It’s no secret that one of the more disappointing Republican challenger campaigns has been North Carolina state House Speaker Thom Tillis’ US Senate effort. With Sen. Kay Hagan (D) languishing in the low 40s for most of the present two-year cycle, voting liberally while representing a mostly conservative state, and hailing from a place that consistently defeats their incumbent senators (Hagan herself attained office by defeating Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R) in 2008, for example), it seemed like the Tar Heel State posed Republicans their best opportunity to defeat a Democratic incumbent. But the campaign hasn’t quite yet unfolded that way.
Tillis had been performing adequately until the legislature went into session back in May. He was generally either a point or two ahead of or behind the senator, understanding that both candidates were nowhere near 50 percent. A very contentious legislative session, largely surrounding a budget that reduced the rate of growth for education spending, put the speaker on the defensive and he has yet to fully turn the tables. For her part, Sen. Hagan has run the superior campaign and was beginning to pull away, edging much closer to the majority support plateau.
Last week, three polls were released that suggest the race is tightening again. The trio found Hagan holding a margin of no more than three points and in one case the two candidates were tied. The reported polling results are:
• Survey USA (Oct. 9-12; 554 NC likely voters): Hagan 44%, Tillis 41%
• High Point (NC) University (Sept. 30-Oct. 9, 584 LV): Hagan 40%, Tillis 40%
• Rasmussen Reports (Oct. 6-7, 970 LV): Hagan 48%, Tillis 46%
Survey USA and High Point tested Libertarian Sean Haugh, who recorded seven percent support in each result. Rasmussen Reports only asked about the two major party candidates. Haugh’s name will appear on the ballot.
With the campaign again tightening and trends apparently turning toward most GOP candidates, three conservative independent organizations have launched a bevy of anti-Hagan ads in what may be a last ditch effort to drag Tillis across the finish line ahead of the senator.
Two of the ads, from Freedom Partners and the National Rifle Association, are particularly tough. The Crossroads GPS ad (at top), featuring two men and two women flipping pictures of Hagan and President Obama, is weaker.
The Freedom Partners spot (above) opens a relatively new line of attack, accusing the senator’s husband of being the beneficiary of what they term “Obama’s failed stimulus program”. Chip Hagan’s JDC Manufacturing company received a stimulus grant and tax credits that totaled approximately $390,000. The senator responds that she has no role in her husband’s businesses, and that she consulted an ethics attorney for advice to ensure that no improper conflict of interest arose. Still, the Freedom Partners ad is compelling.
The NRA ad (above) hits even harder, attacking Hagan’s pro-gun control position. The spot closes with a tagline saying “we’ll defeat Kay Hagan because our freedom depends on it.”
We’re now down to the crucial period. The candidate catching the final wave in this race will win. It remains to be seen if these negative attacks, and others, provide Tillis the boost he needs to unseat yet another North Carolina senator.