With international crises dominating the national agenda, could President Barack Obama’s low standing on foreign policy right now hurt Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan’s re-election bid in North Carolina?
A McClatchy-Marist poll this week found voters widely disapprove of the president’s policies on the foreign front _ the greatest level of rejection in any year of his presidency. Very quickly the Republican National Committee issued a statement claiming that his poll numbers “are sinking Democrats.”
Foreign policy is part of what makes voters unhappy with the president, and that will affect turnout for the mid-term elections in November, said Jennifer Duffy, a Senate analyst for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.
Democrats are trying to get voters to turn out in North Carolina, she said, “but the less popular the president is, the harder it will be.”
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In an email Wednesday, Thom Tillis, Hagan’s Republican opponent in the highly competitive race, called Obama’s foreign policy “reckless” and claimed that it has led to crises in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Ukraine.
Tillis, speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives, said, “Instead of standing up to Obama, Kay Hagan has been a rubber-stamp for his failed policies, which have weakened America’s standing in the world and emboldened our enemies.”
His campaign press secretary, Meghan Burris, said that Obama hadn’t taken seriously enough the threats from Russia or from the Islamic State, the jihadist group that controls parts of Iraq and Syria and which has prompted a re-injection of U.S. military personnel into Iraq. She also said that the administration “has not been fully supportive of Israel’s right to defend itself,” and that some Democrats had criticized the president, but Hagan had “remained silently supportive.”
Tillis made the same criticism of Hagan in a debate in April. Asked about the threat of Iran getting a nuclear bomb, Tillis said Hagan “sat idly by as the president has weakened our position in the Middle East.” He also said she didn’t support a strong military.
Hagan’s campaign fired back Wednesday. It said that she opposed the administration in 2013 by joining a call from Congress for tougher sanctions on Iran at a time when the White House wanted to focus on negotiations instead. She also sponsored and voted for sanctions against Iran in previous years.
Hagan also has voted for military aid to Israel and for legislation aimed at bolstering U.S.-Israel relations.
On U.S. military spending, she opposed a budget plan in 2013 for making what she saw as military cuts that were too deep. She also said that year that she voted in favor of a budget deal that eliminated across-the-board spending cuts after military leaders said it would restore money the Pentagon needed.
“As a member of the Armed Services Committee and the aunt of two nephews serving on active duty, Kay takes national security issues seriously and she will never play politics with them,” said campaign Spokeswoman, Sadie Weiner. “Speaker Tillis has shown a lack of understanding and a concerning tendency to fire first and aim second when it comes to matters of national security.”
But come November, will any of this matter in the voting booth?
Kenneth Fernandez, an assistant professor who directs polling at Elon University, said he didn’t think Obama’s foreign policy would have any noticeable effect on voters. He said Republican challengers would have to come up with an alternative course of action, such as doing nothing or escalating U.S. involvement in trouble spots.
“Both alternatives are not very attractive and difficult to explain to the public,” he said.