Senate races

Planned Parenthood mobilizes for Hagan

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If Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) pulls off an unlikely reelection win, she may have a behind -the-scenes ground army to thank.

Chief among the outside groups devoting resources is Planned Parenthood, working for months in the Tar Heel State to mobilize a massive turnout and targeting operation, hoping to lift the vulnerable incumbent over her GOP challenger, state House Speaker Thom Tillis.

{mosads}Even as her red-state Democratic peers have seen their numbers start to slide, Hagan has maintained a slim edge in most polls. If that tepid lead holds, the early efforts of the group may be one reason.

In a Friday interview on C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers,” Planned Parenthood Executive Vice President Dawn Laugens said defending Hagan has long been atop their list, calling the freshman senator an “amazing champion for women.”

But while the group praises her defense of women’s healthcare access and abortion rights, they see an enemy in Tillis, hitting him over bills in the state’s unpopular legislature they say would roll back access to healthcare, contraception and abortion, as well as cut public funds that went to the group and that critics say are used for abortion services.

North Carolina is the top place Planned Parenthood has spent money this cycle. As of Friday, their Political Action Committee had spent nearly $900,000 attacking Tillis and another $667,000 to boost Hagan. That number is expected to grow, and the group indicated early on that they would devote as much as $3 million on the pivotal race.

In a midterm year where the female vote typically drops off, Planned Parenthood has been aggressively targeting women to make sure they get out to the polls. In addition to building on their centers already across the state, they’re targeting critical swing counties and emphasizing early and absentee voting.

One new tactic they’re using is a technique pioneered by President Obama’s campaign  — social pressure as a way to get more women, independents and base voters to the polls.

“We’ve been recording people in their own voice talking about why it’s important to vote,” Laugens said of their outreach to hundreds of thousands of low-likelihood voters

“On Election Day and the days before, we will be playing those back,” she explained, reminding people why getting to the polls or turning in their ballot is so important.

Laugens touted their work in critical Senate races across the country, noting they’ve hired about 1,500 workers to help boost turnout in North Carolina, Colorado, Arkansas and Iowa.

“In a place like North Carolina, 30,000 people can make the difference,” Laugens said. “We build a program that might target 300,000 and then we relentlessly focus on those people through phones, mail, being at the doors and then of course the message environment.”

Other issues have dominated the race lately — Hagan has been hit over reports her husband profited from federal stimulus grants and has also struggled to explain her absences from Senate Armed Services Committee hearings, admitting one absence was to attend a fundraiser. And she finally joined Tillis in calling for a travel ban to the U.S. from West African countries amid growing concern over an Ebola outbreak.

But her campaign believes women’s issues will help carry her across the finish line. On Friday, her campaign released an ad specifically praising Planned Parenthood’s work in the state.

“Planned Parenthood in North Carolina provides a variety of health services for women — cancer screenings, STD testing, birth control,” a woman named Ana from Black Mountain, N.C., says in the ad. “Thom Tillis led the fight to defund it. Thom Tillis’s actions have fundamentally changed access to healthcare for women across this state.”

Other anti-abortion groups have worked to use Hagan’s positions against her. The Susan B. Anthony (SBA) List has aired ads hitting her for her “fringe position” on late term abortion and has also been working on the state level urging social conservatives to turn out.

Still, polls show the reason Hagan is hanging on is likely because of women. An Elon University poll last month gave Hagan a 19-point advantage with likely female voters, though Tillis has been working to narrow that gap as the race has tightened.

Laugens said that, in most states, the gender gap they’re seeing that’s necessary for them to pull races out is somewhere between 11 and 17 percent.

“In a place like North Carolina where Kay Hagan is ahead, I think if she’s at 11 or 12 [percent] I think she’s definitely going to win,” she predicted.

State observers say the Democrats vaunted turnout operations there could make the difference.

“The Planned Parenthood people, from everything I can tell, have their acts together very well,” North Carolina Democratic strategist Thomas Mills told The Hill. “Just hearing what they’re doing — they’re very targeted, they’re very data-driven and they have a pretty fierce ground operation from everything I can tell. My sense is that they’re extremely well organized.”

“If it goes into the election even — unless the Republicans have really put together some ground game we’ve never seen before — I’ve got to give the advantage to Hagan,” Mills predicted.

Republicans in the state say they’re confident they’ll have the resources and information to combat Democrats’ ground game. 

“Whether it be absentee, early vote or on Election Day, we’re committed to turning out Republican voters this year,” said North Carolina Republican Party spokesman William Allison. “We have devoted millions of dollars to improve our data systems and have developed new tools like a cutting-edge mobile canvassing app that allows information to be processed in real time. Now, as North Carolinians hear more about Sen. Hagan’s record of failed leadership, the enthusiasm from our voters only grows.”

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