- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 5, 2014

CORNELIUS, N.C. (AP) - U.S. Sen.-elect Thom Tillis said Wednesday he defeated Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan because undecided voters ultimately broke his way in a tight, expensive race that Tillis turned into a referendum on President Barack Obama’s job performance for the past six years.

Speaking to reporters the day after eking out a win over Hagan that clinched the U.S. Senate majority for Republicans, the state House speaker said he would take a little rest and then turn his attention to governing in Washington. He’ll be sworn in in January.

“We’ve been given an opportunity to lead and now we have to lead,” Tillis said in the town council chambers in Cornelius, where he held his first elected position more than a decade ago.

Tillis captured the nation’s most expensive Senate race with 49 percent of the vote compared to 47 percent for Hagan, or a margin of about 48,000 votes, according to unofficial results from all 100 counties. Libertarian nominee Sean Haugh got nearly 4 percent.

Tillis won despite failing to carry any of North Carolina’s seven largest counties. He made up the difference by doing well in suburban counties in the voter-rich Piedmont, traditional Republican strongholds in the foothills and mountains and portions of Down East.



Many late polls had Hagan holding a slight lead but termed the race too close to call.

“About three weeks ago, in spite what was going on with the polls, our internal polls had us pretty much tracking dead even,” Tillis said. “And then, last night, I think, probably, the undecided vote ended up breaking to our advantage.”

Once in Washington, Tillis said lawmakers need to clear a legislative logjam: scores of bills from the Republican-led U.S. House that he said have been tied up by current Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. He said lawmakers must break the logjam “to prove to the American citizens that we can govern.”

Tillis said he would like to see Obama work with House and Senate members toward a legacy of bipartisanship. But he suggested the president would have to face the prospect of changes to his signature health care law. Tillis said he would vote to repeal the act as he promised, but is realistic about what would happen.

“I suspect that there will be a repeal bill that will be sent to the president. I also suspect he’ll veto it,” Tillis said. “So, then, what we’ll need to do is take a look at things that we can delay” such as employer insurance mandates for workers “and replace them with something more sustainable.”

Tillis said he hopes to serve on the Senate Armed Services and Agriculture committees, two areas that constitute a significant portion of the North Carolina economy.

Exit polling of people who voted early, by absentee ballot and on Election Day conducted for The Associated Press and the television networks showed Hagan performing better than Tillis among women, black voters and voters who identified themselves as liberal or moderate.

Tills performed well with veterans, white voters, religious voters and married voters with children, according to the polling by Edison Research. Hagan’s campaign was quiet Wednesday after the defeat. Hagan addressed supporters late Tuesday night after calling Tillis to congratulate him.

State Democratic Party Chairman Randy Voller said Wednesday the outcome may have been different if more money from Hagan’s campaign and national sources had been shifted to local get-out-the-vote and party-building efforts. Overall, voter turnout was at 44 percent, the same as in the last midterm election in 2010.

He also said candidates who embraced Obama, rather than distancing themselves from the president, might have energized Democrats more.

“The president stands for policies that we believe in,” Voller said, adding if the Democratic base turns out to vote, “then we win our election.”

___

Robertson reported from Raleigh, North Carolina. Associated Press writer Jonathan Drew also contributed to the report.

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