- Associated Press - Monday, February 24, 2014

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - North Carolina U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan officially began her re-election bid Monday, saying she’ll keep seeking bipartisan solutions within Washington’s gridlock and warned conservative interests hoping to defeat her would push an extreme agenda if successful.

After turning in candidacy papers at the State Board of Elections, the Greensboro Democrat sought to differentiate what she called a moderate, pragmatic philosophy with “outsiders” who have already spent several million dollars on television ads seeking to blemish her.

“North Carolinians know these special interests are not accountable to our state,” Hagan told reporters at a news conference, surrounded by supporters. “They don’t know about our state or about our values. But I’ve got one lesson for them that they’ll learn soon enough - our state is not for sale.”

Hagan, a former state senator who upset Republican incumbent Sen. Elizabeth Dole in 2008, sounded at times like someone running for governor instead of a second six-year term on Capitol Hill. She talked about the North Carolina state government GOP agenda over the past year, suggesting that similar results would come to Washington if she were to lose.

“In Raleigh, we saw them ram through a partisan special interest agenda that hurt North Carolina families and violated our shared values,” said Hagan, pointing to a voter identification and elections overhaul law and decisions to reduce unemployment benefits and not to expand Medicaid coverage.

The criticism of the General Assembly is an indirect jab at state House Speaker Thom Tillis, one of several Republicans seeking the Senate GOP nomination in the May primary. Another Democrat, first-time candidate Will Stewart of Pender County, also filed as a candidate Monday, requiring Hagan to run in her own party primary.

The campaign for Hagan’s seat is expected to be one of the most expensive in the country, as the outcome could settle which party has the Senate majority in 2015.

The conservative Americans for Prosperity already has aired TV commercials criticizing Hagan for supporting the national health care law. In a Web message released later Monday, Hagan identified the “outsiders” as the Koch brothers, which helps finance Americans for Prosperity, and Karl Rove, who has helped raise money for Tillis. “They want a senator whose strings they can pull,” she said. Hagan had nearly $7 million in her campaign coffers as of Dec. 31.

John Dudley, director of Americans for Prosperity’s North Carolina chapter, said the group has North Carolina donors and supporters that want to call out Hagan on the health care law. “We want to hold her accountable,” Dudley said in an interview.

State Republican Party spokesman Daniel Keylin said in a release “this election is a referendum on Kay Hagan’s failed record as a U.S. senator whether she wants it to be or not” and suggested she’s been a rubber stamp for President Barack Obama’s agenda.

Hagan, 60, may be weighed down most politically by Obama’s health care overhaul, which she voted for in 2010 but whose poor rollout to date has brought more opposition to it. She’s been criticized for articulating Obama’s oft-repeated but later broken promise that anyone liking their current coverage would be able to keep it under the new law.

Hagan said Monday she was backing a bill to make such a coverage option permanent. She didn’t directly answer questions Monday about exactly when she knew that promise would fall short, saying “it wasn’t clear” insurance companies were offering plans that would fail to meet the law’s standard to remain intact.

For a long time, health insurance market leader Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina told policyholders with plans that didn’t meet the federal standards that they would have to move to another plan that complied with the law, the company said in a statement late Monday.

Hagan told reporters she’s been working to help older adults, college students and veterans’ families during her first five years in office. She was introduced at the news conference by the spouse of an Air Force service member in Fayetteville who praised Hagan’s constituent services.

“I am more committed than ever to the bipartisanship our country needs now and our state demands,” Hagan said. “There is still much to accomplish.”

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