Raleigh, N.C. — Thom Tillis' U.S. Senate campaign said Thursday that the state House speaker did not intend to mislead voters when biographies on several websites listed the wrong University of Maryland division as his alma mater.
Tillis earned a B.S. in technology management in 1997 from the University of Maryland University College, which describes itself as a "member of the University System of Maryland, UMUC is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, providing credibility and recognition in the job market." The college provides distance learning for those already in the workforce.
In his latest campaign ad, Tillis talks about going to work before earning his degree.
But the Talking Points Memo website reported Thursday that "Tillis' LinkedIn page listed the University of Maryland at College Park as where he got a Bachelor of Science Degree in Technology Management, Technology & Project Management. Similarly on Tillis's biography page on his House Speaker website, Tillis listed the University of Maryland as his alma matter and links to College Park's website."
The University of Maryland at College Park is the University of Maryland's flagship university campus.
Those references have since been corrected online, although TPM provided screen grabs of the original listings.
Democrats distributing the story seized on the headline that Tillis, the front-runner for the Republican nomination to challenge incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, had "inflated" his academic credentials. Other leaders in the eight-member field are Rev. Mark Harris of Charlotte and Dr. Greg Brannon of Cary.
"I think it speaks for itself," said Ben Ray, a spokesman for the North Carolina Democratic Party. "The only thing I would say about it is Tillis and Brannon have been fighting all week about who is the least electable, and as this primary season drags on, we're finding out they're both right."
Tillis spokesman Jordan Shaw described the TPM story as a "partisan hit piece" and said it over-played a mistake that many people make.
"People get the two mixed up all the time," Shaw said. "The people who did the postings on those sites didn't know the difference."
He noted that the websites in question were put together by people other than Tillis.
As for the inference that Tillis was misleading voters, Shaw said, "Speaker Tillis has never misled anyone about his college degrees or his college education ... We talk very openly about the fact he worked to get his degree as an adult."
In the case of the House Speaker website, Shaw said, that was done by a vendor, not directly by Tillis' state House staff or his Senate campaign.
"Democrats online are saying that Thom is inflating his college credentials. If that's their argument, are they saying that people like Thom Tillis, who work as an adult, who get their degrees as an adult, are somehow inferior to those who got to university?" Shaw asked.