The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

February 28, 2014

U.S. Senate race in N.C. shaping up to be costliest in the nation

By Brent Laurenz

Thursday, February 27, 2014 — RALEIGH — Outside money keeps pouring into the U.S. Senate race in North Carolina. The seat, currently occupied by first-term Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan, is shaping up to be one of the most competitive — and expensive — Senate races in the country this year.

Democrats currently have a 55-45 majority in the U.S. Senate, but most political observers agree that Republicans have a legitimate shot at winning back control of the chamber in this year’s election. And the race here in North Carolina is pivotal to determining that control.

North Carolina is one of seven Senate races up this year featuring Democratic senators facing re-election in states President Barack Obama lost in 2012. Of those seven contests, North Carolina’s may very well end up being the most competitive.

So it’s not necessarily a surprise that outside money is already flowing into the race, but the amount of money is pretty staggering. Estimates show that at least $7 million has already been spent by outside groups trying to influence the election, which includes over $5 million spent by the conservative group Americans for Prosperity.

The sheer volume of spending by outside groups at this stage of an election is unprecedented in North Carolina, but at the same time this is becoming the new normal in elections across the country. Unlike candidates, these outside groups can accept unlimited money and many don’t have to disclose their donors.

As a result, more and more campaign dollars are finding their way into these groups’ coffers, with the result being a massive influx of spending in competitive races.

The latest ad blitz comes courtesy of Patriot Majority USA, a Democratic-aligned group supporting Hagan, and attacks Republican N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis, who is the closest to a frontrunner that exists in the GOP primary.

Tillis faces a crowded primary, but with his position in the N.C. House and his early fundraising edge many see him as the most likely to emerge from the Republican field to take on Hagan in the general election.

Generally, attacking candidates is what this outside money is primarily spent on during a campaign. So while Hagan is bearing the brunt of the attacks so far, it’s important for her campaign that outside groups are coming to her defense right now because it allows her to continue to stockpile her own war chest and save her campaign spending for later in the election season.

In the end, outside groups and their spending could play a significant role in this race. That is especially true if Tillis, or one of the other leading Republicans, has to spend a great deal of money just to win the primary, allowing Hagan extra time to raise cash and craft her message.

In that scenario, conservative and Republican-aligned groups could play a key role in propping up the eventual Republican nominee while they replenish their campaign coffers after a bruising primary.

Counting spending from outside groups and the campaigns themselves, the U.S. Senate race in North Carolina is likely to be the most expensive in the country.

With Tar Heel Democrats fired up over conservative policies coming from Raleigh and Republicans fed up with President Obama and the Affordable Care Act, this election season will surely be an interesting one to watch.

Brent Laurenz is executive director of the N.C. Center for Voter Education and a contributor to He can be contacted at laurenz@ncvoter