What important Democratic woman politician, a Wake Forest alumna who was born in North Carolina and later moved to Florida, has gained national attention this year for her candidacy in a critical bellwether election?
There are two correct answers.
First, Senator Kay Hagan. Although born in North Carolina, she grew up in Florida, where her family had long been politically active. She worked on campaigns for her uncle, the late U.S. Senator and Florida Governor Lawton Chiles. After graduating from Florida State, she came back to North Carolina for law school at Wake Forest. She stayed here to marry, make a family, and build a political career, serving as a leader in the state senate, before gaining election to the U.S. Senate in 2008.
The second correct answer is Alex Sink. She was born and raised in Surry County. She is the great-granddaughter of Chang Bunker, one of the famous Siamese twins who settled first in Wilkes County and later in nearby Surry County, becoming farmers after their entertainment career ended.
After graduating from Wake Forest and a few years teaching in Africa, Sink became a star in business at Bank of America. While in Charlotte, she was active in the Women’s Political Caucus until the bank transferred her to lead its Florida operations. She also became active in Florida politics, marrying the late Bill McBride, a former Florida gubernatorial candidate. Sink won election as the state’s chief financial officer in 2006. In 2010, she ran for governor, losing by a percentage point to Republican Rick Scott.
Last week she lost another close race, this time for a congressional seat that had been held by a Republican for many years.
Kay Hagan was watching Sink’s campaign, and not just because she might still be following politics in the state where she grew up.
Hagan and her supporters have been fearful that Hagan’s vote for the Affordable Care Act (known as Obamacare), as well as her association with the president, will hurt her chances for reelection this year. They hoped that a win by Sink, in a district that had been represented by a Republican for many years, would show that Democrats could still win closely-contested districts or states in the South.
The voters in Sink’s Florida congressional district share some similarities with North Carolina voters. Obama ran well in both places in 2012, narrowly winning in Florida and narrowly losing in North Carolina.
Sink’s loss has to concern Hagan. Against an opponent who campaigned to repeal Obamacare, Sink’s message was a promise to “fix it” rather than repeal it. Hagan’s opponent this fall will also push for repeal, and Hagan, who voted for the law, is stuck with the “fix it” position.
But Sink’s loss by no means assures Hagan’s defeat this fall.
Times will be different, and voters’ concerns will shift.
This month may be a low point in public attitudes about the health care law. Eight months from now, the “fix rather than repeal” message may resonate better with North Carolina voters than it did in Florida this month.
There will be other messages and other complications. The still-to-be-determined Republican nominee for Hagan’s seat may bring a whole different set of negatives to the campaign.
And Hagan should be cheered that Sink thinks this fall might be a better time for her and Hagan. She is contemplating a rerun this fall against the new Florida congressman who beat her last week.