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When 'traditional' apparently means 'white'

Thom Tillis' Republican U.S. Senate campaign was already struggling with minority outreach. New revelations are likely to make matters worse.
GOP Senate candidate Thom Tillis
NC Speaker of The House and GOP Senate candidate Thom Tillis, R-NC, speaks with reporters after visiting phone bank volunteers at the Tillis for US Senate Campaign Headquarters in Cornelius, N.C., May 4, 2014, two days before North Carolina's primary election.
North Carolina State House Speaker Thom Tillis (R) fairly easily won his party's U.S. Senate nomination this year, after presenting himself as the most electable center-right candidate to take on Sen. Kay Hagan (D) in November.
He may have oversold his electoral qualities a bit.
We learned a month ago about remarks, first aired by msnbc's Chris Matthews, in which Tillis argued in 2011, "What we have to do is find a way to divide and conquer the people who are on assistance." The Republican lawmaker described a vision in which policymakers pit those in need against one another, in order to cut off benefits for those on the losing end of the fight.
This morning, TPM reports on another striking quote from Tillis' recent past.

State House Speaker Thom Tillis (R-NC), the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in North Carolina, said that the "traditional" voting bloc of his home state wasn't growing like minority populations in an interview he did in 2012.

In context, the host of the Carolina Business Review television program asked why the Republican Party was struggling with minority voters, most notably Hispanics. Tillis responded that he believes the GOP's message is "appealing to everybody." As for his party's demographic challenges, he added, "The traditional population of North Carolina and the United States is more or less stable. It's not growing. The African-American population is roughly growing but the Hispanic population and the other immigrant populations are growing in significant numbers."
It sounded an awful lot like Tillis sees the "traditional population" as the white population.
The Republican's campaign manager said this morning that Tillis was referring to "North Carolinians who have been here for a few generations" when he used the word "traditional."
That's one way of looking at it. But the words themselves are hard to ignore.
Tillis wasn't talking about migration or new populations that have recently arrived in North Carolina. Rather, he described three demographic groups by name: the African-American population, the Hispanic population, and the "traditional population."
NBC News' First Read added, "It appears North Carolina GOP Senate nominee Thom Tillis stepped into it," which seems more than fair under the circumstances.
Tillis was already likely to struggle with minority-voter outreach, especially given his support for some of the nation's harshest voting restrictions. It's safe to say his "traditional population" comment won't help.
The next question, of course, is whether remarks like these also alienate a broader voting base.  In 2006, for example, then-Sen. George Allen's (R-Va.) "macaca" comments were offensive not just to minority voters, but also to anyone concerned with racism. It's not hard to imagine Tillis running into a similar problem, alienating anyone uncomfortable with the notion of white people being some kind of "traditional" default.