by: Jim Bradley Updated:
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - August is usually a slow month for politics, but that's not the case for North Carolina's U.S. Senate race.
The contest between Democrat Kay Hagan and Republican Thom Tillis is one of the most closely watched in the country.
When the North Carolina Legislature wrapped up its budget battle over the weekend, it finally freed House Speaker Tillis to focus on his bid to unseat Hagan in a race most polls are calling a tossup.
“Now, all the attention is going into the fall campaign. So, it's fundraising, it's campaign stops, it's making sure that your message is out there,” said political expert Michael Bitzer.
Bitzer said the message has already been distilled for voters -- try to tie Tillis to the summer's turmoil in Raleigh and Hagan to a president unpopular in North Carolina.
“This is going to be basically the state legislature vs. Obama,” Bitzer said.
“His record in Raleigh is Speaker Tillis' entire problem,” said Sadie Weiner with Hagan’s campaign.
“(Hagan is) the well-entrenched, well-funded member of the liberal establishment,” said Jordan Shaw with Tillis’ campaign.
The Tillis campaign admits it has a lot of catching up in fundraising, where Hagan has nearly six times as much cash in her campaign war chest.
The biggest impact is coming from outside groups, which have already spent more than $12 million on political ads and are certain to spend millions more in a race that could tip the balance of power in Washington.
“I think this is going to be one of the key battlegrounds in terms of the U.S. Senate and could make or break who controls it come next January,” Bitzer said.
Campaigns may traditionally kick off after Labor Day, but for Tillis and Hagan the future is now.
One thing that could help Tillis is the fact that Hagan was just named one of the most vulnerable senators of the 2014 election.
The Capitol Hill newspaper “Roll Call” stated she's among the most likely to lose her re-election.
The newspaper also said that Tillis is off to a "slow start to the campaign."
The publication cites her relatively low approval rating.
It also said outside groups are beginning to pour money into the effort to defeat her.
Some believe the race is expected to be one of the most expensive in 2014.