North Carolina US Senate race tight, but not equal

Tuesday, September 23, 2014
NC US Senate race tight, but not equal
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It's hard to turn on the TV for long these days without seeing an ad for Sen. Kay Hagan, or her challenger, House Speaker Thom Tillis.

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- Six more weeks is how much longer you'll have to (or get to, if you're into this sort of thing) watch political ads trying to win your vote.

Here in North Carolina, there's one race to watch - the race for U.S. Senate. Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan is defending her seat from challenger and N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis.

"I'll keep taking the punches," Hagan says in her most recent television ad. And it has been a slugfest as Tillis has hammered Hagan on her voting record (he often repeats the claim that she has voted with President Obama 96-percent of the time) and Hagan has fired back focusing on Tillis' leadership of an unpopular state legislature.

"This is a question of whether you see this as a referendum on the president or whether you believe this is a referendum on what's going in Raleigh," said N.C. State Political Science Professor Dr. Andy Taylor.

Political observers on both sides of the aisle agree.

To get their message out, many predict this will become the most expensive Senate race in history, perhaps reaching $100 million.

"We're going to continue to see a tremendous amount of money poured into the state," Taylor said.

So far, Hagan has far outpaced Tillis. In their first quarter reports, Hagan had, on hand, $8.6 million cash; Tillis had $1.5 million.

Hagan is reportedly also beating Tillis in outside money. The Center for Responsive Politics put the total amount of outside money already spent in North Carolina at $22 million, with much of the money going to the Senate race; $13 million going to pro-Democratic candidates, $8 million going to pro-Republican candidates.

Some see this race as a bellwether for how under-siege Democrats will fare around the country. That's because of its (relatively) early poll closing time - 7:30 p.m. ET - and because Hagan appears to be faring better than other "Red State" Democrats.

The two candidates have begun pulling in political star-power to help sell their message. Last week, Tillis campaigned in Wilmington with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and in Fayetteville with South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley. Wednesday, he's slated to appear with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Also next week, Hagan will share a campaign stage with President Bill Clinton.

As Taylor describes it, turning out the base is a classic mid-term election strategy.

"They're really designed more as a revving up of a turnout machine and motivating core voters rather than winning over unaffiliated and moderate voters," said Taylor.

Mid-term elections are all about turnout, and that makes the campaigns' ground games critical. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has reportedly put almost 10,000 volunteers in North Carolina and state Republicans boast reaching out to "hundreds of thousands" of voters already.

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