In late February, Senator Kay Hagan of North Carolina formally announced her reelection bid. The moderate Democrat, a former bank executive who rode President Obama’s coattails to a narrow upset victory over Republican incumbent Elizabeth Dole in 2008, was heading into a tough campaign against Thom Tillis, the speaker of the state House of Representatives. Americans for Prosperity, the Tea Party group funded by the billionaire Koch brothers, had already dished out more than $3 million for ads attacking Hagan — a mere precursor of an ugly eight months to come. But on this day, at least, the senator figured to have the news cycle all to herself, with Tar Heel TV stations broadcasting the usual announcement fanfare of broad smiles and soundbite-worthy platitudes.
All went according to plan until pesky reporters started asking Hagan about her vote for the Affordable Care Act, and about her past echoing of Obama’s claim that “if you like your insurance plan, you can keep it.” She’d been asked such questions dozens of times, no doubt, but the senator still had no answer. As campaign staffers anxiously whisked her away from the podium and outside to her waiting car, reporters chased Hagan, repeating the Obamacare questions. Finally, she responded, somewhat mysteriously, “It wasn’t clear that insurance companies were selling substandard policies.” Cue the evening sound bite: the backside of Senator Hagan fleeing from journalists in her bright pink announcement-day dress, dodging questions about a seminal controversy. “Dodging,” along with its synonym “ducking,” would soon become the verb of choice for headlines about the Hagan campaign.