A big day for Democrats as, for now, I’m taking North Carolina off the Toss-Up list. While I moved this race to “Leans Dem” for a brief period in the middle of the summer, Tillis had a decently strong month of August. Yet, that’s quickly faded again as we’re now halfway into September. With a month and a half until election day, all the data points would indicate that Kay Hagan has likely pulled into a very real, though potentially small, lead.
For the last several model updates, I’ve consistently had Hagan up in the 3-4% range. The problem for her is that she still remains below 48%. The advantage for her is that she’s been slowly climbing toward that mark as Democrats and moderates have been coming home to her. She ended strong against Elizabeth Dole to win six years ago, and she may be doing so again here. Hagan is a moderate Democrat from Greensboro, a bellwether part of the state that’s not known for being the liberal hubs of Charlotte or the Research Triangle of Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill. Instead, Hagan, like Mark Pryor, plays well in middle of the road cities like Greensboro, Winston-Salem and Wilmington. The difference between Pryor and Hagan is that NC is simply much, much bluer than Arkansas. The state is now anchored by the 1-40 corridor which is filled with young professionals and educated, white collar transplants from the North and West. (Raleigh and Durham were just ranked as the #2 and #3 most educated cities in the country, only eclipsed by Ann Arbor, if that gives you a perspective on the make-up of these cities. Throw in Chapel Hill/Orange County in, which is the most liberal county in the entire South, and Democrats have a decent base in the state.) To win, Democrats need big margins in these parts of the state and then must carry Winston-Salem, Greensboro, and Wilmington by at least a few points. With her base in the Winston-Salem/Greensboro area, Hagan gets an advantage.
Tillis is simply stuck in the low to mid 40s. He’s yet to show that he can convert those remaining voters in the state. He’s tied to a deeply unpopular state legislature that has dragged him down, much like the unpopular Democrat-controlled legislature in Colorado has hurt Udall and Hickenlooper.
Overall, I have Tillis tracking in the 40-44% range with Hagan in the 45-48% range. As such, I’m moving this race to “Leans Dem” today.
North Carolina Senate Rating: Moves from “Toss-Up” to “Leans Dem”
Model: Hagan(D) 47.5% – Tillis(R) 43.7%