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Democratic Sen. Hagan could face ‘quite a battle’

Never mind that analysts call her one of the Senate’s most vulnerable Democrats. Or that one Republican group already has run ads against her. Or that no Democratic senator has been re-elected in North Carolina since 1968.

“I don’t worry about that,” Democratic U.S. Senator Kay Hagan said Thursday in Charlotte. “I look at what I’ve done. … The bottom line is, I’m results-oriented. Let’s get the job done.”

Hagan, 59, said her job in Washington this year is focused on reducing the federal deficit and bringing jobs to her home state. She’ll also continue a constituent service effort that she says has topped 20,000 cases.

She also knows she’ll face voters next year for the first time since winning election in 2008.

Hagan appears to be poising herself for the race. She offered media interviews this week in Raleigh and Charlotte. She also hired Lindsay Siler, who directed President Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign in the state and oversaw his operation here for four years.

For Hagan, a Shelby native who lives in Greensboro, 2014 will be a very different year.

Unlike 2008, she’ll run without Obama at the top of the ticket. She outpolled Obama by 100,000 votes that year but benefited from the turnout that helped him carry North Carolina.

In 2014, she’ll run in an off-year when many Democratic voters typically stay away from the polls – and in a state fresh off Republican triumphs that saw Pat McCrory win the governorship and Mitt Romney carry the state’s electoral votes.

“I would say she’s going to have quite a battle to hang on to her seat,” said Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia political scientist. “We have her in the ‘endangered’ category.

“North Carolina was one of the two states in a presidential year to move to the Republicans. And presidential years are now always more Democratic than Republican.”

Hagan is widely considered a centrist. She meets with a bipartisan group of senators that has evolved from the so-called “Gang of Six,” formed during the 2011 debt ceiling debate.

A survey last month by Public Policy Polling found 44 percent of North Carolina voters approve of her performance and 43 percent disapprove.

She led a handful of possible Republican challengers, including House Speaker Thom Tillis of Cornelius and U.S. Reps. Virginia Foxx of Banner Elk and Renee Ellmers of Dunn. For the GOP, it could be a crowded primary.

“The advantage she has is she can be focused on November 2014, whereas the others have to be focused on May 2014,” Republican consultant Paul Shumaker said.

‘Conversations with Kay’

In 2008, Republican U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole, whom Hagan defeated, suffered from a perception that she spent little time in North Carolina. One report found she’d only spent 13 days in the state in 2006.

Hagan seems determined to avoid a similar label. She’s been back to the state every week, holding her “Conversations with Kay” community meetings in all 100 counties.

“It gave me a great opportunity to see people here in North Carolina,” she said.

On Thursday she visited a Charlotte-based nonprofit called Charlotte Bridge Home that helps veterans and their families. It was Hagan’s 65th visit to Charlotte and its media market since being elected.

She spoke to leaders of the agency and met a client, Angelique Mitchell, who lost her husband to injuries suffered in Iraq.

“We as a country have got to step up for these men and women and their families,” Hagan, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said as news cameras recorded the meeting.

Later Hagan talked about some of the constituent cases her office has been involved in. One involved helping an American aid worker injured in Sudan get to Chapel Hill for medical treatment. The worker’s father, Hagan said, thanked the senator for “helping save my daughter’s life.”

“I call these my ‘Oprah moments,’ ” she said.

Morrill: 704-358-5059
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