- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 26, 2014

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — University of North Carolina student Olivia Perry left Sen. Kay R. Hagan’s rally with a group of friends and marched three blocks off campus to an early voting station to cast her ballot for the Democratic incumbent who had just promised to fight for cheaper student loans and equal pay for women.

“We just saw Kay Hagan. We’re fired up,” 21-year-old Ms. Perry told a poll worker outside the early voting site at a Jewish student center.

The scene was exactly what Mrs. Hagan hoped to accomplish at the UNC rally, part of her final push to energize the Democratic base for the Nov. 4 election that will hinge on turnout and help determine which party controls the U.S. Senate.

Mrs. Hagan and Republican Thom Tillis, speaker of the state House, remain locked in a neck-and-neck race heading into the final week of the campaign. A Civitas poll last week showed them tied at 44 percent.

Both sides are spending millions of dollars on massive and sophisticated get-out-the-vote operations.

The Hagan campaign boasts a GOTV ground game that resembles a presidential campaign, with more than 10,000 volunteers and offices throughout the state. The effort is augmented by voter drives by allied groups that include Planned Parenthood, the League of Conservation Voters and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

SEE ALSO: North Carolina Senate race headed down to the wire

For Mrs. Hagan, the challenge remains motivating the Democratic base — women, minorities and young voters — who are not only bitterly disappointed with President Obama but who tend to vote less in all midterm elections.

Mrs. Hagan’s strategy is to stoke hostility toward Mr. Tillis, whom her campaign and its allies have vilified in a yearlong onslaught of TV attack ads.

“We’re going to get a twofor in this race: We’re going to keep me as U.S. senator, and we are kicking Thom Tillis out as speaker of the House,” she said to cheers and applause form the roughly 200 students at the UNC rally.

“Look at what Speaker Tillis’ failed policies have done in our state,” Mrs. Hagan said. “He’s rigging the system against the middle class, against small businesses, against students, against women, against seniors. You name it, Speaker Tillis has made terrible, terrible economic decisions [that have affected] everybody else.

“Well, we’re going to stand up strong and show him that we want an economy that works for everyone,” she said.

Democratic strategists remained optimistic that the plan is working and that Mrs. Hagan can eke out a victory, holding on to a slim 2-point or 4-point advantage in most polls for the past two months.

PHOTOS: 2014 Midterms: Vulnerable Democrats

“The Democratic base is going to show up. They are showing up to protest Tillis and the legislature as much as they are to support Hagan,” said Thomas Mills, a Democratic political analyst in Carrboro, North Carolina.

At campaign stops — including an event Saturday with Hillary Rodham Clinton — Mrs. Hagan repeats the familiar attacks on Mr. Tillis.

She stirs up college students and others by accusing Mr. Tillis of cutting $500 million from the state education budget; she riles women by decrying Mr. Tillis for ending state funding of Planned Parenthood and blocking equal pay legislation; she provokes black voters by characterizing the state’s new voter ID law as Mr. Tillis’ attempt to restrict their access to the ballot box.

The accusation that he slashed $500 million from the education budget has been widely refuted. The legislature this year actually increased education spending, mostly on teacher salaries and benefits. Democrats dismissed it as budget gimmicks.

The charge nevertheless remains a staple of Mrs. Hagan’s stump speech, and the crowds respond to it.

Mr. Tillis has defended the voter ID law as a “common-sense” measure to safeguard the voting system. At the time the bill passed, polls showed that nearly three-quarters of North Carolina voters supported it.

Mr. Tillis did preside over defunding Planned Parenthood, but the group continues to operate in the state with federal funding. He also killed the equal pay bill, saying at the time that he supported equal pay for equal work and wanted laws already on the books to be enforced before adding more.

In a sign that the attacks are working, Mr. Tillis last week backed away from his opposition to Medicaid expansion, which Mrs. Hagan says leaves some of the state’s poor without health care and sends North Carolina federal tax dollars to the 28 states that did expand the program.

“It wasn’t like I had an ideological objection to expanding Medicaid,” Mr. Tillis said last week on Time Warner Cable News. “We’re trending in a direction where we should consider potential expansion.”

Hagan campaign spokeswoman Sadie Weiner pounced, saying, “He’s trying to have it both ways, because he knows North Carolinians aren’t buying his devastating record.”

Mrs. Hagan still struggles to distance herself from Mr. Obama, who is extremely unpopular in the Tar Heel State. Mr. Tillis has made the president a key issue in the campaign, relentlessly reminding voters Mrs. Hagan voted with the president 95 percent of the time.

Asked by a reporter during a campaign stop whether she thought Mr. Obama was a strong leader, Mrs. Hagan took a breath and steeled herself.

“When issues come up for a vote, I stand for North Carolina. I certainly oppose the president on issues where I think it’s not right for our state,” she said, noting her opposition to Mr. Obama’s trade deals and urging him to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

“I’ve voted against my own party’s budget that had too deep, severe cuts to our military. On the other hand, Speaker Tillis cannot name one issue where he would oppose his party,” she said.

Pressed to name an instance when Mr. Obama demonstrated strong leadership, she harkened back to the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

“He’s been slow to act on Ebola and ISIS,” Mrs. Hagan said, using an acronym for the Islamic State terrorist group. “When the BP spill took place in the Gulf, we were beginning to be slow, but then he put the resources to bear and the science to bear to help solve that very disastrous problem.”

• S.A. Miller can be reached at smiller@washingtontimes.com.

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