Kay Hagan’s promise

by YES! Staff

Sen. Kay Hagan faced an uphill battle when she decided to go after Liddy Dole’s seat seat in the 2008 election — until, that is, the Democratic National Committee began viewing the race as a winnable one and steering PAC dollars to the upstart from Greensboro in her quest to win the Senate seat that is still known in North Carolina as the one belonging to Jesse Helms. On the national level, the race was seen by the Dems as another chance to gain a Senate seat from the GOP, and Hagan surely benefited from Barack Obama’s push for the state’s 15 electoral votes as much as she did from campaign contributions from the left’s big spenders: environmental and conservation groups,, human rights organizations, women’s rights concerns and labor groups. But Hagan is a North Carolina Democrat, with strong ties to the military and the tobacco industry. And she is not insensitive to the concerns of Big Business — Hagan also received campaign money from banks and healthcare, pharmaceutical and energy companies, though these donations represent a fraction of the amounts she got from the other side.

But these forces collide in the Employee Free Choice Act, which purports to make unionizing easier for laborers. Call it the curse of the Southern Dem: As a politician you need to dance with the people who brought you, but you’ll never get reelected if you lean too far right. Labor unions, in particular, have never gained much ground in this right-to-work state with one of the lowest union density rates in the country. We had thought, though, that Hagan’s support of the bill was locked up: She had toted the EFCA football throughout her campaign — indeed, it was the deciding factor in YES! Weekly’s endorsement of her candidacy as it was one of the only differences between her and Dole. Hagan, though, has not signed on as a co-sponsor of the bill, which has stalled in its journey through the Senate. The bill neatly symbolizes what Obama sees as his mandate to bolster the economic tribulations of the middle class, and Hagan’s strategy of aligning herself with the presidential juggernaut as closely as she dared played a huge role in her decisive victory over Dole. And the money didn’t hurt, either. Still, Hagan must keep her ear to the political winds in North Carolina, where her constituency has been subtly shifting over the years in most measurable demographics. And, campaign contributions notwithstanding, she must try to figure out if she beat Liddy Dole because of her stance on the EFCA, or in spite of it.

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Hagan, though, has not signed on as a cosponsor of the bill, which has stalled in its journey through the Senate.