- Associated Press - Monday, September 29, 2014

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — U.S. Senate candidate Thom Tillis began running a statewide TV ad on Monday designed to shift emphasis in his race against incumbent Kay Hagan to foreign policy by accusing her of being inattentive to the threat posed by Islamic State militants.

Tillis has been tripped up by Hagan and her fellow Democratic allies with several commercials blaming him for what they label public school spending cuts while state House speaker, and recent polls show the Republican slightly behind. Tillis‘ campaign has found an opening to change the subject following President Barack Obama’s announcement three weeks ago that he was expanding military airstrikes against the militant group.

As in the commercial, Tillis has blamed Hagan for enabling what he considers Obama’s lackadaisical response to emerging dangers in the Middle East. He has also cited her role as a Senate Armed Services Committee member.

“While ISIS grew, Obama kept waiting and Kay Hagan kept quiet,” the narrator says in the ad, referring to another name for the Islamic State. “The price for their failure is danger. To change direction, we have to change our senator.” The commercial features sharp drum beats and footage of what appear to be head-covered fighters armed with machine guns.

As Tillis did at campaign appearances over the past week with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and South Caroilna U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, his ad also accuses of missing too many hearings of the Armed Services Committee.

Hagan’s campaign has rejected Tillis‘ allegations, pointing to reports that give her one of the better attendance records on the committee. Her team also said she urged more support for moderate rebels in Syria in a subcommittee meeting early last year and raised concerns about the threat of “al-Qaida in Iraq,” a former name for the Islamic State group.

Hagan voted earlier this month to authorize the military to arm and train moderate Syrian rebels. It took a week after the vote before Tillis said he would have supported the bill, largely because it was incorporated into other legislation to keep the U.S. government operating.

Tillis hasn’t said whether he believes U.S. ground troops will have to be used because he didn’t have the classified information current senators have to evaluation the situation.

Hagan “has been decisive and clear about what action must be taken to destroy these terrorists,” Hagan campaign spokeswoman Sadie Weiner said in a statement responding to the ad and referring to Tillis‘ “spineless fence-sitting on this pressing national security threat.”

Andrew Taylor, a political science professor at North Carolina State University, said the ad remains in keeping with Tillis‘ larger campaign argument that Hagan, a first-term senator, has been ineffective and is too closely aligned with Obama.

While their advantage has eroded over the past several years due to the war in Iraq, Republicans generally are viewed more favorably on national security issues, Taylor added. Hagan, in turn, has hammered Tillis on the topic of public education, on which Democrats usually fare well.

Until recently, foreign policy “really hasn’t been an issue in the campaign up to this point,” Taylor said.

Tillis campaign spokesman Daniel Keylin said the commercial is running in all of North Carolina’s media markets but didn’t provide an exact cost of the ad buy, saying it was part of its broader fall campaign ad purchases. The campaign said last month it would spend $2.7 million on commercials in August and October.

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