Thom Tillis versus Cal Cunningham was just supposed to be another ordinary North Carolina US Senate race. But, though Cunningham faces his own last-minute scrutiny, he’s not the only one facing questions. Tillis’ recent positive COVID-19 test puts his decision-making in the spotlight, too.
In his Oct. 2 announcement, Tillis encouraged NC residents to wear masks and social distance.
On Oct. 2, Tillis announced on Twitter that he tested positive for COVID-19. At the time, Tillis indicated that he had “no symptoms and [felt] well.” Tillis’s announcement came amidst an outbreak of positive COVID-19 tests among Republican politicians. Because of an apparent unwillingness in the White House to participate in contact tracing, the outbreak’s origin remains unclear.
As Tillis emphasized at the time of his positive test, “COVID-19 is a very contagious and deadly virus, especially because many carriers are asymptomatic.” For this reason, Tillis “encourage[d] all North Carolinians to follow the recommendations of medical experts, including wearing a mask, washing hands, and practicing social distancing.”
Fortunately for Tillis, his positive COVID-19 test has been followed by good news. On Oct. 3, Tillis tweeted that, although he had “mild symptoms,” he had “no fever” and generally felt well. He reported doing even better the following day, tweeting that he was “feeling well” and that his “mild symptoms from yesterday have significantly improved….”
And by Oct. 5, just three days after announcing his positive test, Tillis reported feeling “great” and and symptom free. Tillis’ quick recovery is undoubtedly a good thing. But it hasn’t kept North Carolina voters from wondering how he contracted the virus in the first place.
Tillis’ positive COVID-19 test comes just weeks after criticism for failing to wear a mask and social distance.
Even before his positive test, coverage focused on Tillis’ failure to wear a mask and social distance at high-profile events. Back in August, Tillis faced scrutiny after removing his face covering before sitting shoulder to shoulder with more than 1,000 people at President Trump’s RNC acceptance speech.
Had he followed his own advice, some voters might ask, would he have still contracted the virus? And did he follow his advice about masks and distancing when he was contagious but before he testified positive? If he didn’t, did he put others at risk? If enough voters ask these questions, it’s possible that Tillis’ positive COVID-19 test might be viewed as a crucial political gaffe.
On the other hand, for Tillis, the positive COVID-19 test might be a political win instead. Just hours after his tweet that he was feeling great, Tillis tweeted that that he “[r]eceived a call from President @realDonaldTrump” and that he told him that he was “look[ing] forward to getting back to the Senate and confirming Judge Amy Coney Barrett.”
Over the past four years, it’s become apparent that Trump support is a must-have for success in the Republican party. And, with the president’s phone call with Tillis, the incumbent senator may have solidified precisely that.
For the past several weeks, Cunningham has maintained a clear lead over Tillis in polling. Will Tillis’ positive COVID-19 test put him further behind? Or will it further cement his connection with President Trump to close the gap? Right now, it’s hard to say. But, for both candidates, the next month or so will be filled with questions just like these.