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Election season starts to heat up

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GREENSBORO — For many, Labor Day marks the unofficial end of summer. But for political campaigns — particularly the close contest between Sen. Kay Hagan and N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis — things are just heating up.

"The conventional wisdom is that people do begin to focus more on the elections after Labor Day," said Robert Griffiths, associate professor of political science at UNCG. "During the summer people are on vacation, the kids are out of school. That tends to direct peoples' attention away from politics."

September will see more polling, more volunteer activity, even more political advertising than we've already seen, Griffiths said.

"The amount of money that is raised and spent

in campaigns these days is enormous," Griffiths said. "But it's not unlimited. Especially in an off-presidential election year, the campaigns are going to withhold some of that advertising money until they know they have peoples' attention."

This week the Elon University poll will begin surveying likely voters instead of just registered voters for the first time this election cycle.

"Most political scientists would agree and all the academic literature says it doesn't make sense to have a likely voter model until around Labor Day," said Ken Fernandez, an assistant professor of political science at Elon and director of the Elon Poll.

"Likely voter polling just isn't very accurate until after Labor Day, when voters are more attuned to the campaigns and they're really thinking about who they may be voting for," Fernandez said.

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Polling will obviously be more accurate the closer it is to the Nov. 4 election, Fernandez said. But most observers are expecting Hagan, a first-term incumbent Democrat, and her Republican challenger to be close in the polls right up until the election.

An average of the most recent public polling shows Tillis leading Hagan 45 percent to 44 percent.

A USA Today/Suffolk University poll released last week found Libertarian Sean Haugh's support at 5 percent. The university found that Tillis was the favored second choice of Haugh voters, 54 percent to 35 percent.

Fernandez was teaching at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas in 2010 when Sen. Harry Reid CD-Nevada) faced a challenge from Republican Sharon Angle, a former state assemblywoman. Reid was considered vulnerable and polling was very close right down to Election Day. In the end, Reid took 50 percent of the vote to Angle's 45 percent.

"That really taught us that we have to take a lot of the polling data we're seeing with a grain of salt," Fernandez said. "You'd be foolish to put your money on any one candidate right now."

"The incumbent advantage is not as strong in the Senate as it is in the House of Representatives," Fernandez said. "But it's still not easy to unseat an incumbent. Polling shows us that Hagan is vulnerable and Tillis is a real contender, but the most accurate poll is on Election Day."

Chris Hayden, press secretary for the Hagan campaign, said the senator has had a very busy August and expects to keep up that pace going into the fall.

"She's already visited field offices and made public appearances in almost every corner of the state," Hayden said. "Speaker Tillis really hasn't been anywhere."

Tillis has been consumed by the N.C. General Assembly's short session — which ended up lasting most of the summer. His campaign said he'll be picking up the campaign this month.

"North Carolinians are just beginning to hear about Thorn's working-class values, his success in the private sector and his effective leadership as speaker in balancing budgets, cutting taxes for middle-class families and providing teachers with 7 percent average pay raises," said Daniel Keylin, communications director for the Tillis campaign. Oct. 10 is the deadline to register for the general election. Early voting runs from Oct. 23-Nov. 1.

Contact Joe Killian at (336) 373-7023, and follow @JoeKillianNR on Twitter.

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Related to this story

Previous coverage of the U.S. Senate race. Sen. Kay Hagan, a Greensboro Democrat, faces competition this year.

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