Kay Hagan is obsessed with the Koch brothers.
The Democratic senator from North Carolina doesn’t yet know who her Republican opponent will be this year, but in the meantime she seems to be running almost exclusively against Charles and David Koch, the libertarian billionaires whose well-oiled political machine inspires frantic fundraising appeals in the New York Times editorial pages.
“Kochs don’t like me,” Hagan wrote in a January 29 campaign e-mail. “You won’t believe what the Koch brothers are doing now,” a message from last week reads. “Spoiler Alert: The Kochs did it,” she explained on December 19. “The Koch brothers are desperate.” They won’t stop waging their “Koch attacks.” Hagan’s campaign sends out a couple of these per week.
Americans for Prosperity (AFP), a Koch-backed organization, is indeed spending millions to unseat Democratic senators such as Hagan. In recent months, Hagan has emerged as one of the most vulnerable incumbents in 2014: Only 39 percent of voters approve of her job performance, just slightly higher than North Carolinians’ approval rating for the Affordable Care Act (38 percent), a law that she helped pass and which could be her undoing.
Lacking a coherent message on which to run, Hagan draws her campaign verbiage from a stock of post-Occupy talking points, punctuated by frequent use of the phrase “Koch brothers” and other applause lines thrown in seemingly at random. In a January email she linked the Kochs to the extremely weak jobs recovery that’s characterized the Obama era:
There are things in this election we’re all working for — protecting Medicare, ensuring women have access to the health care they need, creating jobs and growing our economy.
The Koch brothers probably don’t care about any of that.
That same month Hagan lined up with the petty bourgeoisie in its struggle against the aristocracy:
I think programs like Medicare and Social Security are more important than tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas. My job is to act in the interest of middle class families, not the Koch brothers.
Last week, Hagan went on MSNBC, which has devoted countless hours to Koch coverage, to discuss “the millions of dollars Americans for Prosperity has poured into television ads to link her with Obamacare.”
Host Alex Wagner asked why Democrats were often afraid to go on offense regarding the health-care law. Hagan didn’t really want to answer that question. “We do, we talk about it all the time,” she insisted. “We’ve got to be able to raise that money and do those ads so that we can continue to discuss this.”
Wagner continued her grilling of Hagan, asking if she thought the Koch brothers’ strategy “could backfire” and end up “strengthening the opposition.” She did, saying she believes North Carolina voters won’t put up with “outside special-interest money” pushing a “fringe, fringe agenda” — especially not those “people are going to lose their lives” because Republican governor Pat McCrory declined to expand Medicaid under Obamacare.
Actual North Carolina voters seem less likely to be swayed by such rhetoric: At least one poll shows Hagan trailing each one of her prospective GOP challengers, including Thom Tillis and Greg Brannon. Other polls have her barely cracking 40 percent support so far.
This flabbergasts the Left, and they tend to chalk it up to financial inequities. The New York Times editorial board warned in January that “Democrats intend to counter this [AFP] campaign with the facts, but few of the candidates have the money to do so now. As a result, the campaign is taking a serious political toll, increasing the chances that Republicans who support a repeal of the [Obamacare] law will win back the Senate majority this fall.”
The Washington Post laments that “there’s no Democratic version of the Koch brothers organization.” Party strategists complain that liberal billionaires are spending too much money attacking Democrats on gun control and climate change, and don’t seem to appreciate the fact that Republicans have a realistic shot at retaking the Senate. According to the Times, rich liberals “are more focused on building a super PAC to collect unlimited donations supporting Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2016.”
— Andrew Stiles is a political reporter for National Review Online.