In North Carolina, state Speaker of the House Thom Tillis is locked in a competitive Senate race with incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan. Part of his strategy has long been to play down his more divisive past statements and positions and to portray himself as a rather mild-mannered, centrist Republican. But a newly resurfaced interview from 2012, in which Tillis implicitly describes whites as being America's "traditional" population, may make that more difficult.
Tillis' comment came in response to a question about the GOP's troubles winning over black and Latino voters. Rather than chalk the difficulty up to the Republican Party's policy platform or its electoral strategies, Tillis tried to sidestep the issue and focus instead on "demographics."
"If you take a look, you mentioned the Hispanic population, the African-American population — there's a number of things that our party stands for that they embrace," Tillis responded. He went on to say that Republicans should continue to reach out to these voters. But as an explanation for why reaching out was important, Tillis didn't cite the philosophical demands of representative democracy or the virtues of pluralism or so on.
Instead, he argued that outreach would be necessary because, unlike growing Latino and African-American communities, the "traditional population of North Carolina and the United States is more or less stable."
Asked about the remark by Talking Points Memo, Tillis' campaign insisted his 2012 comments were not about race or ethnicity but rather geography and history. The word "traditional," according to Tillis campaign communications director Daniel Keylin, was meant to refer to "North Carolinians who have been here for a few generations."
Keylin went on to claim that Tillis was merely recognizing how much of "the state's recent population growth is from people who move from other states to live, work, and settle down in North Carolina." He cited the Florida-born Tillis himself as an example.
Via TPM, you can watch Tillis' 2012 comment below at around the 2:45 mark: