Expect to hear this number repeated ad nauseam throughout the 2014 election cycle. It’s the percentage that Kay Hagan votes ‘with’ President Obama. Thom Tillis used the 96% number during his convention speech to the NC GOP. The NRSC is sending out e-mails with it. You’re going to see campaign ads featuring it.

It’s a tactic that was used by Hagan herself to defeat Elizabeth Dole back in 2008. North Carolinians, like everyone else, had soured on the Bush administration and wanted a complete change of course. When voters learned that Dole voted with Bush 92% of the time, her numbers plummeted. This very effective TV ad by the DSCC altered the course of the race, turning a sure thing for Dole into a toss-up:

The ad “Rocking Chairs” featured two old men arguing about whether Elizabeth Dole was 92 or 93, a not-so-subtle dig at her age. The two old men were probably responsible for Hagan’s election, but two years later they turned on the Democrats and starred in an ad for Richard Burr. Their winning streak ended when they appeared in an ad for David Rouzer, who lost by a scanty margin. Will they be back in 2014? Stay tuned.

To win the Senate race next year, Republicans will have to make out Hagan to be an Obama clone. While Hagan has attempted to play on her bipartisan appeal, the truth is that Hagan has not been in the Senate long enough to establish a moderate brand. Her election in the first place was a rejection of Dole in favor of a generic Democrat and not because Hagan was a particularly strong candidate.

In the end, perhaps Hagan’s best chance for survival is for Republicans to nominate an unacceptable candidate. North Carolina went narrowly for Romney in 2012. For Republicans to win, all they have to do is hold on to the Romney voters – and it’s possible that a midterm turnout gap will give them room for error. Still, never underestimate the GOP’s ability to nominate an atrocious candidate. Claire McCaskill’s situation in Missouri last year was in much worse shape than Hagan is now, but she still won in a landslide because of Todd Akin.

Candidate quality matters. The Democrats have theirs, but she’s undefined to most voters. This is a ripe opportunity for a pickup, but in recent cycles Republicans have had the rare gift of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

And don’t forget about that 96% number. You’re going to be hearing that non-stop, regardless of who wins the Republican nomination.

John Wynne is the “conservative voice” at PoliticsNC, where he also provides polling analysis and commentary on legislative campaigns. When not writing about politics, he enjoys gardening and listening to opera. Contact: johncwynne@gmail.com.

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