If you’re sick of the negative political ads that have been dominating our TV airwaves for the past six months, we’ve got bad news for you — you haven’t seen anything yet. That’s because with the passing of Labor Day, we’ve reached the real Opening Day of the political season.
Everything that’s come to this point has just been pre-season training: raising money, calculating strategy, putting the teams in place. From this point on, though, things get serious. It’s too late for candidates to change up their game plans.
In North Carolina, the stakes are so much higher than anything we’ve seen in our lifetimes. Arguably the fate of the entire world, at least in part, is in the hands of North Carolina’s voters.
It’s not an outrageous assertion when you take into account the fact that party control of the U.S. Senate quite likely will come down to who wins the race between the incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan and Republican state Speaker of the House Thom Tillis — and with it control of the U.S. Congress, with its commensurate decisions affecting not only domestic but also foreign policy, from humanitarian assistance to whether we go to war. But with nine weeks before Election Day and nearly $30 million already spent on those damned TV ads (and with probably four times that amount yet to come), there’s not a political pundit in the country who can tell you how the North Carolina race is going to turn out — let alone which party will control the Senate.
And that’s something of a shock all unto itself. This time last year, in the midst of a governmental shutdown over budget issues and the fight over Obamacare, the conventional wisdom was that a Republican “wave” was coming in this mid-term election that would sweep across the country, handing the GOP more than the net increase of six seats needed to take control of the Senate. It’s seemingly a perfect storm: the sixth year of an unpopular two-term presidency, an economy that’s still in the doldrums, and a restless electorate that feels as though the average citizen’s needs aren’t being addressed, and in which many more seats currently held by Democrats than Republicans are up for grabs. But that wave simply has not materialized, at least not in the polls to date.
Across the country, analysts say control of the Senate will come down to races in about a half-dozen states, with most giving the Republicans a razor-thin edge. But everyone expected it to be much more obvious by now. And that’s one reason why this will be the most expensive mid-term race in history. The nearly $30 million Hagan and Tillis have spent so far in North Carolina, with most of that money coming from sources outside of the state, is part of the $1 billion that’s estimated to have been spent to date across the country, which is expected to balloon to $4 billion by the time the votes are counted a little more than two months from now.
For all that money, everything may come down to the results in Louisiana, Arkansas, Alaska and North Carolina, all states where incumbent Democrats were thought to have been much more vulnerable than now appears to be the case. In the latest Real Clear Politics summary of the national polls, Tillis was ahead by one point, well within the margin of error, but Hagan led by 2 points and 1 point in the most recent individual polls.
But neither candidate tallies more than 45 percent support at any time, and that’s crucial because there’s a libertarian candidate that could upset the applecart, probably for Tillis.
On Wednesday night at 7 p.m., Hagan and Tillis will square off in their first statewide televised debate, from Raleigh. If their TV ads are any indication of what to expect, they’ll continue spending their time pointing fingers at each other over issues such as Hagan’s ties to President Obama, her support of his Affordable Care Act, and her failure to fix the state’s Veterans Hospitals, and Tillis’s “mishandling” of the state legislature, his support of tax breaks for the wealthy, and inadequate pay increases for teachers.
As for November, everything, of course, is expected to come down to turnout. Republicans hope their voters are more energized by their opposition to Obama and the opportunity to take control of the Senate. Democrats believe their margins with women, black and Hispanic voters, who tend to go to the polls in significant numbers even in off-year elections, will make the difference.
The end result between now and then? More ads than you could ever have imagined, probably more nasty in nature than you ever dreamed.