RALEIGH — With Tony Bennett, at age 87, still belting out the tunes, maybe Democrats should employ him to sing a campaign theme for 2014.
“Put On a Happy Face” seems to be in order. It’s what Democrats are doing a lot these days, looking away from the suddenly graying skies.
It was not so long ago that U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, despite the commentary from the Washington punditry and bravado from potential Republican challengers, looked as close to a shoo-in as anyone ever does in a U.S. Senate race in North Carolina.
Leading the Democratic ticket in the state in 2014, Hagan enjoys the advantage of being a woman who is able to project herself in public as being relatively strong and able.
On the GOP side, the strongest candidates are all men. So, it is highly likely that Hagan will face a man in the general election.
These days, political consultants view women as typically enjoying any gender-based advantages in races against men, with voters seeing women candidates as more independent, empathetic and pragmatic.
A heated and expensive Republican primary also could benefit Hagan.
State House Speaker Thom Tillis will probably lead in the money chase. He might win the primary if the Tea Party crowd splits their vote between Charlotte pastor Mark Harris and Cary doctor Greg Brannon.
Tillis, though, will be dragging around a record of leading an unpopular state legislature throughout his campaign; Harris and Brannon are political novices; two other GOP candidates, Wilkes County nurse Heather Grant and Forsyth County broadcaster Bill Flynn, have even smaller political bases.
For Hagan, creating a more favorable political landscape would probably require Ted Cruz moving to North Carolina.
Then came the disastrous Obamacare rollout and glitch-rich Healthcare.gov.
Ever since, Hagan has been tacking to and fro as the political winds have blown against federal healthcare reform.
She pushed for a measure to allow people to keep existing health care plans, and called for a Government Accountability Office investigation into the problems with the enrollment website.
Around the state, Democrats have been doing their best Bennett imitation, smiling through their proclamations that the Obamacare problems won’t damage Hagan and her fellow Democrats next year.
Political operatives and consultants have seen poll numbers suggesting something quite different.
One told me that Democrats, in October, enjoyed a double-digit lead in generic legislative races. A month later, the advantage was gone, the two sides dead-even. The botched health reform rollout was clearly the cause.
As those numbers show, a month is a long time in politics.
By the first week of December, Healthcare.gov had become an actual functioning site, with many of the glitches fixed. And as the new year begins, Democrats will emphasize successes of health care reform, particularly the ability of those with pre-existing conditions to get affordable insurance.
They will hope the negatives fade.
But the uncertainty over future costs for the self-employed and self-insured means it won’t completely.
And so, the political pendulum swings and swing again.
It always does.
Capitol Press Association