North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan took her place amid the carnage of the Democratic Party’s losses Tuesday night, losing her Senate seat 49 percent to 47 percent to the state’s Republican House Speaker Thom Tillis.
The Hagan-Tillis race had the distinction of being the most expensive of all of the country’s high-dollar Senate contests in 2014, pricing out at more than $111 million in candidate and outside spending and underwriting an unprecedented 114,000 ads on North Carolina television.
Going into the campaign’s final weeks, Hagan had appeared to have escaped the death-drag of President Obama’s plunging approval ratings by focusing her campaign on local issues, especially Tillis’ controversial time presiding over North Carolina’s headline-grabbing state House.
Hagan never missed a chance to remind voters that during Tillis’ time leading the House, Republicans had passed a constitutional ban on gay marriage, repealed the estate tax, tightened restrictions for abortion, enacted a photo-ID requirement for voting, and imposed major cuts to state programs, including education funding.
Passing that grab-bag of Conservative priorities led liberals in the state to launch the "Moral Monday" protests, regular sit-ins and rallies at the state capital to protest the conservative agenda.
Tillis struggled to break out of the box that Hagan put him in until September, when the Islamic State in Syria (ISIS) released videos of militants beheading American journalists. An Elon University poll released on the eve of election day showed that national security issues had emerged as the most important to North Carolina voters, supplanting the local issues of education and the economy that Hagan was having so much success with.
Tillis responded by cutting an ad criticizing President Obama's handing of the ISIS threat and hitting Hagan for missing Armed Services Committee hearings on the issue. The attack worked.
Although Tillis generally refrained from talking about the legislature when he was on the stump during the campaign, once victory was assured, he gave a not-so-subtle nod to it during his speech to supporters Tuesday night. "We're going continue the tradition that we've done here in North Carolina," he said of his plans for Washington. "We're going to go there and expect more out of our leaders and we're gonna fulfill our promises. We're going to make this country great again."