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Kay Hagan on Running Again: ‘Never Say Never’

Hagan serves on the Armed Services Committee. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Hagan serves on the Armed Services Committee. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Former North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan is back to splitting her time between Washington and the Tar Heel State. She’s just not doing what she thought she’d be doing, or what Democrats hoped she would be doing in 2017.  

After narrowly losing her 2014 re-election, Hagan taught at the Harvard Institute of Politics , and on Monday, she started a new job at the lobbying firm Akin Gump  in Washington, D.C.  

In the months after her loss, national Democrats tried to get her to run against Republican Sen. Richard M. Burr this cycle, but she ultimately passed on the race . “I’ve been in office for 16 years. And I really thought I’d be up here for at least another six. So obviously it’s disappointing that it did not turn out that way,” Hagan said when asked why she didn’t challenge Burr. Hagan served in the North Carolina Senate before running for U.S. Senate. Democrats credit Hagan for running one of the best campaigns last cycle and they chalk up her point-and-a-half loss to Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., to a midterm-year turnout and overall political climate that was bad for Democrats nationally. “At this point, I’ve decided, this is another chapter,” Hagan said. “But I also want to help the Senate have a Democratic majority in 2016,” she added. She’s been in contact with Democrats running across the country, including former state Rep. Deborah Ross, who’s emerged as the top Democratic challenger to Burr
In recalling how close her 2014 race was, Hagan noted that much more outside money was spent against her in 2014 than in 2008 — “a night and day difference,” she said, “primarily because of the Supreme Court and the Citizens United decision.” 
Money in politics, specifically the impact of Citizens United, was the subject of a course she taught at Harvard
. Number 7 on Roll Call’s list of the most vulnerable senators , Burr doesn’t enjoy strong favorability in the state. But the two-term senator does have money; he ended the third quarter with $4.7 million in the bank. Ross has not yet released fundraising numbers.  

There’s an opportunity for Ross this year, Hagan said, in that turnout will be higher during a presidential year. Hagan benefited from the coalition that first elected President Barack Obama in North Carolina. But of concern to Democrats, she said, is North Carolina’s strict voter registration laws. “I want to be sure that does not deter turnout,” she said. Hagan, who has endorsed Hillary Clinton for president and served as chairwoman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s Women’s Senate Network in 2012, has been invested in helping women get elected to federal office. “Anytime I could speak to a girl scout troop, I would tell them, ‘I am recruiting you to run for office right now,'” Hagan said. “This is a shout out to all women: We need you. Looking at history,
if you look at corporations, the military, committees, if you have women on those committees, you get a better end result.”
“I also tell people, ‘there’s never going to be a perfect time, so jump on it,'” Hagan added. As for Hagan, who terminated her campaign account  in September with zero dollars in the bank, is her time holding elected office over?  

“As I said, this is a new chapter today,” Hagan said, pausing before adding, “I’ve also learned from other people, you never say never.”
But there are things she doesn’t miss about the Senate. “The last four years of my Senate time, gridlock was such a problem,” Hagan said, reflecting on her new role in the private sector. “One of the things that has brought me to Akin Gump is the bipartisan nature of this firm.”
Contact Pathé at and follow her on Twitter at @sfpathe.

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