Is Hagan’s Handshake With Obama The Kiss Of Death?

Posted: Aug 27, 2014 3:00 PM
Is Hagan’s Handshake With Obama The Kiss Of Death?

Some Democrats are exuding more temerity when it comes to what they support and how they say it. In Arkansas, Sen. Mark Pryor released two new ads. One supporting Obamacare and the other claiming his Republican opponent, Rep. Tom Cotton, is pro-Ebola. North Carolina, Sen. Kay Hagan greeted President Obama as he visited her state to address the American Legion National Convention yesterday. On the tarmac, she shook hands with him. Is this the kiss of death?

Chris Cillizza at Washington Post said this was a bad decision, but it could’ve been worse:

1. Hagan is going to get blasted for being an Obama clone -- whether or not she shook his hand on the tarmac today. (The Republican National Committee released a statement Tuesday morning noting that she voted with the president 96 percent of the time.)

2. Being perceived as running away from Obama could dampen enthusiasm for Hagan within the Democratic base -- particularly within the African American community.

3. Richard Burr, the Republican U.S. Senator from the state, was also on the tarmac… which gives Hagan a bit of cover.

Sean Sullivan added:

But to keep her job, she also needs to hold on to the votes of plenty of people who like the president.

North Carolina has a substantial population of African Americans and Hispanics, who tend to view the president in a far more favorable light, and Hagan is working hard to turn them out. There are also a crucial cross-section of younger, liberal voters in the state's Research Triangle -- an area that's home to three large universities -- whose level of participation in November will also be important for Hagan.

It supports the notion that Hagan’s handshake was necessary for her political survival, the lesser of two evils. Maybe she thought she could make it up by courting veterans. In her address to the American Legion, she touted her family’s military roots and criticized the president for not taking a firm leadership role in reforming Veterans Affairs (via Charlotte Observer):

Hagan, a Democrat who is locked in one of the nation’s tightest Senate races, said she told the president that “promises alone aren’t going to get it done” in righting the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“The Obama administration must understand that we need a complete change in culture at the VA,” she said. The administration, she added, “has a long road ahead to restore the faith and trust of our veterans.”

As she fights for a second term, Hagan courts a powerful voting bloc in what she calls the nation’s most military-friendly state: North Carolina’s 770,000 veterans and 116,000 active-duty troops.

Sounds good until you find out that she campaigned on reforming the VA back in 2008. She toured around the state with former Georgia Senator Max Cleland.

Leaving out the handshake, Hagan has been trying to tie her Republican opponent, Speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives Thom Tillis, to the politics in Raleigh. As N.C. GOP strategist Paul Shumaker said, “Kay Hagan is hoping the sins of Raleigh are much bigger than the sins of Washington.” One of those sins liberals are highlighting is the education cuts North Carolina enacted in 2013.

Tillis is tying Hagan to Obama, who voted with the president 96 percent of the time. But Governor Pat McCrory hasn’t ruled out calling another special session of the legislature to settle some economic bills that are still on the table before the November election. That’s not the best timing.

Even with the president’s approval rating in the Tar Heel hovering around an abysmal 41-45% percent (Gallup: 41, USA Today: 45), with moderate voters becoming more dissatisfied with the president, this is going to be a tight race.

According to Gallup, self-identified Democrats and Republicans are evenly split. While Obama has abysmal approval numbers in the state, it’s still ranked the highest amongst states where Mitt Romney won in 2012. Thus, the Hagan=Obama attacks have limited impact.

Hagan may attack Tillis on the shenanigans in Raleigh, but on state government, while behind the national average, 51 percent of North Carolinians say they have a "great deal” or "fair amount “of confidence in Raleigh, according to the poll. Also, while N.C. voters’ confidence in their economy is in “positive territory,” it also lags behind the national average.

Concerning left-leaning polls, Public Policy Polling (PPP) has 34 percent of N.C. voters approving what Republicans are doing in state government, with 51 percent disapproving. Yet, PPP noted that Hagan’s approval rating is a dismal 42 percent, but that’s much higher than Tillis; he’s at 28 percent, but 24 percent aren’t sure what to think of him one way or another. He’s got some room to grow.

Regardless, as most of you probably already know, competitive races will come down to turnout:

North Carolina's midterm Senate race looks to be one of the most competitive in the country. Gallup data show that North Carolina has lost the Democratic tilt it possessed in 2008, and that the two major parties are now nearly tied in self-reported party identification. As with all elections, especially midterm, turnout will be a deciding factor -- revealing which party or constituency is most motivated to vote.

The determining factor for this race may be whether more North Carolinians fault Obama and Senate Democrats such as Kay Hagan for the state's underwhelming economic performance, or the Republican officials in charge of the state government in Raleigh.

Last spring, the New York Times reported that the divide between younger and older voters in North Carolina is “the most pronounced in the country." With younger voters projected to stay home, “Ms. Hagan would need to retain nearly all of her support from six years ago” to win an older demographic in the midterm years; a feat that borders on the impossible.