Nearly $100 Million Spent On North Carolina Senate Race, And It’s Not Over Yet

North Carolina

The North Carolina Senate race between Senator Kay Hagan and Republican Thom Tillis is expected to break records for the amount of money spent on a single Senate race:

From the Koch brothers and Art Pope to George Soros and Michael Bloomberg, wealthy donors are making North Carolina’s U.S. Senate race one of America’s first $100 million contests.

Outside groups continue to flood the state with ads and accusations, forcing Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan and Republican Thom Tillis to keep scrambling for dollars in the campaign’s final two weeks.

Money spent or committed in the race is poised to top $103 million, according to public records and interviews with donors. Three-quarters of it comes from party and interest groups. More than $22 million is “dark money” from groups that don’t disclose their donors.

“It’s a stunning number, and it tells you two things,” says Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia political scientist. “That campaign finance is completely out of anybody’s control and North Carolina is a premier swing state.”

The flood of money paid for nearly 80,000 TV ads through Oct. 13, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of CMAG/Kantar Media tracking data. At one point this month, that translated to three Senate ads every five minutes.

And more are coming. On Friday, a conservative group announced a new $1 million TV campaign against Hagan, who responded with her own new ad.

The figures may understate actual spending.

Campaigns and their allies are also spending online and on the ground as they try to mobilize voters in a race that could help determine control of the Senate.

North Carolina seems like an unlikely location for that much money to be spent, but of all the battleground states this year it does seem to be the most likely. Arkansas, Louisiana, Alaska, South Dakota, and Montana do not have very expensive media markets, for example, while North Carolina has at least two major metropolitan media markets in Raleigh/Durham and Charlotte along with media markets in other parts of the state. While individually none of them are as expensive as markets in the Northeast, the D.C. area, or California, they are expensive enough and an intense media campaign running statewide isn’t going to be cheap. Additionally, of course, there’s the fact that both sides have view the Tarheel State as a prime 2014 battleground from the beginning. For Republicans, the fact that Senator Hagan had been polling below 50% for some time in a state that Mitt Romney won in 2012 suggested a pickup opportunity. For Democrats, the fact that she was competitive with any of the Republicans who were running against her before the primary suggested it was a seat worth investing in. So far, for both sides, the investment has proven to be wise. While Senator Hagan remains in good position to win, the race has tightened significantly as we enter the last two weeks of campaigning. Right now, Hagan has a bare 0.7 lead over Tills in the polling average at RealClearPolitics but all of the polling this month has been within the margin of error. This guarantees that more money and resources will pour into the state over the next two weeks.

FILED UNDER: 2014 Election, Congress, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Pete S says:

    So once again we see evidence of the old (paraphrased) Mad Magazine definition of politics:
    The voters of North Carolina are choosing between 2 people who are spending (or having spent on their behalf) $50 million to win a job that pays $200 thousand per year, and putting them in charge of public finances.

  2. Slugger says:

    When the ante is that high, I can’t play. Even if I worked hard and organized a couple of hundred friends and relatives, it is unlikely that I could raise $100,000. There can not be any democracy when the cost of entry into the political process becomes too high.
    I am looking for someone to find a way to prevent our system from becoming an arena for a tiny minority with the rest of us a disenfranchised rump.
    And yes, it is just as bad no matter what the nominal allegiance of the powerful is.

  3. Pinky says:

    @Slugger: I think you’re looking at this backwards. When a lawyer and sitting Senator runs against a businessman turned Speaker of the state house, in a tight and important race, the money shows up. There are a lot of races where less qualified candidates aren’t raising that kind of money. Nobody’s putting that kind of money into races that aren’t close. If you want to be a North Carolina senator, build a quality resume including years of service in Raleigh, and you’ll find that groups that support your positions will support you.

  4. Tillman says:

    Friends of mine recently formed a fantasy football league. When I brought up politics at a poker game last week, we didn’t discuss the issues; we discussed how impossible it is to watch an NFL game around here with all the frickin’ political ads.

  5. Slugger says:

    @Pinky: Even if my local Senate race is only $3-4 million, the winner’s staff will know that there are people who can drop $20 million out there. I imagine sitting in the waiting room of my elected representative or senator eager to talk about some law/regulation that I want to enact when a emissary from a big fish shows up. I think I’ll be considered of secondary importance.
    The big fish do not have to drop a big wad every time. They just need to have the reputation for doing so whenever.