NC SEN: Is the race 'tight as a tick?'

A new poll of registered voters from the Civitas Institute, a right-leaning think tank in North Carolina, shows that the race is tightening up; Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan only has a 1-point lead over her Republican challenger Thom Tillis 41/40. With leaners, Hagan leads 46/41 over Tillis.

When it comes to job performance, approval/disapproval numbers are underwater, but they could be worse. For Hagan, the split is 48/43, with 8% responding they don’t know. For Tillis, it’s 42/41, but 17% responded that they don’t know; there’s room to grow there.

This is especially refreshing given that in Civitas’ previous poll, where they sampled unaffiliated voters; his favorable/unfavorable numbers were abysmal. 17% viewed him favorably, 43% unfavorably, 24% have no opinion, and 16% haven’t heard of him. But the latest CNN poll has changed this figure. We’ll come to that in a little bit.

Tillis, who’s also the Speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives, was unable to campaign effectively over the summer due to the legislative session, but he’s positioned himself as the ideal anti-Obama candidate, but that usually isn’t enough to win elections. Mitt Romney learned that in 2012; John Kerry experienced the same result in 2004.

Yet, as Tillis begins to detail his life story, tie Hagan with Obama, and slam her over missing classified ISIS hearings, her lead is being chipped away. Tillis grew up in a trailer park to working class parents, worked various minimum wage jobs, became an executive at IBM, and obtained his college degree at 36. As I’ve mentioned before on Townhall, tapping into this fledgling neo-populist wave sweeping the country is key. Voters want authenticity; they want to hear about a candidate’s personal struggle and how you triumphed over it. South Dakota Rep. Kristi Noem did just that in her 2010 challenge to Democratic incumbent Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin–and won.

Tillis has a huge deficit with women voters; Hagan has a 19-point advantage. With single women, it’s even deeper at 40+ points. Yet, this is a shiftable voting bloc. They’re more open to hearing policies from both parties and these stories could be a good foundation to conduct voter outreach. After all, women are the ones who balance the checkbook and make some of the most important decisions in the home.

With white voters, Tillis leads 49/35 over Hagan, but her share of the vote is more than enough for a southern Democrat to win statewide. There’s the issue of education as well. National Democrats and the Hagan campaign are hammering Tillis over his reported $500 million cut to such programs.

A previous Civitas poll of unaffiliated voters saw 68% saying the state was heading in the wrong direction, but named education as the number one issue they felt the Tar Heel state was handling poorly.

With ISIS becoming more of a concern with voters, Democrats are wondering if there will be a return of the “security moms.” Overall, the shift to foreign policy in this election cycle was one thing Democrats didn’t want to happen, as the issue provides electoral dividends for Republicans.

Yet, who cares about a sample of registered voters? It’s a fair point. Likely voters are what should be gauged from here on out, but those polls are–and should–show the same results, especially with the amount of ads and ad time being bought in this race.

Check out the latest round of ads. Tillis launched this one at Hagan over the missing ISIS hearings, which she reportedly ditched to attend a fundraiser in New York City.

Former NASCAR driver Richard Petty is featured in this ad endorsing Tillis.

Crossroads GPS, co-founded by Karl Rove, launched this ad tying Hagan to Obama’s policies, while also adding that Tillis supported a failed insurance reform bill for autistic children in the state.

Still, Hagan has hit the State House Speaker over education and entitlement spending.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has invested heavily in the race, with $9.1 million dollars in reserved ad time that began in August and will end on Election Day.

Here’s their ad saying how you just can’t trust Thom Tillis–and how he will cut Medicare to finance tax breaks for the wealthy.

In all, concerning reserved time for ads, North Carolina ranks near the top in the coming weeks.

CNN’s poll had Hagan up 3 over Tillis, but as Rothman noted in his post; there’s a golden nugget in the poll (via NYT):

The conventional view holds that Ms. Hagan has a lead because Mr. Tillis is unpopular. He’s the speaker of the state’s unpopular House of Representatives, and he passed an education budget that the Hagan campaign and its allies have hammered over the summer.

It’s a seemingly sound story line. Given the state’s demographics and her own ratings, Ms. Hagan should probably be behind in this race; if she’s ahead, it stands to reason that Mr. Tillis is the problem. It also lines up with Ms. Hagan’s advantage in fund-raising — perhaps her only advantage — which has allowed her to spend millions attacking Mr. Tillis on education.

There’s one weakness in this narrative: the amount of evidence supporting it. A USA Today/Suffolk poll in August found Mr. Tillis’s favorability rating at minus-14, but there isn’t much other evidence to back it up. Most of the polls haven’t asked about Mr. Tillis.

Enter the CNN/ORC poll on Sunday. It found that 47 percent had a favorable impression of Mr. Tillis, and 40 percent had an unfavorable view. It didn’t find Ms. Hagan faring much better than she has in other polls: 46 percent favorable, and 47 percent unfavorable.

If there were more surveys showing Mr. Tillis as unpopular as the conventional view, then perhaps we could discount the CNN/ORC poll as an outlier. But in the absence of more evidence to the contrary, one should at least be open to the possibility that Mr. Tillis is more popular than was thought.

That opens the door to a different view of the race: that Mr. Tillis is poised to narrow or eliminate Ms. Hagan’s lead behind undecided voters who view him favorably and who view Ms. Hagan and President Obama unfavorably.
Mr. Tillis might also benefit from the inevitable decline in the support of Sean Haugh, a libertarian candidate who attracted 7 percent of the vote in the CNN/ORC poll.

In other words, the Times is saying that Hagan’s lead is tenuous at best and could “evaporate” in the waning days of the 2014 cycle.

There are two things that could alter things. One is Hagan could go after Tillis more aggressively on the minimum wage; it sunk Jim Talent’s 2006 re-election bid in Missouri.

For Tillis, there are the faith-based voters, who don’t view him or Hagan favorably. But given the GAO report that showed federal regulators are pretty much ignoring provisions that prevent the subsidization of abortion in Obamacare plans. There’s a new angle of attack–and they’re 1/3 of the North Carolina electorate. Then again, pro-Tillis groups have been cutting good ads combining Obamacare’s detrimental effects to education.

My bet: It’s going to be close.