Too Much!

In North Carolina, GOP Overreach May Be More Unpopular Than Obama

Republicans are straining to tie Kay Hagan to the president, but she is benefiting from the backlash against the state GOP’s hard-right agenda.

Win McNamee/Getty Images

I might be the first person ever diagnosed with, “PTED” – Post-Traumatic Election Ad Disorder. How did I contract it? I just spent three days in the Senate battleground state of North Carolina.

Over that time, I watched and heard more campaign ads that a human being should ever be subjected to. If our government ever needs to get a terrorist to talk, just force him to sit through nonstop campaign ads. (Although it might actually be a violation of the Geneva Convention.)

I heard ads for every office from Senate to a range of local offices. I even heard campaign ads for local judicial candidates who touted their endorsement by the Tea Party. How can a Tea Party-backed judge ever be fair and impartial given the rigid right-wing ideology of that movement?!

However, even in my delirium of being overexposed to political ads, I can tell you that despite polls showing the race a dead heat, it’s very likely that Democratic Senator Kay Hagan will win reelection over her Republican challenger, Thom Tillis. And this may prove the GOP’s undoing in capturing control of the Senate this year.

This race wasn’t even supposed to be this close. Mitt Romney had won the Tar Heel State in 2012, the Republicans nominated the “moderate” Senate candidate the big money people wanted, Hagan isn’t that popular, and Obama even less so.

And it’s not like the Republicans aren’t spending tons of money hitting the same themes we see them working nationally, namely tying the Democratic candidate to Obama. And if you consider that Obama only has a 41 percent approval rating in North Carolina, this would seem to be a wise political strategy.

Ad after ad I saw described Hagan as a “rubber stamp,” almost zombie-esque follower of Obama. I kept expecting a GOP commercial showing Hagan actually living in the White House with the Obamas.

The most memorable ad of the lot was one run by American Crossroads, the Super PAC associated with Karl Rove. It features a young girl at a spelling bee who is asked to spell “Hagan.” The student responds: “O-b-a-m-a.” The judges then laughingly comment, “Close enough.”

Yet it appears that Tillis, the RNC, and conservative Super PACs forget the old adage, “all politics is local.” So while voters nationwide might be sending a message to Obama that they are unhappy with him by voting Republican, in North Carolina many voters are poised to send that message to the GOP-dominated state government by voting Democratic. After the GOP took control of the state legislature in 2010 and governorship in 2012, they offered a master class on how to transform a state into a conservative caliphate.

The biggest grievance mentioned by the North Carolinians I spoke to was the GOP’s slashing of the state’s education budget. (Hagan has made this a central theme in her ads since Tillis is the speaker of the state assembly.) Plus there has been outrage over the Republican cuts to unemployment benefits, restrictions on women’s reproductive rights, and rejection of the expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare.

Add to that the GOP has done everything it can to make voting more challenging for those groups who traditionally don’t vote for them. They enacted laws requiring government-issued ID to vote, reduced early voting from 17 to 10 days, ended pre-registration for 16 and 17 year olds, and limited same-day voter registration.

If that weren’t enough, the GOP has tried to close down voting locations that favored Democrats. (Anyone else get the sense that these Republicans might actually hate democracy?!) In fact, on Tuesday I was at Appalachian State University in Boone, where the GOP controlled Watauga County Board of Elections had decided to close a polling location on the campus which had been used for years. Why? Because Boone is a Democratic enclave thanks in part to the college students.

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By closing this polling station, Republicans were forcing students to drive 20 minutes from campus to vote. Obviously some students wouldn’t have access to transportation and would’ve simply not voted—exactly what the Republicans were hoping.

However, only days before early voting was to commence, a local judge ordered the polling station open. The judge found that the Republicans’ “sole purpose” in closing the location was to unconstitutionally disenfranchise younger voters. (Thanks again to the Founding Fathers for the separation of powers!)

This overreach by North Carolina's GOP did more than just rev Democrats up; it pissed them off. It gave rise in 2013 to the weekly “Moral Monday” protests by groups opposed to the GOP’s polices, which have continued through 2014. This anger has now translated into votes. As of Sunday, over 1 million people had already voted, that’s 100,000 more than those who voted in the entire early voting period in 2010.

And what must make Hagan really happy is that 49 percent of the ballots cast so far are by Democrats to only 32 percent by Republicans. In contrast, in 2010 Republicans accounted for a higher percentage (36 percent) and Democrats were two points lower at 47 percent.

True, on Election Day the Republicans may turn out in big numbers. But the way it's looking now, the right-wing policies of the state’s GOP controlled legislature has backfired. And thanks to these Republicans, come January, Kay Hagan will likely be sworn in for another six-year term and Harry Reid might just remain Senate majority leader.