- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 1, 2014

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul campaigned Wednesday for North Carolina state House speaker Thom Tillis, even though Paul had endorsed a tea party favorite whom Tillis defeated in the spring’s rough-and-tumble Republican U.S. Senate primary.

Paul and Tillis worked the crowd of supporters at a downtown Raleigh restaurant and participated in a private fundraiser for Tillis before Paul wrapped up a two-day swing through the Carolinas by appearing with U.S. Rep. Walter Jones.

The visit by Paul, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, marks the third by a presidential hopeful in the past two weeks for Tillis. Earlier, Tillis got help raising money from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

Paul’s involvement is different because he endorsed Cary obstetrician Greg Brannon in the May primary. Brannon was considered a Paul protege who called Tillis too moderate and “unelectable” in November. Brannon finished second with 27 percent of the vote. Paul lent his name to Brannon’s fundraising appeals and campaigned publicly for Brannon only once, on the primary’s eve.

Paul’s appearance could mollify Brannon supporters, swinging them to Tillis instead of supporting Libertarian Party candidate Sean Haugh of Durham and possibly helping Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan win re-election. Paul is known for his libertarian positions on civil liberties and foreign policy.

“There are many libertarian ideas that are Republican ideas. Lower taxes, the constitution, limited government, balanced budgets, personal liberties,” Paul told reporters at Big Ed’s City Market Restaurant, adding “I think Thom represent those ideas.”

Tillis said last week that Paul called him on the primary election night and asked how he could help.

“I welcome any member of the Senate caucus to come here,” Tillis said Wednesday, calling Paul an independent thinker. “I’m proud to have him in North Carolina,” he added.

Conservatives for Guilford County endorsed Brannon in the primary, and backing Tillis in the general election isn’t a done deal. The group plans to look at all the candidates challenging Hagan, including write-ins, before deciding, group founder Jodi Riddleberger said.

“We’re really going into these endorsements with an open mind,” Riddleberger said Wednesday in a phone interview, saying what members are clearly united on is defeating Hagan.

Paul and Tillis were focused Wednesday on their goal of winning the seat and securing a GOP majority in the U.S. Senate.

In a short address to supporters both men criticized Hagan, particularly on President Obama’s heath care overhaul. Hagan voted for it in 2010 and she often said, like Obama, that people could keep their existing doctors and health plans under the law.

Hagan has said she backed legislation to fix the problem that led to widespread cancelled policies and wants more improvements. She said Tillis wants to repeal the law, eliminating protections for women and people with pre-existing conditions.

A dozen boisterous protesters demonstrated outside the restaurant, saying Tillis’ aim to repeal the national health care law also threatens free birth control, and that his call for expanding over-the-counter access to oral contraception would actually increase costs for women.

“We’re holding him accountable and (letting) him know that women are watching,” said Sarah Eldred with Planned Parenthood Votes.

Paul visited South Carolina on Tuesday, emphasizing that it is home to the first-in-the-South presidential primary. North Carolina legislators also have moved up the state’s 2016 presidential primary by at least two months to gain more influence in the selection.


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