Today, The Washington Post asked if Kay Hagan can get away with taking more progressive positions than her colleagues in other Red States, noting that Hagan supported background checks and gay marriage. The short answer is yes. But it’s more than just taking risky positions; it’s sound politics.
As I’ve said, North Carolina is a purple state. We have a base of very conservative, older voters in our rural areas and a much more progressive, diverse younger group of voters along the I-85/40 corridor which stretches from Raleigh to Charlotte. To win in 2014, Hagan will need to keep these progressive voters engaged.
The 2014 election in North Carolina will be a low turnout affair with 45% or less of registered voters showing up. With heavily gerrymandered legislative and Congressional districts and no other statewide races on the ballot, Hagan will have little help with turnout operations.
Historically, these off-year elections have followed national trends. Democrat John Edwards won in 1998 and Democrats added to their congressional delegation 2006 even though there was no statewide contest. Republicans won in 2002 and 2010, sending Elizabeth Dole to the Senate and re-electing Richard Burr, respectively. In 2010, in particular, Democrats were disengaged from the election and Hagan can’t afford that in 2014.
Hagan’s moves have been prudent. With support of gay marriage, she got out in front of a national issue that is gaining support at a remarkable pace. On the background checks, she supported a very modest measure that has broad appeal while avoiding more contentious positions like banning assault weapons. Hagan has shown younger and more liberal voters in urban areas that she shares certain core values with them.
In addition to keeping in touch with her base, Hagan has paid attention to issues that transcend ideology and positioned herself well if she needs to try to localize the election next year. She recently sponsored a jobs fair in a state with high unemployment. She’s also fought hard for veterans issues and has been visible at veterans’ events. This is particularly important to eastern North Carolina, an area where Democrats have struggled recently that is also home to four military bases and a very large population of veterans.
So far, Kay Hagan has played smart politics. She has offered her base enough to keep them on board and engaged, while holding onto moderate positions that will prevent her from being branded as out of touch with her constituents. She’s also paid close attention to local issues like the economy and veterans affairs and been visible in the state, keeping her safe from the “gone Washington” label. By supporting gay marriage and background checks, Kay Hagan not only did what was right, she also did what was good for Kay Hagan.
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