Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.
Monday, December 5, 2016

By Renee Schoof, McClatchy Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — Women were the key to Senator Kay Hagan’s election in 2008, and in what is likely to be a close race for re-election this year, she is stressing issues aimed at them — equal pay, health care, birth control and education.

The strategy is part of the North Carolina Democrat’s efforts to attack the policies pushed over the past three years by the Republican-controlled state legislature, where her GOP opponent, state House Speaker Thom Tillis, has played a major role.

Hagan’s game plan tries to capitalize on her party’s strength among women voters and gives her campaign a message that it hopes will appeal to women who vote independent as well. Boosting the Democratic turnout in the November mid-term election is crucial for Hagan, and Democratic candidates across the country. Midterms are traditionally low-turnout elections and often hurt the party in power, and this year it’s Hagan’s.

“In all close Senate races, male or female, Democrats win by winning women more than they lose men by,” said Democratic political strategist Celinda Lake. “So women are key to their victory.”

Particularly important for her will be the groups that traditionally drop off in off-year elections — unmarried women under 55, younger women and women of color, Lake said.

In a recent interview, Hagan said she would have “the biggest, most effective turnout operation North Carolina has ever seen in a Senate race.” She said it would include “neighbor to neighbor” visits to women by campaign volunteers.

On Monday, the campaign will unveil another piece of her strategy, the formation of “Women for Kay,” which will fan out seeking support and post campaign news on Facebook.

The group’s chairs are Betty McCain of Wilson, the former head of the state Department of Cultural Resources; Nelda Leon of Charlotte, a criminal justice consultant and president of the Hispanic American Democrats of Mecklenburg County; civil rights leader Minnie Jones of Asheville; and youth advocate Constance Hyman of Wilmington.

Hagan’s message will be pointing out policies that Tillis supported in the state legislature that her campaign believes are detrimental to women. Among them, according to the campaign, was his opposition to a state equal pay measure; and his opposition to a proposed increase in the federal minimum wage — from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 –that Congress also rejected.

Tillis also voted for restrictions on abortion services last year, and for a veto override on a budget bill that cut funding for Planned Parenthood. Hagan’s campaign says that Tillis has said states should have the right to ban contraception, though he hasn’t said whether North Carolina should do so.

Her campaign has also criticized him for supporting a constitutional amendment on “personhood,” which would grant legal protections to a fertilized human egg and possibly ban some forms of birth control.

Under Tillis’ leadership, the legislature’s 2013 budget also cut spending on education, opposed raises for teachers and ended a pay supplement for teachers with master’s degrees. In the current legislative session, however, Tillis supports an across-the-board pay raise for teachers for the coming year. Republican Senate leader Phil Berger and Republican Governor Pat McCrory also have said they support the raise.