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NC race morphed into Obama referendum

If you have any doubts about how toxic President Barack Obama was to Democrats last week, just ask state Sen. Gene McLaurin.

McLaurin, a Rockingham Democrat, was North Carolina’s only Senate incumbent to lose re-election. And he says the reason was a late TV ad run by his opponent, Republican Tom McInnis.

The ad opens with an image of Obama saying though he wasn’t on the ballot, his policies were.

“Obama’s policies?” says a narrator. “Gene McLaurin is for him. McLaurin voted to expand Obamacare. And the NRA rates McLaurin anti-gun – just like Obama. Obama and McLaurin. Tom McInnis. Against the Obama agenda.”

McLaurin’s face gradually morphs into Obama’s.

Toward the the end of his campaign, McLaurin saw people come up and tell him they couldn’t vote for him because he supported Obamacare.

“No question it had an effect,” McLaurin says of the ad. “I don think there was any doubt that that was the deciding factor.”

It would be hard to think of a more unlikely Democrat to tie to the president. McLaurin, who was mayor of Rockingham for 15 years, is a moderate conservative who often voted with the GOP. Last summer he was the only Democrat who voted for the Republican-written budget.

Last November, he says GOP Senate leaders even asked him to switch parties. After considering it, he decided not to.

Yet the state GOP funneled $100,000 to his opponent the week before the election.

“They turned it into a referendum on what was going on in Washington instead of the issues important to North Carolina,” he says.

“I learned politics is about the label you have next to your name, whether it’s Republican or Democrat.” Jim Morrill

Hillary Clinton vs. Adam Sandler?

Now that the election’s over, it’s time to think about the next one. At least for folks at the Elon University Poll.

In late October, the poll asked 996 North Carolina voters an open-ended question: “Who would you most like to see run for president in 2016?”

The survey found that 52.9 percent of Democrats want Hillary Clinton. That was 24 times more that those who mentioned Elizabeth Warren, a U.S. senator from Massachusetts.

Among Republicans, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney led the field with 18.6 percent. Retired surgeon Ben Carson was next with 5.8 percent. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul was third with 4.5 percent.

As an open-ended question, the poll elicited the usual variety of responses. Santa Claus was a Democratic choice. So were Adam Sandler and Stephen Colbert, who each pulled 0.4 percent support.

“We do not expect 1 percent of North Carolina registered voters to seriously want Adam Sandler as president,” said an Elon news release. “Nonetheless, we share these fun results because they suggest that Romney, Clinton, Paul, Carson and Warren are names to watch.”

The next election may be closer than you think.

In 2013 the Republican-controlled General Assembly moved the state’s primary day from May to as early as February or March 2016. Jim Morrill

Tillis’ secret weapon – Latinos

Latinos across North Carolina are taking credit for unseating U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan and replacing her with Thom Tillis – the Republican who accused Hagan of being too soft on immigration.

In the weeks leading up to the election, groups such as the NC Dream Team erected billboards saying Hagan is no friend of immigrants. They climbed on stage with protest signs at get out the vote rallies and even heckled Hillary Clinton at a Hagan rally in Charlotte.

Viridiana Martinez of the NC Dream Team, which organized several protest efforts against Hagan, said their work was not about endorsing Tillis; it was about holding Hagan accountable.

“The fact that the senator took anti-immigrant measure after anti-immigrant measure, and there never were any consequences.”

The episodes only contributed a narrative that Obama and the Democrats had lost control of the country. They had even lost the support of once-loyal factions that should have been on their side.

Immigration is ranked as the top issue among 57 percent of Latino voters in the state, according to an election eve poll by public opinion research firm Latino Decisions.

Hagan ticked off immigrant rights groups this year when she publicly opposed Obama’s efforts to issue an executive order that would expand the amount of undocumented immigrants who could remain and work legally in the United States.

“This isn’t about a political party. This is about accountability,” Martinez said. “This is about a party who has been pretending to be our friend forever and forever and forever. But the reality is friends don’t deport friends.”

Latinos make up less than 2 percent of the states nearly 6.6 million voters.

The N.C. Board of Elections said it would likely be weeks before it’s clear how many Latinos turned out, but history shows they generally don’t show up in high numbers for midterms. Less than 20 percent of the state’s Latino voters cast a ballot in the past two midterm elections. Franco Ordoñez

Two for two

Among last week’s big winners was a man not even on the ballot.

Paul Shumaker, a Republican consultant from Granite Falls, was the top strategist for Tillis’ successful U.S. Senate campaign. That make him two for two.

He’s also the campaign strategist for GOP Sen. Richard Burr.

It was Shumaker who predicted early on that Tillis’ race against Democratic Hagan would be a referendum on Obama, even while Democrats hammered Tillis over a host of legislative controversies.

“This race is going to be decided by the national mood,” he said last summer. “The D.C. cloud is much darker than the Raleigh cloud is. We have a thunderstorm in North Carolina. They have a Category 5 hurricane.”

When the national mood did decide the race, it found Shumaker with two U.S. Senate clients. Asked how that felt, he said, “Twice as good as one.”

“I do campaigns,” he said. “It’s what I do. You finish one, you go to the next one.” Jim Morrill

Black Caucus to vote in February

Charlotte Mecklenburg’s Black Political Caucus plans to elect new officers in February, and anybody interested in running has to make sure they join the caucus by next month.

Caucus elections are Feb. 15. Nominating committee member Colette Forrest says people who want to run should join the caucus by Dec. 31.