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One-on-one: Sen. Thom Tillis fights to keep seat amid global pandemic and congressional pressure

U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis touts his coronavirus reopening plan, tax record and congressional experience in a bid to beat his Democratic challenger in a contentious race.

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Congressional recess doesn't mean rest for U.S. Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC). 

The Republican incumbent is running in one of the most highly-competitive U.S. Senate races while negotiating the Congressional response to a global pandemic. WFMY News 2's Meghann Mollerus talked one-on-one with him via Zoom, where he called to reconvene the Senate ASAP and get a deal done with Democrats.

Watch: Tillis, Cunningham Talk COVID-19 Relief, Unemployment Benefits

"I support the measure that we're trying to put into place, which has more targeted stimulus. It has an extension for unemployment until the end of December. It has additional resources for the Paycheck Protection Program, which has saved hundreds of thousands of jobs in NC," he said.

From DC to the Triad, Tillis has visited some of those businesses and heard outcry from others still closed under NC's extended Phase 2 of reopening.

Credit: Tillis Campaign
Incumbent Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) discussed the Paycheck Protection Program at a round-table discussion at Illuminating Technologies in Greensboro on Aug. 25.

"I've not criticized the governor or any of the leaders, because it is a very fluid situation. But, I believe now we have to look at how we pick some businesses to open and other businesses not to open and instead look at a standard," Tillis said.

He explained, for example, "The businesses, if they follow it (the standard) -- and if they don't could be subject to fines and lawsuits -- then you should give them the opportunity to open their business safely, and I think the governor should look at that as he re-examines moving out of Phase 2."

Tillis also emphasized the value of schools and daycare facilities opening for in-person learning.

Watch: Tillis, Cunningham Debate Schools, Remote Learning

"Look, we've got to figure out a way to get daycare facilities and schools open safely. It won't look like it did at the start of the school year last year. And a part of what we have to do there, particularly with the college population, is get the students to comply with the COVID task force and the governor's standard with social distancing," he urged.

Watch: Tillis, Cunningham Agree on NC COVID-19 precautions, differ on how to ease restrictions

That standard is one Tillis said he takes seriously, as his daughter is a nurse working with pediatric COVID patients. His lengthy COVID-response proposal touts mask use and CDC guidelines. He said he knows safety concerns are the reason many voters will cast ballots from home this year. 

Watch: Tillis, Cunningham Talk Mail-In Ballot Concerns, President's Claims

"If you think about COVID and how we may have to adjust social distancing, any number of things (can happen) between now and November 3. You can get your ballot mailed to you on Sept. 4. I know a lot about the absentee ballot system...I've voted absentee before, and I encourage everyone to do it this time," he said.

RELATED: 'Failing to follow USPS recommendations will increase the risk your ballot will not be delivered in time to be counted': USPS

But, mail-in voting is a bone of contention for Tillis's opponent. Lt. Colonel Cal Cunningham. He criticized Tillis's ties to Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, past republican Senate donor now embroiled in a Congressional inquiry of postal service cuts.

RELATED: Heated Hearing: Postmaster General DeJoy says he won't return mail-sorting machines

Tillis cited DeJoy's testimony and said, "A lot of what you're talking about, in terms of mailboxes and other equipment, were plans that preceded his term as the Postmaster General. But, I think he made a wise decision (in) saying I'm going to remove any appearance of a threat by saying no more changes until after the election."

And, with the countdown to his own election, Tillis is counting on experience.

"When we were in the middle of a fiscal crisis, we had over 10% in unemployment in this state, and we reduced regulations, and we cut taxes," he emphasized.

But, five August polls show Tillis trailing Cunningham in the race by three to five points. Nonetheless, Tillis said he isn't phased.

"I feel very confident."

It's a confidence Tillis hopes sways voters to give him a second term in the Senate.

Mollerus also talked one-on-one with Cunningham. She pressed both candidates to go on the record about each other's fiery attack ad claims. Catch the full interviews with Tillis and Cunningham on the WFMY YouTube channel:

RELATED: One-on-one: Cal Cunningham battles to overtake US Senate seat, flip majority in contentious race

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