North Carolina’s Senate race has been dispiriting, its candidates uninspiring, the commercials mostly negative, and the campaign obscenely expensive.
But at least it will be over Tuesday. Let us hope there are no recounts. And unless I miss my bet, there will be a sigh of relief from most of North Carolina’s nearly 10 million residents.
This has been a sterile race that could have been run anywhere in the country with a few exceptions – a TV endorsement by NASCAR legend Richard Petty and a rally in a Johnston County tobacco warehouse.
The Senate contest has largely been run by remote control out of offices in Washington, D.C., and its suburbs, mostly by young political operatives. Indeed, to a certain extent, they have hijacked the race by spending at least 70 percent of the $100 million in the contest. North Carolina is just the backdrop, sort of like a movie set as all of these players battle for control of the U.S. Senate.
Replacing the old cigar-puffing county sheriffs and clerks of court of yesteryear are wine-sipping political technocrats who now control the purse strings. They include the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which has spent – $10.3 million, and the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which has spent – $8.9 million.
For the first time ever, North Carolina voters will be in the dark about who is bankrolling their senator’s campaign, thanks to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that permitted much of the third-party spending to remain anonymous. Whatever your politics, it would be nice to know who is trying to buy your senator.
Despite having their faces plastered all over the TV, both Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan and Republican state House Speaker Thom Tillis have been running stealth campaigns. I can’t remember when there has been so little retail campaigning. Why talk to voters, when your political consultant can do it so much better in a TV ad – especially when there are reporters who might ask pesky questions or “trackers” ready to record an impolitic comment for the opposing side?
The Senate race can best be understood by two statistics, both unfavorable ratings.
The Republican strategy has been driven by President Barack Obama’s unpopularity, and tying Hagan to her president. Obama’s job approval rating in the state is a poor 42 percent.
The Democratic strategy has been to tie Tillis to the unpopular Republican legislature, of which he was a leader. The legislature’s approval rating is a dismal 25 percent.
So far, the Democrats seem to be getting the better of the argument.
Of the 20 statewide independent polls made public since the beginning of September, Tillis has led in only one, according to the website Real Clear Politics. The candidates were tied in three polls.
One would much rather be in Hagan’s position than Tillis’ position right now.
With a race this close, turnout means everything. Turnout drops off during midterm elections. That is good news for Republicans because lower turnout usually helps their candidate. The good news for Democrats is they are leading in early voting.