The Democratic incumbent North Carolina senator continues to lead her Republican challenger, Thomas R. “Thom” Tillis, the state’s retiring House Speaker, by 46 percent by 42 percent according to a Sept. 22-23 Human Events/Gravis poll of 860 likely registered voters.

Senator J. Kay Hagan led Tillis in the Human Events/Gravis poll conducted in the last week of July 44 percent to 41 percent, so it seems like the race is locked in right now, said Doug Kaplan, the president of Gravis Marketing, the Florida-based pollster that executed the poll. The poll carries a 3 percent margin of error.

“Although Hagan’s lead is close to the margin of error, I would caution against calling this race a dead heat,” he said. “Hagan beat Elizabeth Dole in 2008 by 53 percent to Dole’s 43 percent and she is outpolling both the president and the governor.

President Barack Obama has an approval rating of 42 percent versus a disapproval rating of 51 percent, he said. In the race for governor, Gov. Patrick L. McCrory, a Republican, is outpolling his Democratic challenger state Attorney General Roy A. Cooper III by 45 percent to Cooper’s 42 percent.

Typical of a campaign run by Republican consultants, the Tillis team has sought to blur the ideological differences between Hagan and himself and make the race about personalities and smears. If Tillis ran on gun rights, lowering the debt and restoring legal protection to the unborn, it would be a different race, putting Hagan in the defensive.

Instead, Tillis yields the battlefield of ideas to Hagan, creating the impression that he agrees with her liberal views—and he probably does.

In fact, although he was endorsed by the National Rifle Association’s Political Victory Fund, Tillis said he supported new laws restricting gun rights if they were “practical.”

In the GOP primary, Tillis beat back conservative Greg Brannon, an obstetrician, his closest rival for the nomination, with millions of dollars from the Chamber of Commerce and Karl Rove’s American Crossroads, as well as the of endorsement former Massachusetts governor W. Mitt Romney, who has crisscrossed the country raising money and endorsing Republicans with Tea Party or conservative opponents. Even McCrory broke protocol to endorse Tillis in the primary.

Columnist Jennifer Rubin, a spokesmodel for the Republican National Committee, declared Tillis the most electable candidate and that became the familiar mantra.

Stepping back, why not ask the question Hillary R. Clinton might ask: “What difference does it make?

Against Hagan, any Republican was going to have a good shot in North Carolina.

The answer is that the only difference is that GOP establishment does not want conservatives.

In the end, of course, conservatives will recover and rally for the Republicans. Sen. Randal H. “Rand” Paul (R.-Ky.), who supported Brannon in the primary, is coming to the Tar Heel State to support Tillis. This is a stark contrast to the behavior of establishment Republicans, who after losing a primary endorse the Democrat or stay home.

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