Republican challenger Thom Tillis edged out incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan Tuesday in a pivotal victory for Republicans, who gained the majority in the U.S. Senate for the first time in eight years.
Tillis won 49 percent of the vote to Hagan’s 47.3 percent, with Libertarian Sean Haugh grabbing 3.4 percent.
Tillis and Hagan battered at each other relentlessly during the campaign, spending more than $110 million, including outside support, in advertising, but the race came down to President Obama’s policies, Civitas Institute President Francis X. De Luca said.
“If you look at the mood of the electorate, we’re measuring that all the time, they were very upset with the President, upset with the economy,” he said. “And then there also were increasing concerns about the international situation, so they were focused on national issues. The election had always been between national and state issues and I think at the end of the day the issues tipped towards national.”
“There were several things at the end that I think kind of kept the momentum in Tillis’ favor, and that was, one, the President clearly said, ‘
This is a referendum on my policies’ and people didn’t like the policies,” De Luca said. “Also Ebola, the constant kind of drip, drip, drip of Ebola stories made people worry about their personal safety. We know they were worried about that. Also, kind of the idea, ‘Are we protecting ourselves from the world?’ highlighted international security questions and everything. And then the Middle East, that all continuing to boil over.”
De Luca said that Hagan ran a solid campaign but because Obama so vocally tied the elections to his policies her efforts were undercut.
“She ran a great campaign. I don’t think there is much she could have done to change this,” De Luca said. “It was a referendum on the President, and you know, they did about a good a job as they could in terms of trying to make it not about the President and they spent a lot of money trying to make it about the North Carolina Legislature, which most people pay no attention to. At the end of the day the President was much more unpopular than things that have been done here in North Carolina. In fact most of the things that have been done in North Carolina are pretty popular — the way they try and portray them was not very popular.”
De Luca said that Tillis did a good job battling claims that the state Legislature cut $500 million from education by bringing the conversation back to Obama and Hagan’s 98 percent voting record with the President.
“I think him going back and concentrating on talking about her support of the President kind of brought the campaign back to his territory,” he said.
The Civitas Institute is a conservative think-tank based in Raleigh, which runs regular live-caller polling of issues affecting the state.
Brad Crone, president of Campaign Connections, a political consulting firm based in Raleigh, said that Democrats “felt the full impact of the national Republican wave” except in two counties, Buncombe and Wake.
Crone said that anti-Obama sentiments “catapulted” middle-aged, white voters in suburban and rural areas of the state to action.
He said a large groundswell in support from unaffiliated voters and also double-digit crossover from Democrats brought the victory home for Republicans across most of the state and in the U.S. Senate.
De Luca said that in the end he felt Haugh drew more votes from Hagan, based on polling, but that the outcome of the race would not have changed without Haugh in the race.
“Polling showed maybe he was actually drawing a few more votes from Hagan than Tillis,” he said.
Haugh’s 108,000 votes was greater than the gap between Tillis and Hagan but De Luca said he didn’t believe it would have come down the opposite way.
“It may have been closer but not different,” he said.