UPDATED: A prominent election watcher now says North Carolina’s U.S. Senate race is no longer a “toss up.”
Larry Sabato, the director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, shifted the outlook Thursday to call it “leans Democratic,” giving incumbent Kay Hagan the advantage a year out. The primary reason: the legislative upheaval and the baggage it may bring leading Republican candidate Thom Tillis.
Sabato’s Crystal Ball ranking for the 2014 contest now aligns with the Rothenberg Political Report and the Cook Political Report, two other prominent election forecasters.
Sabato writes: “Other than the national dynamics, state-level issues are impacting the race in the Tar Heel State. Freshly-minted Gov. Pat McCrory (R) and the Republican-controlled state legislature have passed a series of conservative measures into law, such as implementing new voter ID regulations and placing new restrictions on abortion clinics. With the accompanying controversies over this and other legislation, McCrory’s approval rating is stuck in the 30s, while only about a quarter of the state approves of the legislature.
“The main beneficiary of the tanking Republican ratings has been Sen. Kay Hagan (D), who is in a better position now to win re-election. With the leading Republican option in the race being state House Speaker Thom Tillis (R), a man directly involved in the unpopular actions of the General Assembly, Hagan’s chance of survival has definitely improved.
“Also keep an eye on a Tea Party insurgent on the Republican side, physician Greg Brannon. Brannon recently won the support of Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), and could be a factor in the GOP primary. Whether Brannon is the next Paul — or the next Sharron Angle or Christine O’Donnell, to name two of the more memorable Tea Party duds — remains to be seen.”
Sabato also shifted Louisiana into the “leans Democratic” category, leaving just two toss up Senate races: Arkansas and Alaska. The movement gives Democrats a likely hold on the Senate after the 2014 elections, Sabato believes, “which is the price the GOP has paid for the government shutdown.”
Soon after the rankings release, Tillis sought to push back against Hagan’s stance on the federal health care law. Hagan announced via Twitter on Wednesday that she supports extending the enrollment period for the health insurance exchanges, putting her at odds with the White House but in the company of a growing list of Democrats expressing concerns about the program’s roll out. She offered more details Thursday, saying a two-month delay is needed and the penalties for not getting insurance should be delayed for the same period.
Tillis said Hagan should take it a step further and sign onto West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin’s bill to delay the penalties for not acquiring health insurance for one year. “Five years of party-line voting is enough,” Tillis said in a statement posted to his campaign website. “It’s time for Senator Hagan to put the interests of North Carolinians ahead of the interests of her party.”