A race to watch carefully

Dec. 30, 2013 @ 05:59 PM

North Carolinians should be accustomed to national attention on our elections -- the state has in recent years swung back and forth between the major parties. Since at least the days of titanic clashes between Jim Hunt and Jesse Helms we’ve enjoyed – if that’s the right word – some of the country’s most closely watched contests.

So we should be ready for 2014.  Fasten your seatbelts, because this closely divided state could decide control of a closely divided U. S. Senate.

The latest evidence came in an Associated Press story in The Herald-Sun Monday. It listed North Carolina among a handful of states where Republicans see a real chance of unseating a Democratic incumbent – but face potentially divisive primary fights to choose a nominee for the fall campaign.

That’s the case here, where Republicans expect a bruising primary to choose a standard bearer against first-term incumbent Kay Hagan.

The Washington Post’s politics-watching “The Fix” column ranks the race here as one of the top 10 Senate races in the country.

And the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics said recently, “The Hagan and (Louisiana Democrat Mary) Landrieu seats are among the most important Senate races in the country; if either party sweeps both, they probably will control the Senate majority.”

Already, North Carolinians have seen a spate of competing television commercials. Hagan foes depict her as a pawn of President Barack Obama and emphasize her vote for Obamacare. Hagan allies have moved forcefully to try to counter that image.

The AP story Monday reported that the Senate Majority PAC, “which backs Democratic candidates, bought $750,000 of television air time in December to counter Republican attacks against her.”

With that kind of money already on the table, it should be no surprise observers expect superlatives. “About halfway through the midterm election cycle, North Carolina is on pace to host the most expensive Senate race of 2014,” Roll Call, a news organization that closely follows Congress, reported earlier this month. The race, Roll Call said, “is one of at least four Senate contests where outside spending has already eclipsed the $2 million mark.”

With that much money pouring in, much of it from outside, voters should watch as carefully as our diluted campaign-finance laws permit.  There’s nothing wrong with spending money to advance one’s, or one’s organization’s, political and philosophical interests, but being aware of a candidate’s financial backing can tell us much about who will have his or her ear post-election.

And we would urge all voters to pay close attention. It’s a truism elections matter, but here in North Carolina we have the opportunity for our votes to matter more than most this year.

It’s conceivable a few thousand votes here may determine which party clinches control of the Senate. That should be more than enough reason to ensure rapt attention to more than the advertising blitz, and a high turnout at the polls in November.