RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The eventual Republican presidential nominee will have the opportunity to successfully convince voters in swing states that he or she is a better choice than Democratic front runner Hillary Clinton, North Carolina's junior senator said Friday.
U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, starting his second year in the Senate, said the GOP candidate needs to win the electoral votes in those states to be victorious in November, agreeing with recent comments by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
The Republican-led Senate also has a lot riding on 2016. Some fear a nominee — perhaps the mercurial Donald Trump or tea party favorite Sen. Ted Cruz — could hurt moderate Senate GOP incumbents seeking re-election and end quickly its new majority.
In an interview with The Associated Press in his home state, Tillis said the nominee will have the opportunity in the general election to show "they're going to be considerate" and "collaborative" and work with Congress in formulating national policy.
Tillis said people in primaries may be tempted to "take the bait" and say that things that appeal to the GOP base, only to have it hurt them when appealing to independent and conservative Democratic voters.
"There is time for any one of the nominees to be able to speak to the American people and convince them that they're a better alternative than continuing (President Barack) Obama's policy under Secretary Clinton," Tillis said.
When asked if he had a GOP endorsement, Tillis replied coyly: "the nominee."
But Tillis said the influence of the GOP nominee on down-ballot races in the tight Senate races will depend on where they sit on the range of policies. Still, he said, incumbents like Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Rob Portman of Ohio, Mark Kirk of Illinois and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania "do a good job of reflecting the interests of their citizens."
Tillis is a former IBM consultant and North Carolina House speaker who narrowly defeated incumbent Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan in 2014 in a race where overall campaign expenditures exceeded $100 million.
Tillis said he wasn't surprised that Obama on Friday vetoed legislation that would have repealed the president's health care law. There won't be enough votes for a veto override, but Tillis said it was important for him and others to follow through on a campaign promise for getting repeal legislation to his desk.
Tillis anticipates a Republican president in 2017 would back a repeal combined with replacement legislation. He said that would address spiraling medical costs while keeping good ideas in the current law, like covering pre-existing conditions.
But he said significant changes also could come to the law with a Democrat in the White House, especially if "we have a president that's not so fixated on this being a part of his or her legacy" and the law's popularity continues to wane.
"I believe a president who's listening to the American people will work with Congress to change things," he said.