By Justin Sink
President Obama pecked Sen. Kay HaganKay Hagan10 Senate seats most likely to flip in 2016 Senate Republicans are feeling the 'Trump effect' Washington's lobby firms riding high MORE (D-N.C.) on the cheek Tuesday, shortly after landing in Charlotte, N.C., ahead of a speech on veterans affairs.
It’s a kiss that’s likely to make headlines in North Carolina, where Hagan is running for reelection this fall in one of the fights that will determine whether the Senate majority stays in Democratic hands.
The Republican National Committee quickly tweeted out a picture of Obama and Hagan’s embrace, and said the senator also “embraces his record 96 percent of the time.”
Obama’s trip to North Carolina posed a quandary for Hagan.
The president is in the state for a speech at the American Legion's national conference, where he's set to announce new executive actions designed to improve veterans' access to mental health services, education grants and mortgages.
It’s the appropriate venue for the speech and is meant to highlight the administration’s efforts to respond to the VA controversy from earlier this year, which led the president to sack his VA secretary.
Veterans in North Carolina, a toss-up state that the president narrowly won in 2008, but where GOP nominee Mitt Romney prevailed four years later, are a crucial demographic.
The state is home to six military bases, including Fort Bragg, which employ more than 200,000 military personnel and contractors. And Hagan attacked then-Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.) over the Bush administration's handling of veterans affairs in her upset 2008 win.
But having Obama come to North Carolina might not be entirely helpful right now to Hagan, who is trying to defeat Republican Thom TillisThom R. TillisSenators push to authorize 4,000 more visas for Afghans Tillis: Senate is doing its job by holding off on SCOTUS hearings Rubio picks up Tillis endorsement MORE this fall.
The Concerned Veterans for America, a group partially funded by conservative mega-donors Charles and David Koch, released ads earlier this summer slamming Hagan for having "done nothing" to address the problems at the VA.
The White House appears aware of the liability posed by the president. He'll be on the ground for less than two hours on Tuesday.
It also might have helped Hagan that Republican Sen. Richard Burr also greeted Obama as he landed in Charlotte.
Ahead of Obama’s trip, Hagan pressed for the administration to do more for veterans.
In a statement released last week, she said the administration had "not yet done enough to earn the lasting trust of our veterans and implement real and permanent reforms at the VA."
"I hope to hear the President address these challenges at the American Legion's National Convention in Charlotte," Hagan said. "I will be there to discuss some of the steps I want to see taken in Washington to uphold the commitment our government has made to North Carolina’s veterans."
White House press secretary Josh Earnest brushed aside Hagan's criticism of the president while speaking with reporters aboard Air Force One, calling the lawmaker a "dedicated advocate for America's veterans." He also disputed that Obama would be a drag on her reelection campaign.
"The president over the last two elections has outperformed expectations in North Carolina," the White House press secretary said.
Democratic Senate Campaign Committee spokesman Justin Barasky said the party is “happy to have a focus in North Carolina on veterans, especially because the agenda that Speaker Tillis is pushing shows how wrong he is for veterans and their families in that state.”
A USA Today/Suffolk University poll released last week shows Hagan clinging to a narrow 45 percent-43 percent lead in the race with Tillis.
But the survey also indicated the president might not be as much of a liability for Hagan as he is for some other vulnerable Democrats. While the president's popularity remains underwater, with 49 percent of poll respondents saying they have an unfavorable view, a sizable 46 percent say they like the president.
Only 5 percent of respondents said the first thing that came to mind when they thought of Hagan was her ties to the president — the same percentage that described her as a moderate. And more voters, 32 percent, said their vote for Congress would be an endorsement of the president than those, 30 percent, who said it would be a rebuke.