(pictured above: U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan addresses the crowd at the Benton Convention Center.)
U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan on Saturday stumped through the Community Service Awards Gala, an annual event sponsored by The Chronicle, delivering a short message tailor-made for the largely African American audience of several hundred.
“I continue to work with the president and meet with him regularly,” she averred, contradicting the Republican narrative that she’s distancing herself from Obama as she battles uphill to win a second term.
The state’s junior senator was among those who latched onto Obama’s long coat-tails in 2008. His landmark victory in this traditionally red state helped Hagan – then a Guilford County state senator – to an improbable victory over venerable incumbent Elizabeth Dole. In recent months, though, as the approvals of both the president and Hagan have nosedived, the relationship between the two has been ostensibly abstruse. She was a no-show for the president’s last two visits to the state and oblique when asked if the president would join her on the trail this election season.
“The president is always welcome to North Carolina and to campaign,” Hagan said after her public remarks.
From the gala rostrum, she inveighed against the Republican-heavy General Assembly’s decisions to truncate the early voting calendar and institute a voter ID law, asserting that such measures are a slap in the face of the Greensboro Four and others who fought and died for equal rights.
“I am pleased that our U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder decided to take action in our state,” said Hagan, who was among those who urged the Justice Department to mount a legal challenge to North Carolina’s new voting laws.
Hagan said her focus in Washington remains on turning around failing schools (Her STARS Act would infuse the lowest performing schools in each state with funds and resources.) and raising the minimum wage to an hourly $10.10.
“The families I talk to, they are working hard … They are working longer, and they are falling further behind,” she said.
She made no mention of the Affordable Care Act during her public remarks, which were delivered on a day that several Democratic members of the Winston-Salem City Council sponsored an ACA enrollment drive. Republicans believe the health care law is Hagan’s Achilles Heel and are spending lavishly to remind voters that she voted for “ObamaCare.”
Hagan said she stands behind the ACA, but wants to see “commonsense” fixes made to it, like extending the March 31 enrollment deadline to compensate for the sign-up period lost during the calamitous roll-out of the ACA web site.
“We should extend the deadline until the end of May to give people the same amount of time for the time out,” she stated after her speech.
More than 150,000 North Carolinians have enrolled for coverage via the ACA, despite state leaders’ refusal to fully implement the law’s health insurance exchanges and expand Medicaid to provide heath coverage to the poorest North Carolinians.
Hagan said the ACA’s relative success here attests to how broken the health care system was.
“Before the Affordable Care Act was law, a third of the people who signed up for individual coverage were denied in North Carolina,” she said.
Eight Republicans are vying to go head-to-head with Hagan, who faces perfunctory primary challenges from two Democrats, but the Hagan campaign is focused on just one – House Speaker Thom Tillis.
On Feb. 26, the day Tillis filed, a missive from Team Hagan dubbed him, “Special Interest Speaker Thom Tillis.” Nearly every day since, the senator’s campaign has promulgated a new Tillis-centered dispatch, playing both offense and defense in a race that has already seen the influx of nearly $9 million from outside special interests groups keen on Hagan’s ouster.
Hagan claims that Tillis, a staunch opponent of the ACA, lacks any semblance of a health care solution and has avoided providing specifics about how he would help the more than 1.5 million North Carolinians who lack coverage.
“If this bill (the ACA) was repealed, it would take away health care for people with preexisting conditions; women would automatically pay more than men; and seniors would pay more for their prescription drug coverage,” Hagan said.
Health care is not one of the nearly two dozen “Topics” addressed on Tillis’ campaign web site. (“ObamaCare” is, but only to voice Tillis’ antipathy toward it.) Jordan Shaw, Tillis’ campaign manager and spokesman, said that repealing “ObamaCare” is the first step in ushering in alternate health care fixes.
“Speaker Tillis does not believe that the Affordable Care Act is the only way to address health care,” Shaw stated Sunday via email. “Our website says that Thom Tillis will fight for private sector solutions to lower healthcare costs for North Carolinians. Many of those ideas are included in plans that have been put forward by Republicans in Congress, and those plans should serve as a framework for legislative action moving forward.”
Hagan is predicting a victory in November, but the picture in everyone else’s crystal ball is not as clear. A recent poll conducted by Elon University found Hagan’s approval rating at an abysmal 33 percent, a slide observers say has been largely precipitated by the slew of PAC-financed attack ads.
Hagan has found some success by invoking the Koch Brothers – whose Americans for Prosperity is largely fueling the anti-Hagan machine – for fundraising and campaigning purposes. The senator began the year with nearly $7 million in her campaign war chest.
She believes voters will eventually see beyond the soundbites and will reject outside puppet masters.
“North Carolina is not going to sell this seat to out-of-state billionaires,” Hagan trumpeted as she made a hasty exit out of the Benton Convention Center.