Tillis Says Hagan's Closeness to Obama Led to Incumbent's Defeat

Sen.-elect Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) said Wednesday that he will work with Democrats in Washington to get things done for the American people.

Tillis attributed his victory over Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) to effectively linking the incumbent to President Obama and focusing on her past six years in the Senate.

"We've been given the opportunity to lead, and now we have to lead," Tillis told reporters in his hometown of Cornelius, N.C. "And that means moving bills from the House and the Senate to the president's desk."

Tillis said he and other Republican senators must work across the aisle with Democrats to pass legislation to help the American people.

"It's things we need to do once we get sworn in, in January," Tillis said.

Tillis said his campaign renewed its focus on Hagan's absence from the Senate Armed Services Committee's meetings after she admitted in an Oct. 7 debate that she missed an intelligence briefing in February. Hagan later told reporters that she missed the briefing to attend a fundraising event in New York City.

Tillis said he used Hagan's admission and her support of Obama's agenda, especially the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, to sway enough voters for his victory Tuesday night.

The speaker of the N.C. House of Representatives narrowly defeated Hagan in the most expensive Senate race in U.S. history.

Tillis received 1.41 million votes (49 percent of the ballots), while Hagan got 1.36 million votes (47 percent of the ballots), according to complete and unofficial results from the N.C. State Board of Elections.

Libertarian candidate Sean Haugh, a pizza delivery man in Durham, N.C., received 108,140 votes (4 percent of the ballots).

The election drew a total of 2.91 million ballots (44 percent of the registered voters in the state), the elections board says on its website.

“We didn't bend. We won,” Tillis told a crowd of his supporters in Charlotte during his victory speech. “We have swept this nation with a compelling Senate majority.”

Tillis prevailed in a race that cost more than $107 million, mostly on negative attack ads slung at both candidates. Hagan and her allies spent nearly twice the money in the campaign as Tillis and his allies.

On Tuesday night, Hagan told a small crowd of supporters in Greensboro that she had called Tillis to congratulate him and concede the race.

“Those are the families that still need a voice,” Hagan said. “This campaign has ended, but our work to improve the lives of North Carolinians and to build an economy that works for everyone isn't over.”

State election officials started counting the votes when the polls in North Carolina closed at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. Hagan had the lead for much of Tuesday night. However, Tillis surged ahead around 10 p.m., and the Associated Press declared him the winner shortly before 11:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Tillis won the overwhelming majority of votes in the state’s rural counties while Hagan came out on top in urban areas.

Tom Eamon, a political science professor at East Carolina University, said that Tillis won a contest in which both Tillis and Hagan were not seen as charismatic candidates.

“Given the circumstances and the restraints, they and their staff did about the best that they could,” Eamon said Wednesday.

Tillis won the election mainly through the support he received from rural white male voters, Eamon said. “There is still a lot of racial polarization in eastern North Carolina,” he said.

Meanwhile, Hagan won in areas that overwhelmingly supported Obama in 2008 and 2012.

Eric Heberlig, a political science professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, said voters’ dissatisfaction with the country’s direction and Obama’s unpopularity in the state doomed Hagan.

“Democrats were having a rough time across the country... including in more liberal states than North Carolina,” Heberlig said. “Hagan ran a good campaign with a weak hand and was ahead in the polls until people voted."

“And she kept the margins closer than other Dem incumbents who lost,” he added. “The undecideds, as they usually do, voted against the incumbent.”

During the yearlong campaign, Tillis and his allies harshly criticized Hagan for voting for Obama's legislative agenda in the Senate 96 percent of the time. Hagan kept her distance from Obama for most of the campaign.

The president supported Hagan in a radio ad on Monday, the last day before Election Day.

Eamon said he couldn't blame Hagan for her strategy of not campaigning with Obama in a state that he won in 2008 and lost in 2012 and where polls suggest that he is unpopular with many residents.

“Hagan did what was prudent for her,” Eamon said.

On another front, Haugh, the Libertarian, likely drew votes away from both Tillis and Hagan, Eamon said. Late in the campaign, a GOP adviser to Tillis described Haugh as a “liberal libertarian” because of his opposition to all wars and support of legalization of marijuana, as well as his 11th-hour admission to smoking marijuana.

Eamon said that Haugh's presence in the race didn't make any real difference to the outcome. If the race was just a contest between Tillis and Hagan without Haugh’s presence, Tillis still likely would have won, Eamon said.

Late Tuesday night and early Wednesday, conservative and liberal groups weighed in on Tillis' victory.

Vernon Robinson, a former Republican city councilman in Winston-Salem and campaign director for the National Draft Ben Carson for President Committee, said in a statement that the Carson committee helped Tillis win in North Carolina.

Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, is considering running for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. The Ben Carson Committee spent $312,000 on radio ads in North Carolina that targeted black voters and supported Tillis on issues such as abortion, jobs and energy, Robinson said.

“Thank to the efforts of the Draft Ben Carson President Committee, Thom Tillis is now a U.S. Senator-elect, an important step towards taking the country back,” Robinson said. “Dr. Carson has said a Republican-controlled Senate would encourage him to make a run for president. Key support among minorities in North Carolina shows Dr. Carson that North Carolinians, and the American people, will support principled candidates."

“The decision to support Tillis for U.S. Senate is part of a single focused strategy to regain America by encouraging Dr. Carson to run for president,” Robinson said.

Americans for Prosperity, an organization that spent millions on attack ads against Hagan, also took credit for Tillis' victory.

“The voters have answered loud and clear,” said Donald Bryson, the organization's state director. “They are done with Sen. Kay Hagan and President Obama's failing agenda for North Carolina.”

Bryson said that Hagan was a rubber stamp for Obama's agenda.

“North Carolina has a long history of rejecting big government policies,” Bryson said. “That Tar Heel tradition held true on Tuesday.”

However, the Population Action Fund, an organization that supported Hagan, bemoaned Tillis' victory.

“Kay Hagan's defeat tonight is a loss for the people of North Carolina, the United States, and indeed the vulnerable people, especially women and children, around the world,” John Seager, the fund's president, said in a statement.

“The people of North Carolina will miss her steadfast support of improving the quality of life for working families across the state,” Seager said. “From her advocacy for strong schools to her leadership in advancing a living wage, she never shied from fighting for families instead of special interests.”