Kay Hagan has managed to maintain a lead in the North Carolina Senate race even as her fellow Obama-supporting Southerners Mark Pryor and Mary Landrieu have fallen slightly behind. The latest poll, by CNN/Opinion Research, has her leading Republican Thom Tillis 46-43. This is consistent with the Real Clear Politics average in which she leads by 3.5 points.
Why is Hagan ahead in a state President Obama failed to carry in 2012. For one thing, Tillis apparently is not a particularly strong candidate. For another, a Libertarian candidate, Sean Haugh, is attracting voters who, on the whole, would probably favor Tillis in a two-way race. The new CNN poll puts Haugh’s support at 7 percent.
Finally, North Carolina is significantly less Red than Arkansas and Louisiana. In fact, Obama carried the state in 2008.
But Hagan suffered a blow over the weekend when it was revealed that, by virtue of the 2009 Stimulus Bill for which she voted, her husband’s company received nearly $390,000 in federal grants for energy projects and tax credits.
Hagan’s response to this story is that she did not help her husband win the federal funding. She also disputes any suggestion they have profited from the Stimulus.
As to the first claim, it may be true that Hagan did not intervene directly on her husband’s behalf. But soon after voting for the Stimulus, she told a North Carolina newspaper that “there’s a lot of renewable energy-generating capacity in the stimulus package.” Her husband’s company was in the renewable energy business and Hagan knew that it was a potential direct beneficiary of the Stimulus.
As to the second claim, it’s implausible to believe that the husband’s business did not profit from receiving almost $400,000 in federal grants and tax credits. According to Politico, the Hagans’ income from JDC Manufacturing increased from less than $201 in 2008 to nearly $134,000 in 2013.
Unfortunately for Tillis, he too is subject to claims that he benefitted from votes on stimulus legislation. Politico reports that as a state legislator, he voted in 2010 to allow North Carolina to participate in the federal renewable energy tax credit program, which benefited a bank in which he owns at least $50,000 in stock.
Politico acknowledges, however, that Tillis’ vote benefitted him less directly than Hagan’s vote benefitted her family. Tillis does not own the bank and has no control over what projects it invests in.
Will the fact that the Hagans directly benefitted from Kay Hagan’s vote for the Stimulus hurt her reelection prospects? Or will North Carolina voters see this issue as a wash, given the indirect gain Tillis arguably accrued through his vote?
It’s hard to say. But this should be a close race either way, and if the Libertarian third-party candidate fades, Tillis may be able to pull it out. News of the Hagans’ personal benefit from the Stimulus would seem to make this outcome marginally more likely.