A tight race for one of North Carolina's Senate seats is turning into a veritable battle of the sexes, with a huge and growing gulf between male and female voters.
A new Suffolk University/USA Today poll shows that Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) is leading her challenger, State House Speaker Thom Tillis (R), by 18 points among women voters. But Tillis leads by 14 points among men, adding up to a whopping 32-point gender gap in the race -- significantly wider than the 20-point gender gap that launched President Barack Obama to victory in 2012.
Overall, Hagan leads Tillis by only two percentage points, 45 percent to 43 percent. But Hagan leads among women voters by a margin of 52 to 34 percent, while Tillis leads among men by 52 to 38 percent. Women voters outnumber men in North Carolina by about 500,000, so Hagan's re-election chances could hinge on whether those women turn out to vote.
Democrats are pinning their hopes for control of the Senate on women candidates and women voters. EMILY's List, a well-funded political action committee that boosts women candidates who support abortion rights, is spending millions to turn out women for Hagan, New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D), Kentucky Democratic Senate nominee Allison Lundergan Grimes and Georgia Democratic Senate nominee Michelle Nunn.
The group is spending $3 million on Hagan's race alone, and recently launched an ad highlighting Tillis' efforts to kill equal-pay legislation as state House speaker.
EMILY's List has also hit Tillis on his cuts to education funding and pointed out the contrast between the two candidates on abortion rights. Hagan supports the right to a legal abortion, while Tillis believes abortion should be banned except in cases of rape, incest and when the life of the mother is in danger. Tillis said he favors a measure that would give fetuses legal personhood rights and supported a controversial anti-abortion amendment in the state Senate that was oddly attached to a motorcycle safety bill.
"Thom Thillis has built his political career by targeting women and families - it's no wonder the women of North Carolina are rejecting him," said Marcy Stech, EMILY's List spokeswoman. "They are looking for a leader who respects them, not someone who prioritizes killing equal pay legislation, blocking access to women's health care and cutting education funding. Tillis is among the worst offenders when it comes to the issues that matter to women – and the gender gap shows North Carolina women know it.”
In hopes of narrowing the gender gap, Tillis is deploying his wife to boost support from Republican women. Susan Tillis visited five cities throughout the state this week with Republican National Committee co-chair Sharon Day as part of the RNC's 14 in '14 initiative to engage women voters.
"I was thrilled to work with so many wonderful ladies this week through the 14 in '14 Initiative, as there are so many critical issues at the center of this election," Susan Tillis said in a statement. "It's clear the Republican Party is the way for women in North Carolina."