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Tillis Backs McConnell as Leader If GOP Takes Senate

Tillis Backs McConnell as Leader If GOP Takes Senate

By Adam O'Neal - October 13, 2014

U.S. Senate candidate Thom Tillis suggested Monday that he would back Sen. Mitch McConnell for majority leader should Republicans win control of the upper chamber next month. Tillis had previously declined to answer when asked whom he would support for that post. 

“Mitch McConnell is a great leader,” he said Monday. “If he’s put forth by the caucus, I will absolutely vote for him. I expect that he will be.” Tillis’ remarks about the veteran Kentucky senator came during RCP’s latest “On the Trail Event,” this one held at the Mint Museum Uptown in Charlotte and moderated by Executive Editor Tom Bevan. 

In response to the same question last month, Tillis told Buzzfeed News, “I think there are a number of people in Republican caucus who would be great leaders and it would be great for them to be in that position.” 

The North Carolina House speaker, while praising McConnell, also delivered characteristically tough words the current majority leader, Nevada Democrat Harry Reid: “What we need is a leader who will actually do something. People need to recognize that Harry Reid . . . has seen about 350 bills come from the House. Sen. Reid has stuck them in his desk.”

Tillis also predicted that McConnell would reverse some of the major procedural changes implemented by Reid: McConnell, “if he’s elected majority leader, will end up going back to regular order. He’ll get rid of the ‘nuclear option’ [allowing Senate rule changes by majority vote]. We’ll start hearing amendments. We’ll start sending bills to the president.” 

Tillis is locked in a tight battle with Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan in one of the nine too-close-to-call campaigns that will determine control of the Senate. The RCP polling average shows the incumbent leading Tillis by two percentage points. McConnell, meanwhile, is a tough fight of his own: He leads his Kentucky challenger, Alison Lundergan Grimes, by three percentage points. Both races are rated tossups. 

Most of the questions for Tillis at Monday’s event dealt with energy policy, the subject of the forum. The Republican challenger was also asked his view on climate change. “Climate changes,” he responded. “It’s been changing for as long as the earth has existed. The debate needs to be a non-hysterical debate about the causes of it, and the extent to which man-made sources can be mitigated.” 

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory also fielded questions Monday. In one answer, he explained why he thinks America’s energy debate has become so acrimonious: “I don’t know if the issue is partisan. It’s just political, and I think people are misinforming the public.

“We’re communicating through screaming and yelling and protest signs and 30-second commercial ads, on both sides, instead of having logical, intellectual discussions on the complexities of energy.”

A panel about the future of energy policy followed, featuring state Rep. Ruth Samuelson; Marshall Cohen of Babcock and Wilcox; Charlotte Chamber of Commerce official Jeff Merrifield; and Ivan Urlaub, executive director of the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association.

After discussing the growth of myriad energy sources -- from solar to hydraulic fracturing -- Bevan posed a simple question: Will the U.S. finally attain energy independence? 

While noting that energy independence “means something different to everybody,” Cohen argued that the fracking boom in the United States “has moved us closer to the notion of energy independence.” He doesn’t expect that America will stop its involvement in Middle Eastern geopolitics, however. 

Samuelson -- a Republican known for her embrace of conservation policies -- later asserted that business-minded Republicans should embrace conservation as a sound business policy. “Conservatives,” she said, “should be conservators.”

Adam O'Neal is a political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at aoneal@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @RealClearAdam.

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