GOLDSBORO, N.C. (AP) — The U.S. Senate needs Thom Tillis because of leadership skills he exhibited as North Carolina House speaker, John McCain said Thursday while later criticizing colleague Kay Hagan for missing key Armed Service Committee meetings as national security issues grew.
Tillis and the Arizona senator and 2008 Republican presidential nominee traveled through eastern North Carolina a week before in-person early voting begins in the close and expensive race between Tillis and Hagan.
McCain campaigned for a second southern GOP senator in as many days as Republicans look to win at least six seats to retake the majority in the Senate during the last two years of Barack Obama's presidency. Republicans have criticized Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for refusing to take up all sorts of legislation.
"If we get the majority and Thom — with his experience as speaker and getting things done in the legislature here— we will take up bill after bill and take up a budget and we will debate them, and yes, we may have to take some tough votes," McCain said in Goldsboro.
Hagan has blasted Tillis repeatedly for GOP policies in the Statehouse that harmed public education and women's health. But Tillis has proudly boasted of his accomplishments he says helped lower unemployment and gave teachers their biggest pay raise in years.
Meeting first with veterans and their supporters near Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, McCain and Tillis both criticized Obama for acting too slowly to counter the emerging Islamic State threat.
Tillis has made Hagan's absences at Armed Services Committee meetings this year a campaign issue, especially one in February she missed because it has been delayed just hours before a scheduled New York campaign fundraiser.
Speaking briefly with reporters afterward, McCain said her committee absences are "regrettable."
"We hold hearings so that we can be better informed and when she doesn't show up, obviously, it indicates that she's not well-informed," McCain said at the Wayne County Veterans Services Office, adding "these are very, very serious times, and Sen. Hagan wasn't there."
Hagan campaign spokesman Chris Hayden said Hagan has a 98 percent voting attendance record on the committee and has led more than 20 hearings on panel's emerging threats subcommittee.
"Most importantly, she has been clear and decisive in taking action against ISIS while Speaker Tillis refuses to offer specifics," Hayden said in a release, referring to another name for the Islamic State. Tillis has said all options should be on the table to eliminate and eradicate the military group but hasn't said whether he'd support more ground troops in Iraq.
"Nobody wants boots on the ground, but whether we do that or not, it isn't something that you're telegraphing, because every time you do, you're giving your enemy the information they need to set their timeline and to develop their strategy," Tillis said.
McCain suggested that troops may be needed, arguing President George W. Bush's decision to increase U.S. forces in 2007 help stabilize Iraq, and that leaving behind residual forces could have prevented the rise of the Islamic State.
McCain, who was in Georgia on Wednesday campaigning for GOP Senate nominee David Perdue, planned to attend campaign events with Tillis later Thursday in Kinston and Jacksonville, home of Camp Lejeune. In Goldsboro, the pair also discussed Veterans Affairs medical issues.