Is Kay Hagan Screwed?

by | Nov 21, 2013 | 2014 Elections, Carolina Strategic Analysis, Features, US Senate


If the election were held today, then my answer to that question would be: Yes.

But the election is not being held today, it’s being held a year from now. There’s more than enough time for Obama and the Democrats to fix Obamacare and for new political issues to emerge on the horizon. Just look at how quickly folks forgot about the government shutdown.

On the other hand, there’s the matter of history. There’s a long-standing pattern of two-term presidents suffering large losses in their second midterm, the notorious “six-year itch”. Until recently, it did not look like 2014 would continue the pattern. But now, it’s highly conceivable that next year could see an enthusiasm and turnout gap rivaling that of 2010. For a senator like Hagan who is undefined and very much at the mercy of the national environment, that’s terrible news.

Of course, next year is going to be just more than a referendum on Hagan’s tenure. If that was the case, then Hagan would surely lose, just as Obama would have lost if 2012 was seen as a referendum on his term in office. I will predict now that Hagan’s numbers will probably be in the red when she’s up next year. Thus, the only way she can win is by making her opponent more disliked than she is.

Right now, Hagan’s numbers are taking a beating because of the botched Obamacare rollout. I imagine that her internal polls show the debacle inflicting significant damage on her reelection prospects. PPP’s latest showed Hagan in a deadheat against her Republican opponents, and things have only gotten worse since then. Ads are running blasting Hagan for her role in Obamacare’s passage. By necessity, Democratic-leaning groups have sponsored ads defending Hagan, but at this point it’s more about stopping the bleeding than anything else.

The numbers are probably worse for Hagan than PPP’s poll indicates. PPP asked respondents who they voted for last election. The response? Obama and Romney were tied with 47%. If you recall, Romney won North Carolina 50%-48%, in a year with presidential turnout, i.e. turnout that favored Democrats. PPP’s poll represents an electorate even more favorable to Democrats than the one in 2012. “Unskewing” the poll, with turnout somewhere between 2010 and 2012 levels, we find that Hagan trails all of her challengers, with the exception of Grant, who is down only slightly.

“Unskewing” polls, however, is a dangerous activity, and its value is questionable, especially when it comes to PPP’s polls, the value of which is also questionable. Let’s look at PPP’s actual numbers:

Hagan 44%, Tillis 42%
Hagan 43%, Harris 41%
Hagan 43%, Brannon 44%
Hagan 43%, Grant 40%

In the early stages of an election, where there are multiple challengers, it’s best to look at the best overall performance for each party. Using this technique, Hagan has a very solid bloc of support (44%). Republicans also have a very solid bloc (44%). This is not surprising in an inelastic state like North Carolina, where no Senate contest has been won with 55% of the vote or more since 1974. So, this tells us nothing that we didn’t already know. An incumbent senator who can’t crack 44% of the vote in any matchup is, of course, in dire straits.

So is Kay Hagan screwed? We can’t answer that yet. But the trend looks ominous. Then again, there was another female senator from a southern state who was in even worse shape than Hagan at a similar point in her reelection cycle. Voters in her state were dying to give her the boot. But the Republicans nominated a bad candidate, and the only person who could have possibly lost to this senator did just that. Not only did she survive, she won her election in a landslide. The female senator’s name was Claire McCaskill, and her opponent was Todd Akin.


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