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North Carolina - Democrats

17
In the state where President Obama had his closest win in 2008 and his closest loss in 2012, why wouldn’t the U.S. Senate race be tight as a tick?
 
Carter has posted a great series of blogs about the race (although he’s wrong on the education issue). My other favorite blogger, Thomas Mills, weighed in on the “State of the Race.” I’m up!
 
Without the benefit of a good poll (see my blog yesterday), I’m guessing. So I base my guess on watching what the campaigns are doing – and trying to decipher what they think is happening.
 
First Hagan. Her real feat is that she’s even in this race, let alone tied or just ahead. Given that it’s Obama’s second midterm election and given how low his job ratings are, she could be toast. But she and her team have run a great campaign, far better than Tillis’. They made Tillis and his legislative record the issue. Now, as they fend off the last-minute attacks that feed on fears about ISIS and Ebola, they are focused like a laser on women: yes, issues like defunding Planned Parenthood, but also education, health care, minimum wage and special interests vs. the middle class. They know that women will decide this election, especially women in the big counties. And they have a huge field operation that is also focused on those voters, as Thomas notes.
 
Tillis’ team looked for a long time like the gang that couldn’t shoot straight. Now they think they’ve found the target: national security. They believe voters will vote against Hagan because she missed a hearing on ISIS, and they either have evidence it works or have convinced themselves it works.
 
(Of course, if members of Congress going to congressional hearings kept us safe, we’d be safe from ISIS, Ebola and everything up to and including “Zoos: Wild Animal Attacks.” Congress has about a 16 percent approval rating. Do we care who in Congress goes to what hearings to pose, preen and pontificate?)
 
The question is whether new and insiderish information now, when voters are saturated in ads and conflicting claims, will cut through. And Hagan’s response is, in effect, that she went to ISIS hearings more often than she voted with Obama.
 
Which brings us to Obama. Now, I think he’s been a great President. He stopped an economic meltdown, started a recovery, reduced the deficit, gave millions more people health care and kept us from doing stupid things overseas – all in the face of Republican die-harders who would wreck the country just to oppose him. But he does it with so little passion he looks passive. He has made the challenge for Hagan and other Democrats immeasurably harder. Especially as we go through our media-induced Great National Ebola Freakout.
 
For all of you souls in the campaign war rooms, I feel your pain. I’ve been there through those long final days. Sometimes we knew we were winning, sometimes we knew we were losing and sometimes we didn’t know what the hell was happening.
 
But it will be over in 18 days. Then you can enjoy all us bloggers, commentators and Wednesday-morning quarterbacks picking you apart.
 
Salut!

 

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17
You have to give Kay Hagan credit: A year ago the Swing Voters were ready to roll down the track and vote her out of office – and for a year Hagan kept those voters out of Thom Tillis’ camp.
 
The one big change in the Senate race – Tillis’ rising unpopularity with Independents – was all Kay Hagan’s doing.
 
On the other hand, Hagan had problems of her own: She’d been sitting at 43% or 44% or 45% of the vote for months. She’d kept Tillis from moving up. But she hadn’t moved up either. She was just as stuck as Tillis. Only in a different way.
 
The other day I had a repairman in the office and he said, You’re in politics?
 
I said, I’m afraid I have to plead guilty to that.
 
And he said, You know, we’re in a mess. We’re headed for a war and we ain’t got a leader in sight.
 
He meant ISIS.
 
And, maybe, that’s what’s going to tip the scales in the Senate race – a threat no one even knew existed six months ago may provide the impetus that moves Independent voters to support either Hagan or Tillis.
 
Of course, there could be other wild cards too.
 
Ebola.
 
Obama’s popularity dropping.
 
Or either Hagan or Tillis stumbling.
 
Any one of those events could tip the scales.

 

 

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16
After Hagan’s first round of attacks calling Tillis a Tea Partier, a few Swing Voters decided to vote for Hagan, a few decided to vote for Tillis, but most stayed Undecided. Ambivalently Undecided. They didn’t want to vote for Obama-Hagan. But they didn’t want to vote for Tillis either.
 
The bad news for Tillis was Hagan, by driving up his ‘negatives,’ had put him in a corner. The good news was Tillis had time to get out.
 
But then, suddenly, Hagan changed directions.
 
A year ago when the Moral Monday demonstrators descended on Raleigh it was a little like a circus – but it was a circus that got lots of press. Mountains of press. And the protestors’ message was simple.
 
Republicans in the legislature, they said, were against education. And teachers. And women. And children. And the poor, sick and infirmed.
 
Over and over they said Republicans had cut spending on public schools.
 
Now, that wasn’t quite so.
 
The Democratic Superintendent of Public Instruction, June Atkinson, had proposed a budget that said legislators should increase spending on education hundreds of millions of dollars and, in fact, Republicans cut that proposed increase by $500 million.
 
But that wasn’t exactly a hard cut that meant the state would spend $500 million less on education than the year before.
 
In fact, since Republicans won a majority in the legislature in 2011 they’ve increased education spending a total of a billion dollars – or 14% – and even when you factor in the costs of increased enrollment and inflation spending on education has still increased 3%.
 
Republicans didn’t increase spending as much as Democrats like June Atkinson wanted – but there was no staggering $500 million cut.
 
The problem (for Tillis) was a year ago when the  Moral Monday demonstrators charged Republicans had cut spending, no chorus of Republican voices had answered, Wait a minute. That’s not so.  Instead, for a year, voters heard Democrats saying Republicans had cut education and when they didn’t hear a contrary word from Republicans they just, naturally, figured it must be so.
 
For Republican legislators in ‘safe seats’ that didn’t matter much but Thom Tillis wasn’t running in a safe seat – he was running statewide and as soon as Kay Hagan finished telling Swing Voters Tillis was a Koch-Brothers-Tea-Partier the next words out of her mouth were he’d cut education spending $500 million.
 
A month later Tillis was still stuck in a corner – Independents were still looking at Hagan-Obama and saying, I don’t want to vote for her. But they were also looking at Tillis and saying, I don’t want to vote for him either.
 
To be continued …

 

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16
When Thom Tillis started his campaign his prospects looked promising. Obama wasn’t just unpopular, his unpopularity was a plumb line cutting through the electorate – you were either for Obama or against him and Kay Hagan was on the wrong side of the line.
 
Tillis, himself, back then wasn’t too well known but he could count on the Republican base falling in line and with 70% of the Swing Voters disapproving of Obama it looked like they’d fall in line, too, and send him sailing to victory.
 
Then, even before Tillis won the Republican Primary, Kay Hagan (and her Super PAC allies) lit into Tillis calling him a Koch-Brothers-Tea-Partier and, then, instead of sailing to victory, the earth shifted beneath Tillis’ feet.
 
To be continued …
 

 

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15
When I saw Kay Hagan’s first ad saying Thom Tillis was supported by the Tea-Party-leaning-Koch-Brothers I thought, Now, that’s odd – after all, the Koch Brothers weren’t on the ballot and no one cared a hoot who they supported.
 
But I was dead wrong.
 
Because it wasn’t the Koch Brothers who mattered – it was the Tea Party. Hagan had figured out Swing Voters disliked the Tea Party almost as much as they disliked Obama – so she set out to make Thom Tillis a Tea Partier and ten million dollars later Swing Voters (who still didn’t like Obama) were looking at Tillis and saying, I don’t like him either.
 
To be continued …

 

 

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15
Some perspective on the breathless reports that the National Republican Senatorial Committee is pumping another $6.5 million into Thom Tillis’ campaign: What does that buy, and what does it get you with still-undecided voters?
 
On the buy, it gets you about half what it would get you if you had bought the time weeks or months ago. TV ads are based on the free enterprise system. When demand goes up, the cost goes up. So a spot that you could have bought before for, say, $500 now costs you $1,000.
 
Then the second question: Given the flood of ads, from the Senate race and other campaigns, is anything new getting through to voters now?
 
Hagan’s campaign bet on spending big early. Tillis and his allies are betting big on spending late. We’ll see who’s right.

 

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15
Months ago, back when she started her campaign, Kay Hagan faced a knotty problem: She was going to get the Democratic base vote; her opponent was going to get the Republican base vote; but the Swing Voters didn’t like President Obama and, so, were on track to vote Hagan out of office.
 
Now, theoretically, Hagan could have rolled up her sleeves and gone to work to make Obama popular but, as a practical matter, Obama’s popularity was beyond Hagan’s control.
 
Hagan could also have tried to distance herself from Obama – Democratic candidates had been doing that for years. But after voting for Obamacare that looked dicey too.
 
Which left one alternative: Hagan could go to work to get the Swing Voters who disliked Obama to dislike Thom Tillis even more.
 
Then she might just win.
 
To be continued …

 

 

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14
If you think about it DENR’s proposal was pretty odd.
 
Last winter, when tons of water from a coal ash pond poured into the Dan River, there was consternation and gnashing of teeth. The U.S. Attorney started investigating. The Governor ordered every coal ash pond cleaned up. The legislature said Amen.
 
Then, with hardly a soul noticing, last August DENR signed off on a plan to clean up coal ash ponds – by dumping the water in the ponds directly into rivers and lakes.
 
Which sounded, more or less, like what had happened on the Dan River.
 
Which was odd.
 
And what happened next was even odder.
 
EPA nixed  DENR’s plan (and the controversy exploded in the newspapers again) then DENR announced it had simply been following orders (or an Executive Order) from the Governor. And did an about face.
 
In other words, DENR threw the Governor under the bus – which is something you don’t see happen in state government every day.

 

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13
First ISIS. Then Ebola. Now men marring men and women marrying women. What’s next? “Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria!”?
 
More to the point, will video and big Page One pictures of newlywed men kissing each other sway this election?
 
Consider three things here.
 
First, yes, Amendment One passed with 60 percent of the vote. Two years ago. In a primary election with no big race. This is a general election with a big US Senate race and a lot of hot legislative races. Public opinion has moved fast since then, and same-sex marriages are happening all over the country.
 
Second, some number of the votes for Amendment One were African-American voters. They are more religious than most voters, they go to church more and their churches often are evangelical. Quite a few black preachers preached against same-sex marriage in 2010. It’s safe to say these voters will not be voting Republican in 2014.
 
Third, what’s the impact in precisely the urban areas with big college populations where sentiment runs strongest against the Republican legislature? Will these younger, college-educated voters stay home now, content that all is well? Or will this just galvanize an even bigger vote as they see that change is within their reach?
 
My guess is that same-sex marriage is at worst a wash for Democrats and very possibly a plus.

 

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08
The after-debate on who won is more interesting than the debates themselves.
 
You can rely on the partisans to declare victory. The media focuses on substance, issues and fact checks, none of which anybody is interested in. The stories are predictable: Candidates “clashed…traded jabs… repeated talking points…didn’t say anything new…etc.”
 
This year the popular term is “game-changer,” as in “this debate was no game-changer.”
 
Another popular trope is to say the moderator was the only winner, which is a three-fer: You avoid reaching a conclusion, you dismiss both candidates and you suck up to a big media personality.
 
The experts who get quoted have no real-world experience in campaigns and aren’t equipped to keep score. Anyway, it always takes several days for a consensus to set in on who won and who lost.
 
Take the Aiken-Ellmers and Hagan-Tillis debates. As an experiment, I watched the first and followed Twitter for the second.
 
A lot of people watched to see Clay Aiken; nobody cared about seeing Renee Ellmers. They just wanted to see if he was a joke or serious. Old hands I respect were impressed by him, but some people thought he was too caustic. A lot of people commented on his hair.
 
My take: He did well because he showed that he’s smart and serious. And the hair? Well, I haven’t seen a pompadour like that since Jim Hunt ran in 1976. As for Congresswoman Ellmers, she looked like a non-swimmer caught in a rip tide.
 
(Full disclosure: I worked for Aiken in the primary. But I made a commitment to help my friend Tom Bradshaw in his NC Senate race, and I no longer have the energy or bandwith to do more than one race.)
 
From Twitter, I take it that Hagan was crisper, stronger and more effective this time. Thom Tillis should fire his handlers for missing the most basic of all debate-prep questions: Name one issue where you differ with your party.
 
Oh well, there’s always tomorrow’s debate. Maybe we’ll have a meltdown. Or an explosion. Or at least a game-changer.

 

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