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Democrats Prep North Carolina Contingency Plan

Sen. Hagan was defeated Tuesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Sen. Hagan was defeated Tuesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

National Democrats want ex-Sen. Kay Hagan to mount another bid for Senate in the Tar Heel State. But in case the former senator declines, party officials have started to key in on other potential recruits.  

Hagan did not rule out running in a Wednesday interview with a radio station in Boston, where she’s serving as a resident fellow at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics .  

“You know, I’m not saying ‘yes,’ and I’m not saying ‘no,’” Hagan told WBUR reporter Jeremy Hobson .  

Hagan would be a top choice for Democrats to challenge Sen. Richard M. Burr in 2016, when the party must net five seats to ensure Senate control. Democrats say Hagan ran a near-perfect campaign in 2014. They chalk up her loss to GOP Sen. Thom Tillis to a bad national environment.  

But Democrats are working on a contingency plan for if Hagan opts out.  

“With North Carolina shaping up to be a battleground in the presidential race, and with North Carolina shaping up to have the top gubernatorial race in the nation, it’s really going to be a fertile place, and Democrats will have a strong candidate,” said Morgan Jackson, a North Carolina Democratic operative.  

State Treasurer Janet Cowell ranks among the party’s other recruits for a potential run.  

Cowell, the first woman elected treasurer in North Carolina, has ties to the deep-pocketed business community in the state. It could help her raise money in what is likely to be one of the cycle’s most expensive contests.  

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has reached out to Cowell about the prospect of a bid, according to a source with knowledge of the conversation. A DSCC aide declined to comment on the recruitment process.  

If Cowell passes, there are a number of other potential recruits, according to Democratic operatives in the Tar Heel State. They include:

  • State Senate Minority Leader Daniel Blue, whose district is in the crucial Raleigh media market. Blue rose to the state Senate from the state House, where he served as the first black speaker. Democrats say Blue’s profile could help turn out the crucial black vote.
  • State Sen. Jeff Jackson, a member of the Army Reserves from Charlotte. Jackson was appointed to his seat due in a shuffle following the fall of Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon to a corruption scandal.
  • Former state Rep. Grier Martin, a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserves who served in Afghanistan. Martin is also from the Raleigh area.

Still, North Carolina Democrats hope Hagan will run.  

“They are not going to get anybody that is a more qualified, more battle-tested candidate, that you know is going to be able to raise the money, that you know is experienced communicating with voters in that state than Kay Hagan,” said one North Carolina Democrat operative and Hagan supporter.  

Hagan was among the best Democratic fundraisers in the Senate last cycle, raising nearly $20 million for her re-election in 2014. Tillis raised $9 million total for the cycle.  

Regardless of whether Hagan runs, Democrats plan to put North Carolina in play in 2016.  

Presidential campaigns consider the state to be a tossup. President Barack Obama carried it in 2008 with 50 percent, while GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney won it in 2012 with 51 percent.  

Though he’s in his second term, polling shows Burr remains largely unknown statewide. That’s thanks in part to an influx of new population moving to the state for job opportunities — a faction that’s younger and more left-leaning than many of the state’s longtime residents.  

Burr also trails many of his GOP Senate colleagues up for re-election in fundraising. He reported just under $750,000 in cash on hand at the end of 2014.  

What’s more, many of the DSCC’s top-level staffers this cycle hail from Hagan’s unsuccessful bid, including the committee’s deputy executive director, deputy research director and press secretary.  

Republicans said Burr is ramping up his campaign team and fundraising operation, touting a fundraiser he had in January where he brought in $1 million in a single night.

“Senator Burr has devoted his career to advocating for our men and women in the military and he will outshine any Harvard professor or politician who gets in the race,” National Republican Senatorial Committee Communications Director Andrea Bozek said in a statement.

The race is rated a Leans Republican contest by the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report/Roll Call.  

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