Sound and fury

Jul. 17, 2014 @ 08:05 AM

This editorial appeared in the News & Record, Greensboro(MCT)

Some residents have expressed relief that they won't be getting so many political phone calls and mailings now that the Republican 6th District congressional primary is finally over. Their bubble won't take long to burst. The coming election season will generate even more sound and fury.

It will start at the top of the ballot, with the U.S. Senate contest between Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan of Greensboro and Republican challenger Thom Tillis of Mecklenburg County, speaker of the N.C. House of Representatives.

This is one of the most competitive and closely watched Senate elections in the country. Analyst Stuart Rothenberg of Roll Call, a newspaper that reports about Congress, this week cautiously rated it "toss-up/tilts Democrat." It is critical to both parties' hopes of controlling the Senate, and it's attracting tens of millions of dollars from outside the state. The obscene amount of money spent will buy around-the-clock TV attack ads as well as tons of mailings and incessant phone calls.

There is plenty separating the two candidates. The Tillis strategy begins with attacking Obamacare and Hagan for supporting it. He also links her more generally to the policies of President Barack Obama, whose job-approval rating is low in North Carolina. Tillis faults Hagan's record as a state senator for 10 years, saying he's been "cleaning up her mess" in Raleigh.

Yet, Tillis' legislative record is his biggest liability. Many voters think he's made the mess in the state capital with an agenda that's led to numerous legal challenges, angered educators and inspired "Moral Monday" protests and arrests. On the other hand, the state's unemployment rate has fallen sharply in the past year, which Republicans say was prompted by tax cuts and regulatory relief.

Hagan has not been an Obama robot. She's broken with the administration on issues ranging from tobacco regulation to the Keystone pipeline to defense cuts. In addition, she's been highly visible across the state, and she'll make a strong appeal to women voters.

Tillis and Hagan will meet in at least three televised debates -- and we hope more. There are enough issues for a dozen.

Those include economic recovery and jobs, national defense, foreign policy, civil rights, women's rights, education, health care, energy and the environment. Both candidates have clear records. If they can discuss their positions fully, with details, there will be no reason voters should be swayed by 30-second attack ads. If only we could have a campaign without them. Unfortunately, too many special-interest groups have too much invested to stay out and leave the election to the voters of North Carolina.

Hagan and Tillis themselves should stick to the issues and avoid making the campaign a personal spat. The winner will serve for the next six years in the country's highest representative body on behalf of every North Carolina resident. That person should conduct herself or himself in a respectful, dignified manner. Disagreements over policy are healthy; personal attacks tarnish both candidates and insult voters, who should demand better.

This important race deserves voters' close attention. Yet, Washington likely will remain gridlocked no matter which party prevails with a narrow majority in the Senate. The only chance for progress is for Republicans and Democrats of good character to cross party lines when needed to do what's best for the country. In this campaign, voters should consider which candidate is most likely to do that.