With Hagan out, which Democrat will challenge Richard Burr?

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx could be a leading candidate for U.S. Senate in 2016, but many experts think he’ll decline to run.
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx could be a leading candidate for U.S. Senate in 2016, but many experts think he’ll decline to run. jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com

Former U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan’s decision this week not to run for Sen. Richard Burr’s seat in 2016 leaves a wide open field for Democrats with no clear frontrunner. Here’s a quick look at who might challenge the two-term Republican and the political pros and cons of each:

▪ Anthony Foxx, U.S. Secretary of Transportation and former Charlotte mayor.

PROS: Rose quickly from Charlotte City Council member to President Obama’s inner circle. Is likeable, popular with Democrats and able to attract voters in the middle. Could raise money as well as any other prospective candidate.

CONS: Still an inexperienced campaigner and, despite his lofty position, little-known statewide. And he has reportedly told Burr he will not run.

▪ Dan Blue, state senator

PROS: The former N.C. House Speaker and current Senate minority leader has built an unparalleled network during his 30-plus years in N.C. politics. Has the most fundraising and campaigning experience of any potential candidate.

CONS: Not an especially rousing speaker. Would be nearly 68 by the time he takes office, meaning nearly 80 by the end of a second term.

▪ Janet Cowell, N.C. Treasurer

PROS: Generally highly regarded for her performance as treasurer. Long seen as a strong contender for higher office.

CONS: Little-known outside state government circles, and she has already said she is running for re-election as treasurer.

▪ Tom Ross, UNC system president

PROS: Eminently senatorial. A long record of accomplishment across different fields, from the judiciary to foundations to higher ed. A sympathetic figure to many after his unreasonable ouster by the UNC Board of Governors.

CONS: He is still the UNC president until Dec. 31, an inconvenient – no, nearly impossible – perch from which to raise money and mount a U.S. Senate campaign. Like Blue, he would be a well-established AARP member at age 66 by the time he’s sworn in.

▪ Josh Stein, state senator

PROS: Young up and comer has established himself as one of the leading Democrats in Raleigh and would be popular with liberals.

CONS: He’s expected to run for the attorney general seat Roy Cooper is leaving. Persuading him to abandon that more likely victory for a longer-shot Senate run will be tough.

So Democrats are scrambling. Which has to be frustrating to them, because Burr is relatively little-known among voters for someone with such a long history in the state, and national experts considered his seat one to watch as Democrats try to regain control of the Senate. They have a long way to go right now. -- Taylor Batten