Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Election 2014: North Carolina: Tar Heels for Tillis

AFTER HE won his Republican Senate primary on May 6 with 45.7 percent of the vote, Thom Tillis, the speaker of the North Carolina House, struck the right conciliatory chord, promising to “work across party lines to pass an agenda focused on generating growth and opportunities for middle-class families and small businesses.”

The message that carried him to victory in the state’s primary was strong enough to use again in the general election yesterday, to great effect. Tillis defeated Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan, 49 percent to 47 percent, flipping North Carolina’s Senate leadership to blue to red and winning the most expensive Senate campaign in American history.

Tillis’ message and his strategy have been nothing if not consistent. In May he smashed his weak primary-season challengers, Libertarian/Tea Party darling Greg Brannon (27 percent) and Charlotte pastor Mark Harris (17 percent). And he remained on message long enough, months later, to beat the incumbent Hagan handily.

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Hagan, who until the very end adopted the Democratic practice of staying at arm’s length from the president, suffered from associations with Obama just the same. But she was somewhat wounded by a Senate career that didn’t set the world on fire for some Tar Heel State voters.

“It’s as much an anti-Obama vote as any of the other reasons, but not entirely,” retired Charlotte neurosurgeon Jerry Greenhooot, told The Charlotte Observer. “I can’t think of one thing (Hagan) has done.”

One recent poll suggests Tillis has his work cut out for him in the likeability department, despite what happened last night. An NBC News/Marist poll conducted Oct. 19-23 showed Hagan's disapproval rating at 48 percent and Tillis' unfavorables at 44 percent. For some voters, it was a matter of not so much liking Tillis as it was a case of just disliking Hagan more.

Still, Tillis managed to capitalize on the viral discontent with Washington in general and the Obama administration in particular. Tapping into that broad sentiment didn’t make a big difference last night. Just big enough to win. We’ll see if the sweeping bipartisan overture he made in May holds up when he gets to Capitol Hill next year.

Image credits: Tillis: via Real Clear Politics.

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