(WOMENSENEWS)–As the race heats up for the November midterm elections so does the partisan battle for control of the U.S. Senate, with North Carolina as the ground zero in the war of the super PACs.
Incumbent Kay Hagan, a Democrat, is the most visible female target in the war of super PACs in the midterm elections because North Carolina has become a red state with both a Republican governor and state legislature for the first time since reconstruction.
In 2008, Hagan enjoyed an upset victory over GOP Sen. Elizabeth Dole, thanks in part to the millions of dollars Democrats spent on media campaigns and voter canvassing to help Obama win the state’s 15 Electoral College votes.
But now she faces an uphill battle against Thom Tillis, the GOP speaker of the North Carolina House who has become a favorite of conservative GOP super PACs.
Republicans need a net gain of six seats to become the Senate majority for the first time since 2006, so super PACs on both sides of the partisan aisle are focusing on 10 of the 36 contests that polls show are the most competitive.
Abortion and equal pay are two key women’s issues where a shift from Democratic control could give the GOP-controlled House a clear way forward.
Seven of the races involve eight women because two women–Republican Shelley Moore Capito and Democrat Natalie Tennant–are running against each other in West Virginia, which will elect its first female senator when Jay Rockefeller, a liberal Democrat, steps down in November.
The candidates–three of the eight are Republicans, five are Democrats–help illustrate how in U.S. politics party trumps gender. Where a GOP woman faces a male Democratic rival, for instance, the odds are good that he is a stronger supporter of abortion rights and she is a stronger opponent of the Affordable Care Act.
Health Reform Targeted
President Barack Obama’s signature domestic health legislation is unpopular with many voters, so the Washington-based Americans for Prosperity–a conservative Republican nonprofit organization backed by oil billionaires Charles and David Koch–has attacked incumbent Democrats who voted for it and touted GOP challengers for their support of scraping the health reform measure.
Senate Majority PAC, which was founded by the former chief of staff of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to enhance Democrats’ control of the Senate, has fought back by running ads highlighting popular features of the health reform bill without mentioning it by name.
In North Carolina, Hagan’s campaign estimates that more than $20 million has been spent attacking her, making the race the most expensive in the state’s history.
More than 15 outside GOP and Democratic groups have run TV ads on issues like abortion, health care, environment and government spending, notes Ace Metrix, a Mountain Valley, Calif., firm that measures the effectiveness of TV and video advertising.
Americans for Prosperity has subjected Hagan to a steady stream of ads linking her to Obama, who lost the state in 2012, and his signature domestic achievement, the Affordable Care Act, which is unpopular. Tillis has called it a "cancer on the economy."
Senate Majority PAC and North Carolina Women Vote!, an individual super PAC established by Emily’s LIST, has provided cover for Hagan. In June, North Carolina Women Vote! spent $659,000 in the state’s three largest TV markets denouncing Tillis for supporting spending cuts in education that led to crowded classrooms.
North Carolina Women Vote! plans other ads denouncing Tillis for opposing efforts to end gender discrimination in pay and for placing a set of stringent abortion restrictions onto an unrelated provision in a bill on improving motorcycle safety.
Female Voters Key
Winning female voters is crucial for Hagan because they are 53.7 percent of registered voters. In July, the Suffolk University/USA Today poll found that 52 percent of female voters supported Hagan compared to 34 percent of women who supported Tillis, giving her an overall two point lead. Tilles had a 14 point edge among men.
To attract female voters, Hagan is highlighting her support for women’s reproductive rights, workplace fairness and policies to help children. In addition to opposing defunding preventive health programs of Planned Parenthood, Hagan voted for a bill that would have restored women’s access to contraception paid for by employers, a provision of the Affordable Care Act that the U.S. Supreme Court recently struck down.
A former banker and mother of three, Hagan also voted to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour, which would have provided a raise for 600,000 women in North Carolina.
As chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Children and Family, Hagan pressed the U.S. Department of Education and Health and Human Services to issue guidelines to help health care providers and school personnel identify and treat victims of child trafficking. North Carolina ranks among the 10 top states in the U.S. in human trafficking.
Hagan is also counting on her position on the Armed Services Committee to help her attract voters. The defense industry contributes about $23 billion to the state economy each year, notes the North Carolina Department of Commerce. In 2012, Hagan fought to resume production of the F-35B Lighting II aircraft and helped Cherry Point, N.C., become a weapons readiness center for the Marines. Both efforts will bring new jobs and revenue to the state.
She also sponsored legislation to prevent cuts in the cost-of-living increases of military personnel, which are scheduled to take place in December 2015. A founding member of the military family caucus, she has championed continuing funding for a program that offers educational support for military spouses.
Sharon Johnson is a New York-based freelance writer.
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