Under the Dome

Hagan: ‘My role going forward is as a citizen ... not as an elected US senator’

U.S. Senator Kay Hagan, shown in 2014, says she will not seek to challenge U.S. Sen. Richard Burr in 2016.
U.S. Senator Kay Hagan, shown in 2014, says she will not seek to challenge U.S. Sen. Richard Burr in 2016. rwillett@newsobserver.com

North Carolina’s former Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan announced on Wednesday she won’t run for the Senate again, opening the door for other Democrats to challenge Sen. Richard Burr next year.

“After careful deliberation, I have decided that my role going forward is as a citizen of our great state and not as an elected U.S. senator,” Hagan said in a statement that did not disclose her reasons. She declined a request for an interview on Wednesday.

Republican Thom Tillis narrowly defeated Hagan last year in one of the nation’s most expensive and closest Senate races. Many Democrats had viewed Hagan as their best shot to retake the seat from Burr.

No other leading Democrat has emerged yet. Democratic strategists had said they were waiting for Hagan to decide first. She was considered a leading challenger because of her campaign experience and fund-raising ability.

Her statement, posted on Facebook, instead looked back on her time in the Senate, from 2009 to 2014, rather than at future plans.

“During my six years in the U.S. Senate, we tackled some of our country’s greatest challenges: pulling ourselves out of a major economic crisis, passing key parts of my AMERICA Works jobs bill that put people back to work, getting closure and justice for victims of contaminated water at Camp Lejeune, passing a health care bill that expands insurance for millions, and working to ensure equality for all Americans,” she said.

“These are all incredibly important issues, of which I am both proud and honored to have had the opportunity to take tough votes that, years from now, we will look back on as the defining issues of our era.”

Hagan added that she “worked hard, along with my incredible team, to abide by our State Toast in helping ‘the weak grow strong and the strong grow great’ in North Carolina” – and added “there is much work left to be done.”

But she said it would be up to others to do it in the U.S. Senate.

“There are numerous qualified candidates who can provide North Carolina with the leadership our state deserves – fighting for economic fairness, strengthening the support we provide to members of our armed services and military families, and ensuring once again that North Carolina’s public education system is the best in America,” the Greensboro Democrat said, without naming anyone.

Hagan lost by just 2 percentage points in 2014, when there was no presidential ticket. Democratic turnout is expected be higher in 2016 when both president and governor candidates are on the ticket.

State Treasurer Janet Cowell, who had been mentioned as a possible candidate, issued a statement Wednesday saying she wasn’t interested in going to Washington.

“I am flattered to be mentioned as a potential candidate for the U.S. Senate,” Cowell said. “However, I am focused on my job and committed to running for re-election as treasurer in North Carolina.”

State Sen. Dan Blue, also mentioned as a possibility, said in a brief interview: “I haven’t given it any serious thought.”

“It becomes all consuming,” he said. “There are things other than running for office that are important.”

Blue, who is the Senate Democratic leader, said he is focused on electing more Democrats to the Senate.

Democrats are also interested in Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, University of North Carolina President Tom Ross, state Sen. Josh Stein and even former Rep. Heath Shuler, who left office in 2012 after three terms.

Political blogger Thomas Mills in a post Wednesday said others who “should be thinking about it” are U.S. Rep. Alma Adams of Greensboro; Mel Watt, a former congressman who is director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency; U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield of Wilson; and state House Minority Leader Larry Hall.

Hagan was a state senator for a decade before she ran for the U.S. Senate, something she noted in her statement in a note of farewell.

“Serving North Carolina for the past 16 years, as a North Carolina and US Senator, has been an incredible opportunity, and I can’t say ‘thank you’ enough to all North Carolinians, my colleagues in the Senate, my supporters and my family. It has truly been a blessing,” she said.