With only eight days left to go before Election Day, the race for North Carolina’s U.S. Senate seat is in high gear. Democratic incumbent Senator Kay Hagan is in a tight race with Republican state Speaker of the House Thom Tillis. Both campaigns are pulling out all the stops to get people to the polls- including bringing national political stars to town.
On Friday night, hundreds of Republican supporters filled a cavernous tobacco warehouse in Smithfield, where the lineup included Thom Tillis, Senator Richard Burr, Governor Pat McCrory, and the guest of honor: Texas governor Rick Perry.
"We need a United States Senate that will stand up and clearly send a powerful message to the White House: that we are going to put policies into place that our enemies will fear us and our allies will trust us," said Perry.
The event was billed as the largest conservative rally in the state. But its purpose was clear: Republicans need six seats to regain a majority in the U.S. Senate, and North Carolina has one of those close races hanging in the balance.
Rick Perry entertained the crowd with the story of a North Carolinian who fought at the Alamo and a joke about competing for business with Governor McCrory. Then Perry cut to the chase by saying that if elected, Tillis will do his best to fight for local control for North Carolinians.
"He will say 'No' to things like Common Core, he will say no to race to the top," said Perry. "We know best how to deliver health care and education to the children of North Carolina. And it’s by the governor and the lieutenant governor. And the speaker and that majority leader in the senate working together to make that happen. Your current senator does not know that," said Perry, speaking of Hagan.
With all the national attention focused on this race, it’s no surprise that it is likely to be the most expensive race in the country this year. The campaigns, along with outside groups, have spent nearly $90 million so far.
The race comes down to two factors: Who comes out to vote in this midterm election year and whether those voters agree or disagree with both Hagan and Tillis’s past records. Tillis told the crowd he’s proud of his conservative agenda as state Speaker of the House.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I think I’ve proven for the last four years that when I go and get a job that I do what I say I’m going to do," said Tillis. "And sometimes you get criticized for it. But I will not let you down, because the future of this great nation, the greatest nation on the face of the planet, is what’s at stake in this election."
The Tillis campaign isn’t the only one bringing national political stars to town. On Saturday, the Hagan campaign held a rally in Charlotte featuring Hillary Clinton. On Sunday, the campaign held a couple of highly publicized smaller stops in the Triangle, with another national star, head of the Planned Parenthood Federation of North America, Cecile Richards.
Richards's appearance was clearly meant to draw more women to the polls. Unmarried women (who skew Democratic) could help decide this election.
"Every single day that [Kay Hagan] goes to work, she’s there to represent the people of North Carolina," said Richards. "And whether it was sponsoring the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act for women, whether it’s standing up for women’s health care and saying it’s not your boss’s business whether or not you use birth control it should be your right to make that decision."
Like the Tillis campaign, the Hagan campaign is emphasizing how important it is to get out the vote.
"Forget the TV ads, forget the negative campaigning, that doesn’t matter, right?" said Richards. "What matters is who goes to the polls and votes. So I just left a phone bank in Raleigh where we are dialing every voter we can in Raleigh."
When it came time for Hagan to speak, she stuck with the theme of women’s rights. The campaign is doing its best to connect Tillis with the lack of progress for women in North Carolina.
"For women in North Carolina, whose family as the family breadwinner is earning 82 cents-on-the-dollar, that is not good for the bottom line of that family," said Hagan. "Husbands want their wives to earn equal pay. Sons want their moms to earn equal pay. And we’re going to show the door to Thom Tillis that he has got it wrong in North Carolina."
The latest polls show the race is still very close. Public Policy Polling puts Hagan three percentage points ahead of Tillis. But that is still within the margin of error.