Republican Sen. Thom Tillis’s first ad of the general election struck familiar tones for a politician aiming to reintroduce himself to the electorate. The ad, which depicts a young family moving into a mobile home, is meant to play up Tillis’s working-class roots as unemployment skyrockets due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Rental houses in Louisiana, trailer parks in Florida and Tennessee. We moved seven times before I was 16, living paycheck to paycheck,” Tillis says in the 30-second ad, which ran for most of June. “We will build this economy back, and I’ll remember who needs it the most.”
In the ad, titled “Humble,” Tillis says he grew up with “strong parents and humble people in humble places.”
But a new digital ad from Cal Cunningham, the former military prosecutor and state senator who won the Democratic nomination to challenge Tillis, notes the Republican, when he was serving as speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives in 2013, voted to hike taxes on mobile home buyers like the ones he grew up with.
That year, as part of a tax reform law that cut corporate and income taxes that passed mostly along party lines, Tillis voted to scrap a $600 cap on the sales tax a mobile home buyer would need to pay, and to double the sales tax rate on mobile homes from 2% to 4.75%.
At the time, mobile home sellers in North Carolina said that a typical four-bedroom, double-wide home would cost about $80,000. Before the Tillis-supported law, a buyer would pay $600 in taxes. After the law went into effect, they would pay $3,800. At the time, mobile home dealers told local media outlets, the law would hurt their mostly low-income customers.
“When Thom Tillis got elected, he hiked taxes on mobile homes and gave billions in tax breaks to his corporate donors,” a male narrator says in Cunningham’s ad. “So when he says he’s one of us, remember Tillis works for them now.”
Later in 2014, Tillis also supported a law to exempt 50% of a mobile home’s purchase price from sales taxes. But the net effect still caused taxes on most new mobile homes to increase.
In a statement, Tillis spokesman Andrew Romeo said the Republican would be happy to compare his record on taxes to Cunningham’s.
“Senator Tillis cut taxes both as Speaker and in the Senate, while Cal Cunningham voted to raise taxes when he was in the state Senate and would do so again in Washington,” Romeo said. “There’s only one candidate in this race that’s consistently fought for pro-jobs policies that put more money into the pockets of hardworking North Carolinians and that’s Senator Tillis.”
The issue isn’t academic in North Carolina. At the time of the law’s passage, census data indicated the state had nearly 600,000 mobile homes, which made up 13.5% of available housing, the fifth-highest percentage of any state in the country.
Public surveys indicate Cunningham and Tillis are in a tight race. Republicans hold a 53-47 edge in the Senate, and a win for Cunningham is considered a necessity if Democrats hope to overtake the upper chamber’s Republican majority.