Our latest poll shows that state House Speaker Thom Tillis is leading Sen. Kay Hagan in the race for the Senate. He leads her 39 to 36 percent, with Libertarian Sean Haugh getting 8 percent. Considering only Hagan and Tillis, the latter led by 5 points.
It's important to understand some of the underlying factors.
At our poll presentation Thursday, Civitas President Francis X. De Luca pointed out the underlying numbers that surely worry the senator's political operatives. As the story cited above notes, 55 percent of the registered voters polled said that, based on her performance, it was time to give someone else a chance at the job; only 35 percent said she deserved re-election.
I thought it interesting that 50 percent of the voters said they preferred a Republican to act as a check on President Obama's policies; only 40 percent said they preferred a Democrat who would support the president.
But those supporting Tillis should not get overconfident. Also speaking at our lunch Thursday was Morgan Jackson, a Democratic political strategist. (Plug: Such insights are another reason to attend a poll lunch.)
He noted that during the GOP primary the candidates raked her over the coals. So, as a first-term senator in a mid-term election, it's natural that her popularity would take a dip. By those lights, she isn't in bad shape. She has a reported $8 million in the bank; outside groups will surely help. If anti-Hagan ads in the spring pushed down her popularity, anti-Tillis ads in the fall will put a damper on his popularity.
Also, national Democrats will surely be helping her out. That includes President Obama, who, Jackson said, is likely to come here to psych up Democrats and drum up support. Whatever conservatives think of the president, he has loyal supporters, the sight of Air Force One excites many, and he can still get affluent liberals to reach for their checkbooks.
Democrats will try to make the election about North Carolina issues — which, to me, sounded a bit odd, as, if I understood my civics class, it's a national office. But of course Democrats won't want to talk about Obamacare, or, for that matter, the VA scandal.
I'm not sure fussing about the legislature is that productive a strategy; unemployment in NC has gone steadily down since the legislature really got to work last year.
However, Jackson was very insightful. It's an off-year election; victory goes to the party that turns on and turns out its base. Jackson made it clear Hagan will be a strong candidate with many resources and allies. Conservatives who support Tillis should keep that in mind.