Deep Dixie purple North Carolina — where Republicans hold sway in the legislature and Democrats have the advantage in registered voters — is "on the cusp" as a race that could determine control of the U.S. Senate goes down to the wire, The New York Times reports.
"It's a 50-50 thing here," lifelong Republican Richard Kernodle of Siler City, N.C., told The Times.
Last year, Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and the legislature passed a "flattened" income tax
that gives breaks to the wealthy as well as controversial new voting rules,
expanded rights for gun owners and restrictions for abortion providers.
But in the Senate race pitting incumbent Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan and Republican Thom Tillis, North Carolina's House speaker, Democrats have 2.7 million registered voters to the Republicans' 2 million, The Times notes.
About 1.8 million registered voters aren't affiliated with either party.
"It's a place on the cusp," Marc Farinella, Barack Obama's state campaign director during his 2008 presidential run, told The Times. "There’s really a battle going on for the soul of North Carolina."
Despite the advantage in sheer voting numbers, Hagan is barely in the lead in recent polls.
Two central issues are driving the race, The Times reports: public education and the economy.
Hagan has criticized Tillis for supporting a budget that fell short of what was needed to maintain educational services. Tillis' backers praise his support of a package to raise teachers' salaries.
But the state was faltering after years of financing public education and public works by encouraging growth in the private sector – thus limiting the need to increase taxes.
"South Carolina doesn't have a prestigious university like Chapel Hill, but their growth has been about the same as ours," John Hood, president and chairman of the conservative John Locke Foundation, told The Times.
"The voters saw something wasn't working."
Both Hagan and Tillis are making their pitches not only to their bases but to voters in the moderate middle, The Times reports.
They are depending on their bases, however — for Tillis, a conservative base that responds to reminders of Hagan's support for the president and his healthcare law, The Times notes.
For Hagan, African-American voter turnout will be crucial, The Times reports.
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