Photos from Charlotte airport on Tuesday show Sen. Kay Hagan and President Barack Obama smiling and chatting before both of them spoke in separate appearances at the American Legion Convention.
Republicans had a lot to ask about the tarmac shots.
“Will a photo doom Kay Hagan?” her Republican challenger Thom Tillis’ campaign asked in a new release. It included one of the photos and comments from news reports Tuesday about Hagan’s airport greeting with Obama.
On Monday, the state GOP said that the “big question” of the convention would be “will Hagan take a photo with Obama?”
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“Behind the smiles lies an unfortunate reality,” the National Republican Senatorial Committee said in news release just before the president arrived on Tuesday morning. It noted that Fayetteville’s Veterans Affairs Medical Center had some of the longest wait times for care in the country, and it argued that Hagan had not kept her promises to veterans.
“Hagan’s photo opps with the president only serve to visually reinforce the reality of their failed records,” said Tillis spokesman Daniel Keylin.
The visual might need some cropping, however. North Carolina’s Republican senator, Richard Burr, was on hand for the customary greeting of a visiting president, too, as were U.S. Air Force Col. Marshall Collins, the 145th Airlift Wing commander; U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Maurice Williams, the 145th Airlift Wing command chief; and Charlotte Mayor Dan Clodfelter. VA Secretary Bob McDonald flew down with Obama.
Hagan, a one-term Democratic senator, is in an extremely close race with Tillis.
In a statement on Tuesday, Tillis said, “Kay Hagan and President Obama have broken their promises to our veterans, allowing the issues plaguing the VA to get significantly worse under their watch. Hagan has rubber-stamped President Obama’s reckless policies, which have weakened us at home and emboldened our enemies abroad, creating one crisis after another. Leading from behind and denying responsibility won’t erase their failures over the last six years.
“As North Carolina’s senator, I will be committed to restoring America’s standing in the world and will tirelessly work toward ensuring that our veterans are receiving the care they deserve, even when doing so requires standing up to the president and holding him accountable,” he added .
In her speech, Hagan said that she’s from a family of veterans:
“My husband is a Vietnam veteran; my father and brother served in the Navy; my father-in-law was a two-star general in Marine Corps and I have two nephews serving on active duty. One is a F-15 fighter pilot and the other a Navy Seal. So when I say that one of my top priorities is ensuring federal policies work for our veterans and active duty military, it is not just words. It is a personal obligation.
“That is why I’m glad the president was here today to address the challenges and failures the federal government has had meeting its obligations to our veterans,” she went on. “I have told the president that promises alone aren’t going to get it done. The Obama administration must understand that we need a complete change in culture at the VA.”
By the time the Democratic senator spoke at the convention, Obama had spoken and left and was already airborne on the way back to Washington.
Asked on Monday if she was worried whether Republicans would use images of her appearance with Obama against her, Hagan said, according to the Fayetteville Observer: “You know, we’re all there to thank our veterans for the service, what they’ve done. And then listen to their concerns. And I’m interested to hear what the president has to say.”
Obama pledged to do right by veterans following the reports that they were being kept waiting at VA facilities. He also vowed justice for American journalist James Foley who was beheaded by Islamic State militants, but said he would not put American troops on the ground in Iraq.
Earlier Tuesday, as Obama flew to Charlotte, White House spokesman Josh Earnest was asked during a gaggle with reporters on Air Force One whether the president would be a drag on Hagan. He replied: “The president over the last two elections has outperformed expectations in North Carolina.” (Obama narrowly won the state in 2008 and narrowly lost it in 2012.)