean Haugh, with support at about six percent. Since Tillis is only three or four points behind Hagan, any attempt to siphon away support from Haugh could help Tillis. Aldrich says Republicans would like to receive more support from Tea Party members too, but Tillis’s effort during the last legislative session to appear more moderate may not play well with those voters.
At Big Ed’s in Raleigh today, at least a few Rand Paul supporters were ready to throw their lot behind Tillis. That’s a shift from the primary, when Paul and Tea Party supporters endorsed Greg Brannon. Tracy Perrina, was wearing a Rand Paul T-shirt.
"I was a little taken aback because I didn’t know that he would support Thom Tillis and to be honest with you, I wasn’t gonna support him until Rand Paul. I was leaning toward the libertarian candidate," said Perrina.
Perrina says when she found out that Paul was endorsing Tillis, she immediately tweeted Tillis saying he had her vote. Perrina says her Libertarian friends live all over the state and it would be impossible to ferry them herself to the polls to vote on election day. But she says she plans to do her best to get the word out.