This cycle's best bellwether for Senate control is North Carolina, where Sen. Kay Hagan, a Democrat, is seeking re-election in this increasingly frequent battleground state.
Senate Republicans must pick up a net of six seats to win control, and the Tar Heel State has served as that chamber's best barometer in recent cycles. Since 2000, the party of North Carolina's Senate victor has picked up seats across the country.
That's what happened in 2008, when Hagan defeated then-Sen. Elizabeth Dole, and Democrats picked up several Senate seats on the coattails of President Barack Obama's first election. Hagan won't have that benefit in 2014, when the president's poor approval rating will not help her re-election efforts. But Hagan could benefit from the state's a changing demographics. Burgeoning suburbs around Charlotte, Greensboro and Raleigh mean Democrats can win statewide in North Carolina with a coalition of minority urban and suburban, mostly female voters. The multiple, decentralized media markets have also made this the most expensive Senate race of the cycle so far.
Hagan's race will provide the first big opportunity for North Carolina Democrats to determine if they can buck national trends and win statewide. If Hagan wins, she'll be the first Tar Heel Democrat to have a second term in the Senate in more than 40 years.
Hagan's top GOP opponent is state House Speaker Thom Tillis, who faces Baptist preacher Mark Harris and tea party activist and physician Greg Brannon in the primary.
The race is rated Tilts Democrat by Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call.
Editor’s note: Not all congressional races are created equal, and Roll Call’s politics desk admits to playing favorites. So in the spirit of the holidays, these are a few of our favorite things (races) to cover this cycle. We’re shining a spotlight on our 12 most fascinating races through the new year — in no particular order. Happy holidays from @RollCallPols!
Check out the rest of Roll Call's most fascinating races of 2014: Arizona's 2nd District, California’s 17th District, California’s 31st District, Illinois’ 13th District, Pennsylvania's 13th District, West Virginia's 2nd District, Alaska Senate, Arkansas Senate, Kentucky Senate, and Mississippi Senate.