Identifying and analyzing emerging trends in campaigns and elections.

Dems Hit Tillis in NC Senate Race

In Polling, Senate on April 16, 2014 at 7:56 pm

It is becoming clear who the Democrats don’t want Sen. Kay Hagan to face in November. The Senate Majority PAC, conducting an independent expenditure operation in the North Carolina Senate race, just unleashed a major attack ad against state House Speaker Thom Tillis (R-Cornelius). This is their second wave of commercials that individually targets Tillis.

The Tar Heel State race is one of the key contests that will likely determine which party captures the Senate majority. Sen. Hagan seeks a second term after defeating then-Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R) in the 2008 general election, but is having a difficult time breaking away from the pack in this campaign. Poll after poll shows the incumbent lagging slightly behind all of her Republican opponents, even though virtually all of them have low name identification. Clearly, a sitting senator trailing candidates such as Heather Grant, an Iraq war veteran and nurse, while only consistently scoring in the low 40 percentile range is cause for concern.



The Senate Majority PAC is concentrating on a scandal involving two Tillis former aides (see above ad), who were forced to resign their positions because of extra-marital affairs with lobbyists in Raleigh. The script ends with the accusation that Tillis gave the men taxpayer-funded severance packages upon their departure from state service.

The idea of attacking a certain member of the opposite party in said individual’s primary is becoming more prevalent since the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling of 2010. The decision allows unlimited expenditures from outside groups so long as their message and expenditures are uncoordinated with the supported candidate and/or campaign.

This particular ad is designed to create a negative image of Tillis before the conservative North Carolina Republican base voter. The optimum situation for Democrats is to see a secondary run-off election transpire – if no one receives 40 percent of the vote, the top two finishers advance to a second election on July 15 – in order to hamstring the Republicans for an additional two months in hopes of producing a battered and weakened GOP nominee.

The Republican field consists of Tillis, Grant, physician Greg Brannon, Charlotte pastor Mark Harris, former Shelby Mayor Ted Alexander, ex-state Rep. Jim Snyder Jr. and two also-ran candidates. Early primary polling suggests that Tillis leads the group, but is a long way from hitting the 40 percent plateau. The latest published NC Senate primary poll (Public Policy Polling; April 3-6; 314 North Carolina Republican primary voters) gives Tillis only an 18-15-11-7-6 percent margin over Brannon, Harris, Grant and Alexander, respectively. This data, obviously, suggests a run-off looms on the horizon as the May 6 primary date quickly approaches.

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