Democrats had hoped to turn North Carolina into a frontline political battleground in 2014 and to capitalize on national liberal outrage at a Republican-led state government that has enacted one of the most sweeping conservative reform agendas in the country. But those efforts have been stymied by the disastrous effects of one of the most sweeping liberal reforms in recent memory: Obamacare.
North Carolina’s conservative successes in 2013 — on issues such as taxes and regulatory, education, and election reform — elicited howls of outrage on the left, even prompting an editorial from the New York Times lamenting the state’s “decline” and accusing the Republican legislature of “tearing down years of progress” achieved under Democratic control. Liberal activist groups cheered on as “Moral Monday” protesters organized a series of rallies outside the state capitol and as Republican governor Pat McCrory’s approval rating steadily declined.
Incumbent Democratic U.S. senator Kay Hagan would like nothing more than to make her 2014 reelection bid all about the “extremist” GOP lawmakers running the Tar Heel State, especially given that Thom Tillis, the Republican considered most likely to be her opponent, is speaker of North Carolina’s House of Representatives and one of the architects of that conservative reform agenda.
“I think when you look at this race, what takes place in 2014, it’s about a contrast: It’s about what I’ve done in Washington versus what has taken place in the Republican-controlled Legislature,” Hagan told Politico in December. “They have really been focusing on fringe issues and on policies that work against the middle-class families.”
Meanwhile, Hagan’s fundraising pitches are constantly obsessing over liberal bogeymen such as Karl Rove and the Koch brothers. From a December fundraising e-mail: “Citizens United opened the door to millions of dollars in special interest spending. And special interest insiders like Karl Rove and the Koch brothers ran straight through them, spending money on attacks and smears like it’s their job.” Another December e-mail reminds potential donors that she opposed “the budget plan that Paul Ryan and out-of-touch Tea Partiers . . . jammed through the House” back in March 2013.
A more likely scenario for Hagan is that public dissatisfaction with Obamacare, a law she supported and continues to back, however hesitantly, will be the overriding issue in November, and if that’s the case, Democrats should be worried.
Hagan’s approval rating has been underwater since the Obamacare exchanges launched in October, 49 percent disapproving of the job she’s doing, compared with just 43 percent who approve, according to a December survey from Raleigh-based Public Policy Polling. Compared with a similar survey taken in September, Hagan’s approval rating is unchanged, but her disapproval rating has spiked 10 points, almost certainly a result of dissatisfaction with Obamacare.