First, let’s hear Hagan’s (and No No Cat’s) official response to rumors that she’s going to mount a comeback bid in 2016: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cl5z3jy8ixE
On a serious note, I first got wind of this talk on Twitter on Election Night, after Tillis was declared the victor. Most of it seemed to be coming from people from outside NC who don’t know this state very well, so that’s forgivable. But after hearing this talk from people actually living here, it’s time to set the record straight: Kay Hagan is not going to be the Democratic nominee for Senate in 2016. Period. Here’s why:
1. The GOP should be favored. I’m going to make two assumptions, both of which could be wrong. One, President Obama is going to be just like George W. Bush and prove unable to recover the popularity he had in his first term. He’s going to be stuck at around 40% for the rest of his term. He’s also going to cast a long shadow over the 2016 elections, and he’ll be a burden on any Democratic candidate, just like he was this time around. If Hillary Clinton is the nominee, she’s going to be tied to Obama and every other Democrat will get the same treatment.
If that’s the case, then why in the world would Democrats want to nominate someone who lost precisely because they were perceived as too close to Obama? They’d be much better off with a fresh face, someone who could claim independence from Obama with some shred of credibility.
2. Hagan doesn’t want to do it. You really think Kay Hagan wants to go through another campaign like this one, two years from now? If she wants to run in 2016, she’d better get going – right now. She doesn’t want to do that. She wants to retire and play with her grandchildren. In 2008, she had to be coerced into running by Jim Hunt and promises of heavy financial support by the DSCC and guarantees that they were going to give her whatever she needed to win. Hagan is as good at reading the political tea leaves as anyone and she’s shrewd enough to understand that Obama will probably be a huge drag for her in 2016.
Next, there’s not a lot of precedence for a defeated U.S. Senate candidate to return to the same office in the next cycle. I think a lot of people are getting confused with House races, where that’s much more common, especially in recent years where a great cycle for one party is followed by a bad one. In fact, if someone can point out to me the last time a defeated Senate candidate returned two years later – or even won the nomination of their party – that would be greatly appreciated.
3. It’s someone else’s turn. At the start of every cycle, there’s always a state where someone will point out “so-and-so party just doesn’t have a good bench.” This usually turns out to be nonsense. When they say “not a good bench” it means no obvious candidate who would be a shoo-in for the seat, which hardly ever happens anyway. People said the NC GOP didn’t have a good bench in 2014, but they were wrong – Thom Tillis, George Holding, Richard Hudson, Patrick McHenry, Dan Forest, Jim Cain, etc. Now of those only Tillis entered the race, but the lack of a big ‘name’ did not hurt the GOP in 2014.
Democrats find themselves in a similar position this year – people saying they don’t have a good bench. Once again, what they really mean is there’s no obvious candidate or rising star who can take out Burr. And once again, they’re wrong: Janet Cowell, Grier Martin, Nancy McFarlane, Charles Meeker, Dan Blue, Allen Joines. If Burr retires, add Transportation Secretary and former Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx to the list, who immediately becomes the frontrunner.
Now, are any of those above candidates the obvious choice to be the 2016 Democratic nominee? No. But their bench is plenty deep. And it’s someone else’s turn. Progressives have always been fairly lukewarm towards Hagan. If Tillis had not had the baggage of the legislature and hadn’t inspired so much distaste with the Left, and instead Hagan faced off against a Cory Gardner type, you’d have probably seen an even bigger drop in Democratic turnout this year. The bottom line is that, though a lot of people from out of state don’t understand this, Hagan is not some Democratic superstar in the state. Democratic candidates who are up-and-coming aren’t going to defer to her if she runs. Of course, she won’t. Hagan had her turn. She lost, it’s time for someone else. Progressives are eager for a new face, and Hagan understands.
4. Hagan only came close because she was able to run against the GOP legislature. Of the candidates running in the GOP primary, Tillis was by far the most electable, but that’s not saying much. Even though his campaign branded him as a center-right businessman, his role in the North Carolina General Assembly was not a positive, at least in political terms. Tillis lost a substantial amount of moderate suburbanites, especially in the Research Triangle, because the legislature was so controversial. At the same time, the Tea Party crowd was decidedly unenthusiastic about him. He won anyway.
True, he won because of the Republican wave. But the truth is he ran less well than a generic Republican would have run, a Jim Cain type or even a George Holding. People who think a Hagan bid would automatically imperil Burr are deluding themselves. The race would start out leaning his way, even in a neutral environment. If the 2016 environment favors Republicans, as I think it will, then Burr or any other Republican running shouldn’t have a problem vanquishing any Democrat.
In conclusion, I think those who suggest Hagan would be an exceptionally strong candidate in 2016 is based on a very superficial analysis by those who don’t understand the dynamics on the ground in NC. I would be shocked – shocked! – if Hagan ran again. More shocked than with any NC-related development over the past year.
This is not a knock against Hagan or the campaign she ran this year. Thomas Mills called her campaign a near-perfect one and I can’t help but agree with him. Just because a campaign turned out to be a losing one in the end doesn’t mean it was a bad one. She played her hand very adeptly and it nearly worked out for her. I just think she’s done playing the game.
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: email@example.com.