Larry Sabato has released updated rankings for the U.S. Senate races next year. The North Carolina seat held by Kay Hagan, formerly rated as a toss-up, is now ‘Leans Democratic’. This means that Hagan presently has a clear advantage, but the seat is hardly out of Republicans’ reach.
All this year, Hagan’s opponents have been hampered by anonymity and an anti-Republican environment in the state as a result of the legislature, even while Republicans seemed to have the advantage nationally. Now, things have flipped: next year is looking less promising for NC Dems than it was even a few weeks ago, while the national environment has turned strongly against Republicans after the shutdown.
In the midst of the shutdown, PPP conducted a U.S. Senate poll which for some reason they did not release publicly and instead leaked to the News & Observer. Don’t bother trying to look for it yourself because you’ll never find it. In the poll, Hagan leads Tillis 47-40, leads Brannon 46-40, and leads Harris 46-38. This is actually a significant drop in Hagan’s support from last month, when she led all Republicans by double-digits.
As for the Republican primary, PPP found Tillis in the lead with 19%, with Harris, Brannon, and Grant “all clustered near 11 percent”. Hagan’s approval is above water at 43/39. But the real interesting part of the poll is the generic legislative ballot, where Democrats lead by only 3 points. In their last two polls, Democrats led by 9.
Needless to say, there’s no way that a 3-point Democrat lead on the generic ballot will translate to Republicans losing control of either chamber of the General Assembly. NC GOP Chairman Claude Pope said earlier that there’s a good chance Republicans will hang on to their veto-proof majorities. This is more than just partisan bluster, even though I think chances are Republicans will lose a few seats.
Voters have short memories. Is this poll just an outlier, or is it evidence that voter anger toward the Republican legislature has subsided? If the latter, then this is good news for Republicans, who can’t afford a blue tide at the state level if they want to beat Hagan. The problem? National Republicans are looking worse than ever after the shutdown. The question is how long the shutdown remains in the minds of voters. That’s something that just can’t be answered right now. The bottom line, Hagan isn’t as vulnerable as Republicans would have liked her to be at this point, but a year is an eternity in politics and there’s still a lot of time to turn things around.