Which party controls the U.S. Senate could come down to North Carolina. Two-term Republican Senator Richard Burr is facing a much tougher than expected reelection campaign against Democrat Deborah Ross. Ross is a former North Carolina state legislator and Executive Director of the North Carolina ACLU. Libertarian Sean Haugh, who received 109,100 votes when he ran for the U.S. Senate in 2014, is also running again.
Burr, who is the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has been one of the leading supporters of NSA mass surveillance. Last year, momentum was gathering to force pro-privacy reforms of the NSA’s mass surveillance programs and in particular a program that allowed the government to search through Americans’ phone records without a warrant.
That program’s existence was revealed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, and was later declared unconstitutional by a Federal appeals court.
Burr opposed ending that program and filed a bill to reauthorize it with no privacy protections and even tried to bypass committee debate. Harley Geiger, senior counsel for the civil liberties group the Center for Democracy & Technology, described Burr’s bill as a “kick in the stomach” for Americans concerned about government overreach.
The House instead passed the USA Freedom Act, which did curtail the NSA’s phone records collection program. Burr blasted the bill as “being one and the same” as letting the Patriot Act expire because the metadata helps the NSA detect a terrorist threat “in real time or ahead of a threat.” Two separate studies called the NSA phone records collection program ineffective at stopping terrorist attacks.
The USA Freedom Act passed the Senate and was signed into late in June of last year.
Burr isn’t running from his Senate Intelligence Committee chairmanship and support for the NSA. He’s putting it front and center in his reelection bid.
Right now, Democrat Deborah Ross has a very narrow 0.3 percent lead in the Real Clear Politics average of polls. Ross is getting 44 percent to Burr’s 43.7 percent. Sean Haugh, when included in polls, has received between 3 and 4 percent.
Ross has two x-factors that could work in her favor. First is the unpopularity of the Republican brand in North Carolina in the wake of the passage of the “bathroom bill” which has seen companies and major sporting events, such as the NBA All-Star Game, pull out of the state. The Republican legislature and Republican Governor Pat McCreary enacted HB2 or the “bathroom bill” which mandates that transgender residents must use the bathroom that corresponds with their biological gender earlier this year.
The second is that Hillary Clinton’s campaign is reporting a higher than expected minority early and absentee vote in North Carolina, which will almost certainly benefit Ross.
But Richard Burr has a couple of x-factors of his own. The first is that he is polling better than both the unpopular Governor Pat McCreary and Donald Trump. Second is the fact that he is the incumbent in this race, which should give him advantages in terms of name ID and funding.