National pundits are increasingly predicting that Kay Hagan is facing long odds in North Carolina. The most recent prediction comes from Nate Cohn, who apparently has taken over Nate Silver’s prediction business at the New York Times. Cohn believes that Hagan has a 57% chance of losing. He should spend some time in North Carolina.
Most of the national press base their assessments on the national mood. And right now, the national mood is pretty anti-Obama. While North Carolina’s attitude toward the president may be in sync with the rest of the country, its political environment is in a whole different place.
While mid-terms have traditionally been driven by the national narrative, state politics is dominating the Senate race. North Carolina is still undergoing the culture shock of GOP rule in a state that’s been run by Democrats for most of the past hundred years. Bowe Bergdahl and even the collapse of Iraq are background noise compared to the fights going on in the General Assembly, particularly the debate over education.
To fully understand the impact of these battles, you need to understand North Carolina’s relationship to education. It’s a point of state pride that goes back to the beginning of the republic. Every school kid is taught that the University of North Carolina was the first state university and our university system is consistently ranked among the best in the nation. During the Great Depression, the state took over the responsibility for public schools, ensuring even the poorest counties could offer their children an education. And in the midst of the Civil Rights struggle, Gov. Terry Sanford created our community college system, which also ranks among the best in the nation. Education is to North Carolinians what longhorns are to Texans.
It’s that system of education that has made North Carolina a leader in the South and one of the most desirable places to live and work in the nation. And it’s that system of education that Thom Tillis and the GOP decided to attack. They didn’t just cut funding for our public schools, universities, and community colleges. They demonized teachers and threatened to close college campuses. Instead of rising to their defense or trying to temper the most toxic rhetoric, Tillis smugly told us that this is what a conservative revolution looks like.
And it’s with this backdrop that the U.S. Senate race is unfolding. It’s why the EMILY’s List ad and the one by Senate Majority PAC are so effective. They remind us what everybody already knows: Thom Tillis cut public education.
So far, Republicans have failed to come up with a response. Instead, they attack Hagan with tired Obamacare ads and claims that she’s ineffective. So the contrast that the GOP is setting up is the ineffective incumbent who toes the party line verses the Republican leader who did real damage to education in a state where it’s revered and now wants to take his agenda to Washington.
My money is still on Kay Hagan.
Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Thomas spent twenty years as a political and public affairs consultant. Learn more >