It's hard to believe, but this story was posted only two days ago. And even though it is a News & Observer product, it can get pretty high marks from a conservative Republican writer who backed winner Thom Tillis. So -- thanks for small blessings. Now let's get out of the election's shadows and move forward. That doesn't mean capitulating or going overboard with compromise. It means going forward -- on our terms.
Just before midnight Tuesday, Hagan conceded defeat, promising to work with Tillis during the transition. She thanked her husband, Chip, and her family for their support.
With about 98 percent of the precincts reporting, Tillis maintained a lead of around 50,000 votes. He had 48.95 percent of the vote to Hagan's 47.14 percent. Libertarian Sean Haugh had 3.24 percent.
Tillis won in the west, except for Asheville, and in the state's southeastern counties and on the Outer Banks. Hagan found most success in urban counties, taking Wake County 55 percent to 42 percent.
At Charlotte's Omni Hotel, Tillis supporters broke out in jubilant cheers as FoxNews declared him the victor shortly before 11:30 p.m. The crowd chanted "Thom" and "USA" and sang na na, hey hey, goodbye.
Hagan had been considered vulnerable from early on but had consistently kept a small lead in polls and Democrats had thought she might help them retain their Senate majority. But Republicans fought hard to gain the six seats they needed to gain control. Hagan's defeat added to Democratic losses in Kentucky, Colorado, Arkansas, West Virginia, Montana and South Dakota.
"Kay Hagan is suffering the same fate as other Democrats throughout the South," said David McLennan, a political science professor at Meredith College in Raleigh. "From Mitch McConnell's relative easy victory in Kentucky to Ed Gillespie's strong showing against Virginia incumbent Mark Warner, it appears that President Obama's disapproval among Southern voters was a very difficult burden for Democrats to overcome."
Even though polls showed Hagan with a slight lead coming into Election Day, Republican enthusiasm for the midterm elections may have led to higher turnout than expected, McLennan said.
The senator didn't appear to cash in on the women's vote, he said, with exit polls showing "the gender gap was essentially a wash, with men favoring Tillis and women favoring Hagan by about the same amount.
Andrew Taylor, a political science professor at North Carolina State University, contrasted the national GOP momentum with Tillis' performance.
"It is interesting that the Republicans are having a big night nationally and will take the Senate quite comfortably" while the Tillis-Hagan race was the closest in the country, Taylor said. "Instead of running with Tom Cotton in Arkansas, he's running behind Cory Gardner in Colorado and Joni Ernst in Iowa, and running close to Ed Gillespie in Virginia and Scott Brown in Massachusetts."
Republicans made the campaign about President Barack Obama, who invited that strategy last month when he said his policies were on the ballot even though he wasn't. Mirroring GOP Senate candidates across the country, Tillis rarely missed an opportunity to include Obama in any sentence that also mentioned Hagan.
Obama's low approval ratings made Hagan and other endangered Senate Democrats keep a distance from him and stress their differences. But on Monday the president did four radio interviews in North Carolina: on "No Limit Larry in the Morning on WPEG in Charlotte," "Artie and Fly Ty in the Afternoon" on WBAV, also in Charlotte, "Mike and Friends in the Morning" on WFMI in Elizabeth City, and "The 3 Live Crew" on WJMH in Greensboro.
The radio interviews were among 14 Obama gave on Monday and Tuesday in states with close Senate or gubernatorial races.
For voters like Jerry Greenhoot, 78, of Charlotte, Obama was the problem. "It's as much an anti-Obama vote as any of the other reasons, but not entirely," he said at a Myers Park precinct. "I can"t think of one thing (Hagan) has done. It doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure that out. And I was one."
Greenhoot is a retired neurosurgeon.
In Charlotte, Gov. Pat McCrory, a longtime ally of Tillis', arrived at the Republican party in Charlotte about an hour after the polls closed.
"I think the campaign was good," McCrory said of Tillis' effort. "The only thing I didn't like was the amount of negative TV ads."
U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson stood on stage in front of an American flag at Tillis' results party around 10:20 pm Tuesday. "Tonight's a huge night for Republicans all across the country," he said.
As the evening wore on in Greensboro, Hagan and her campaign staff were keeping a low profile as the crowd began to thin out. Earlier in the night, supporters for Alma Adams, a Democrat, who won in the the state's Congressional 12th District, enthusiastically cheered her appearance. Mark Jewell, vice president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, representing 96,000 teachers, also fired up the crowd.
Earlier in the day, Stephanie Stewart, a daycare worker, left a polling station at Trinity A.M.E. Zion Church and said she voted for Hagan. "She's trying to help us, and Thom Tillis is trying to cut everything," she said.
In the church parking lot, at the prescribed distance from the voting entrance, Kim Ruthven, Hagan's sister-in-law who was up from Florida, held a Hagan sign and called out to voters, "It's a great day to vote for Kay!"
She'd been there since 6:30 a.m., she said late Tuesday afternoon. Everyone in Hagan's family had fanned out to some 20 polling places to try to give her campaign a boost.
"Thanks for voting. Tell your friends the polls are open until 7:30 tonight!" she said cheerfully as people left and got into their cars.
William Barnes, leaving the same polling place, said he voted for Tillis because he liked the raise for teachers this year and thought Tillis had done more for balancing the state budget and bringing jobs to the state.
Barnes said he lost his job a few years ago and had been working temporary jobs here and there. He voted for Hagan in 2008. "She's been saying jobs are getting better here in North Carolina, but I just don't see it," he said.
For her part, Hagan hammered away at Tillis' record as speaker of the state House, where he helped lead a conservative revolution that shook up 140 years of Democratic rule, prompting praise from business and small-government interests and scorn from advocates for the poor and middle class, education, the environment and women. Weekly protests drew thousands to the legislative building and led to mass arrests.
Tillis' task was to burnish his image as a moderate, business conservative while assuring anti-abortion, gun-rights and traditional marriage supporters that he also stood with them.
Hagan portrayed herself as a better reflection of North Carolina, one of the most middle-of-the-road members of the Senate who was also focused on improving the economy.
But both candidates painted each other as radicals, and where they left off, outside groups stepped in with more than 100,000 TV ads that left many people with campaign fatigue weeks ago. In excess of $100 million was spent on ads by both sides, mostly by outside interests with only murky accountability about who funds them.
The campaigns and their allies slung all manner of accusations against the contenders. But the one that seemed to gain the most traction was the fact that Hagan missed half of the Senate Armed Services Committee meetings.
Tillis also tried to capitalize on fears of terrorism, disease and border security to argue that the Obama administration hadn't done enough to keep the country safe.
Polls consistently showed Hagan with the smallest of leads, but always in front. Even Tillis' own internal polling showed no better than a tie last week. Although some polls have shown Tillis improving, the race has been from beginning to end too close to call.
Haugh, while adding a touch of levity to the race with his beer-sipping videos and his laid-back job as a pizza delivery man, was never expected to draw more than single-digit support.
But some analysts predicted that he might siphon votes of die-hard conservatives.
To counter that, an online ad campaign sought to steal Democrats from Hagan by promoting Haugh's support for legalizing drugs and against military intervention in other countries.
(Elisabeth Arriero of The Charlotte Observer, Lesley Clark of McClatchy's Washington bureau and news researcher David Raynor contributed.)