CHARLOTTE, N.C., October 15, 2014 — With mid-term elections less than three weeks away, the North Carolina senate race, like other races around the country, is tightening.
Incumbent Senator Kay Hagan is a bit of a Democratic anomaly this year; she has had, and continues to have, a small lead over her Republican challenger, Thom Tillis.
Given the current climate nationally, with speculation running high that Republicans will make significant gains in the Senate due to the unpopularity of President Barack Obama’s policies, Hagan has managed to cling to a slim lead over Tillis.
Neither candidate fires the imagination. Hagan has voted with Obama most of the time and has done little of consequence during her time in office.
Tillis, who is currently North Carolina’s Speaker of the House, has the charisma of wallpaper, making him a lackluster challenger for Hagan.
Like so many other races around the country, the stretch run in North Carolina has now moved into its heaviest mud-slinging mode. Hoping to salvage a victory, the Democrats are pumping advertising dollars into Hagan’s campaign and are significantly outspending Tillis.
Until the end of August, Hagan led Tillis in each of 13 polls that had been taken.
However, a Survey USA poll taken in partnership with High Point University was released on Monday showing the candidates are now in a dead heat at 40 percent.
As the margin of difference fluctuates, North Carolina could become an indicator of how large or how disappointing a national Republican surge might be for a couple of reasons.
North Carolina is on the east coast, which means the senatorial race will be among the first where polls close. Early results swinging in one direction or another might be an indicator of things to come for each party as the voting moves west.
But there is another, more subtle factor which may influence the outcome.
Earlier this week, former Charlotte Democratic Mayor Patrick Cannon was sentenced to 44 months in U.S. prison for admitting to using his public office for personal financial gains, amounting to at least $50,000 in bribes.
Other than the sentencing, the Cannon story is old news in the state. Furthermore, three weeks between sentencing and voting may be long enough for voters to completely forget the Cannon case.
It is possible that voters will not care one way or the other about Cannon and will make no connection between his corruption and the Senate race.
On the other hand, given the number of scandals permeating Washington, some of which are still very much campaign issues, voters could possibly link Hagan’s allegiance to the president and the ex-mayor’s scandalous past with Obama’s waning popularity just enough to push Tillis over the top.
Should Hagan survive, it might calm Democrats, telling them that reality is not as dire as their fears. But if Tillis ekes out a victory, they might spend election night bracing themselves for a Republican tidal wave even larger than pundits predicted.
One thing is certain. No matter what happens across the country, there will be surprises.
Until now, the N.C. senate race has only been on the fringes of speculation about the upcoming elections. Hagan has continued to hold her slim lead over Tillis while the state has been relegated primarily to borderline interest on a national scale.
Given the current political climate, if Tillis had an ounce of charisma, he should be able to run away from Hagan based largely on her allegiance to the Obama administration. Even given his blandness, the race is too close to call, which means that the Cannon sentencing might be a game-changer.
Only time will tell whether North Carolinians will vote their “convictions” in November.
Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe. Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
Read more of What in the World and Bob Taylor at Communities Digital News; follow Bob on Twitter @MrPeabod