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N.C. Senate Race Close, But Hagan May Hold On

The fallout from the recent debate between Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan and Republican N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis continues with each campaign launching fresh attacks less than two months from when North Carolina voters will decide whether Hagan will keep her seat in the U.S. Senate.

More than two weeks after the Sept. 3 debate, a recent poll shows Hagan pulling ahead of Tillis in the race. Forty-five percent of 1,000 likely voters told Rasmussen Reports that they would vote for Hagan, compared to 39 percent who would pick Tillis, according to poll results this month.

Another 15 percent of respondents fell into the “undecided” or “voting for another candidate” camps, according to the poll.

Chris Hayden, a spokesman for Hagan, said that her campaign doesn’t put much credence on poll results, which have fluctuated throughout the race.

Matthew DeSantis, assistant professor of political science at Guilford Technical Community College, told the Greensboro News and Record that the results demonstrate how close the Senate race is. “You have to take it seriously,” DeSantis said. “Forty-five to 39 demonstrates that there are also a lot of people who are unsure.”

The Senate race in North Carolina is attracting national attention and millions of dollars are being spent by out-of-state groups on ads attacking both candidates. National Republicans view Hagan as a vulnerable first-term incumbent and hope to win her Senate seat on their way to achieving a GOP majority in the Senate.

On another front, Tillis’ campaign has criticized an ad released this month by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee that it says contains false claims about Tillis’ record as the N.C. House speaker.

“Having given up on defending Kay Hagan’s abysmal record of voting with (President) Obama 95 percent of the time, Washington Democrats are desperately resorting to more false attacks against Thom that have already been debunked by fact checkers,” said Meghan Burris, a  Tillis spokeswoman. “Under Thom’s leadership as speaker, education funding has increased by $660 million while teachers received a historic seven percent average pay raise that now makes North Carolina teachers among the highest compensated in the region.”

“Unlike Kay Hagan, who raised taxes on middle-class families and added $7 trillion to the debt, Thom cut taxes for all North Carolinians and passed balanced budgets,” Burris said.

Meanwhile, Hagan touted her record supporting Tar Heel farmers in a speech this month in Greensboro, N.C., to the N.C. Agribusiness Council. Hagan said she supported the bipartisan farm bill and attacked Tillis for opposing the legislation even though agriculture is North Carolina’s largest industry and has a $77 billion impact on the economy.

“From my days as a young girl on my grandparents’ farm to my time in the U.S. Senate fighting for our farmers, my record is clear – I will always put North Carolina farmers first,” Hagan said in her speech. “But my opponent, Speaker Tillis, would have opposed that same bipartisan farm bill. And he hasn’t laid out a single plan to grow and protect our state’s agricultural sector. That’s just not going to cut it for our farmers. They deserve better.”

During their Sept. 3 debate in Raleigh, Hagan and Tillis praised their legislative records in Washington and Raleigh and harshly criticized each other on several issues.

From the outset, Tillis repeated his campaign mantra that Hagan has voted for Obama’s proposed legislation 95 percent of the time in the Senate. “By Kay’s own standard, she failed the people of North Carolina,” Tillis said.

Throughout the debate, Tillis lambasted Hagan for voting for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, which he said has resulted in 475,000 health-insurance cancellations in the state. Tillis also repeatedly said that his leadership in the Republican-dominated state legislature persuaded lawmakers to approve a seven-percent raise for public-school teachers in North Carolina.

For her part, Hagan criticized Tillis for saying that he would repeal Obamacare if he is elected to the Senate and for his support of converting Medicaid into a voucher program. “I don’t think Speaker Tillis understands the needs of the American people,” Hagan said.

Hagan also repeatedly said that Tillis and his Republican allies in the N.C. General Assembly cut $500 million from public education in the state. “That means fewer teachers in the classrooms, larger class sizes and outdated textbooks,” Hagan said.

She said that her opponent is out of touch with women because he supports a recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that allows some for-profit companies to be exempt from a law based on religious beliefs if the law can be applied in a less restrictive way.

In addition, Hagan said as a moderate federal legislator she supported Obama’s policies when they made sense for North Carolina and she told the president that she supports the Keystone pipeline in the Midwest — a project that hasn’t been approved under Obama.

Hagan said she supported increasing the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour while Tillis said that states rather than the federal government should set the minimum wage.

After the debate, most political observers believed that Tillis won the debate, but neither candidate made any serious mistakes that could have harmed them with voters. However, women’s groups and some Republicans knocked Tillis for using a condescending tone with Hagan during the debate.

Tillis referred to Hagan as “Kay” during the debate and didn’t use her title as senator. Hagan referred to Tillis as “Speaker Tillis.” Tillis also said Hagan had poor math skills. Hagan said she was insulted by Tillis’ statement, saying she has worked as a vice president of a bank and worked at her father’s tire store as a teenager helping customers buy tires on layaway.

Melissa Harris-Perry, a political science professor at Wake Forest University and a weekend host at MSNBC, said that Tillis was effective in the debate because his use of one-liners made good sound bites.

“I was impressed and horrified about how good he is as a candidate,” Harris-Perry said. “Tillis won the debate, and he had the most memorable lines.”

Hagan appeared to be somewhat uneasy during the debate, Harris-Perry said. “Kay Hagan is trying to activate (her) base to show up and vote for her, but not activate the opposition,” Harris-Perry said.

Eric Heberlig, a political-science professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, said that Tillis’ tone with Hagan “gives Democrats something to empathize — that Tillis and Republicans don’t have too many policies to attract women.”

Heberlig said that Tillis’ perceived condescending manner with Hagan may not sway many voters.

“Many female voters were put off and rubbed the wrong way,” Heberlig said. “They were not going to vote for Tillis anyway.”