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A new survey is out showing Kay Hagan right in the middle in terms of ideology.

This is one reason that Hagan starts out in a fairly strong position. (“Fairly strong” in this case meaning ‘far from doomed’.) It’s not easy to pidgenhole her as a far-left loon. She’s an adroit politician who knows her state well. She hasn’t aroused much passion, but she hasn’t stepped on anybody’s toes either.

Nate Silver released his first rankings of the 2014 Senate contests, he lists the NC race as a toss-up. What’s keeping this in ‘toss-up’ category is the midterm electorate. It’s virtually guaranteed to be whiter, more conservative, and older than the 2012 presidential electorate. That means trouble for an incumbent Democrat in a state that went for Romney by 2 points. To win, Hagan is going to have to win a lot of those voters that went for Mitt Romney. These Romney voters are suburbanites, or they’re conservative Democrats who didn’t like Obama. They won’t vote for an avowed liberal. They’ll vote for a Democrat, but not a scary Democrat.

To a very large extent, the winner of the 2014 Senate contest will be determined by Barack Obama’s popularity in the state. The best strategy for Republicans is to depict Hagan as a water-carrier for President Obama, which is only effective if the President is unpopular. They’ll also need to nominate a strong candidate who can unite the disparate wings of the Republican Party. And no Todd Akins, please.

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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