by: Scott Wickersham Updated:
You've probably noticed political ads running lately about U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, and the election is still a year away.
Political experts said it's a sign North Carolina will be a major battleground in 2014 as Republicans try to gain seats in the U.S. Senate.
Republicans are trying to tie Hagan to the president's falling popularity numbers, mostly linked to all the problems with the Affordable Care Act.
Mecklenburg County Republican Party Chair Brad Overcash calls it a good strategy.
"Kay Hagan is very vulnerable," Overcash said. "And I think we are going to take that seat back."
But Democrats have launched a volley of their own ads countering the claims and touting Hagan's success in Washington, D.C.
Political expert Michael Bitzer said it's just the beginning.
"North Carolina's 2014 Senate race will be one of the key races to determine if the Republicans take over, or the Democrats retain," he said.
Bitzer said in an off-presidential year, Republicans have the advantage but there's more in play this time.
"With all the controversies -- the shutdown, Obamacare -- this election really is up in the air," said Bitzer.
Because of that, Bitzer expects a barrage of money to flow into this race from inside and outside the state -- as much as $25 million.
Public policy polling said the attack ads may already be working.
Hagan is now basically tied with her Republican challengers and her approval rating has stayed flat at around 44 percent.
While her disapproval has spiked from 39 percent to 49 percent over the past two months, Mecklenburg County Democrats said they aren't worried.
They said the issues with the Affordable Care Act will be resolved well before the election and it will end up being a great thing for America.
It's also worth noting Hagan has been critical of the problems with the Affordable Care Act and is calling for an investigation into the botched launch just a few weeks ago.
Preston Elliott, Hagan's campaign manager, sent WSOC-TV this statement:
"This is just another baseless smear campaign from a Koch Brothers-backed group that doesn't disclose its donors, doesn't speak for North Carolinians, and has a record of airing ads that fact checkers call false. The Koch Brothers are trying to buy a Senate seat because they know Kay will always choose the best interests of North Carolina over their special interest agenda. The only people choosing politics over people are Kay's opponents, who rejected health care for 500,000 North Carolinians, refused to set up a state-based health care marketplace and want to take us back to a time when people who got sick got dropped from their insurance and women got charged more for coverage."
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