In 2008, Kay Hagan ran for the U.S. Senate and was assisted by Obama’s massive ground game in the state. But her win was much more impressive than his was. While Obama eked out a win of only 0.33% in 2008, Hagan won with nearly 9% of the vote.

Part of this was due to backlash over the “Godless” ad. Without the backlash, Hagan’s victory would have been more modest – maybe around 5%. The map below is a visual of where Hagan’s support differed from Obama in the state. The greener the county, the more Hagan outperformed Obama. In the red counties, Hagan actually did worse than Obama did. These counties were Orange, Durham, Dare, Pasquotank, and Currituck.

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Observations:
-This map is really more about voters’ perceptions of Obama than Kay Hagan. Hagan’s overperformance in the greenest counties is more of a reflection of a lack of willingness to vote for Obama than enthusiasm for Hagan.
-Obama’s strongest underperformance was in Columbus County. While Hagan won Columbus by over 20 points, Obama actually lost it by 8 points. This is a reflection of Columbus’s historical affinity for Democrats, combined, perhaps, with some racial concerns.
-Obama overperformed Hagan the most in Dare County. The presence of the Norfolk media market explains the weak Hagan overperformance in the northeast. Simply put, North Carolinians were naturally inclined to reelect Elizabeth Dole before they saw the campaign ads on the TV. These counties never really exposed to the 2008 Senate race, and therefore had no reason to throw out Elizabeth Dole.
-The dark green color of the counties in the old 10th congressional district (the Lenoir-Morganton area) is also a reflection of voters’ rejection of Obama.
-Kay Hagan only outperformed Obama by a little bit in the I-85 corridor and in Wake County. These suburban voters were in a very anti-Republican mood and backed Democrats up and down the ticket, and they voted for Obama in much greater numbers than their rural counterparts.
-Hagan did worse than Obama in both Durham and Orange Counties. Could it be that young, college-age voters came out just for Obama and left the rest of the ballot blank? A precinct analysis would be helpful here.

Implications for 2014: Obviously, there were a significant number of McCain-Hagan voters. Can Hagan win their vote again? The godless ad, the Obama electorate, and the Democratic wave all substantially inflated Kay Hagan’s 2008 performance. Moderate suburbanites typically receive the most attention from political strategists these days. Could 2014 bring about a return to the importance of voters living in rural areas who often split their tickets?

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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