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The Trail: North Carolina, Virginia Senate races focus on 'national vs. local'

In Senate races in key battleground states, Republican candidates are trying to tie Democratic challengers to President Obama's policies.

We're following two trails today along the Atlantic coast in two key Senate races where the issue of "national vs. local" is becoming increasingly important.

'TUG OF WAR' OF A DEBATE: Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., and Republican challenger Thom Tillis debated Tuesday night, but the focus of the debate was less about Hagan vs. Tillis and more about Obama vs. the GOP, as msnbc.com's Benjy Sarlin reports. "Democratic Senator Kay Hagan and Republican challenger Thom Tillis engaged in a tug of war in their meeting on Tuesday, with Tillis constantly trying to tie Hagan to President Obama and Hagan refocusing the debate on North Carolina’s Republican-controlled state legislature." (More: msnbc.com)

A REFERENDUM ON OBAMA?: Hagan was careful during Tuesday's debate to distance herself from some of the Democrats' positions that were not particularly popular in the state, such as the Keystone XL pipeline. But when pressed by Tillis to expand more on Obama's policies she regretted voting for, Hagan responded, "Speaker Tillis wants to make this race about the president. This race is about who is going to represent North Carolina in the U.S. Senate." (More: Huffington Post)

GAME CHANGERS: Real Clear Politics recently noted that Hagan has a 4.2 percentage point lead over Tillis, with no recent polls suggesting that Tillis has an advantage going into the elections. Is there anything that could change voters' minds to vote for Tillis? News & Observer notes that North Carolinians are growing weary of all of the political ads that have been filling airwaves since last fall, but perhaps a celebrity endorsement (North Carolina icon NASCAR driver Richard Petty) for Tillis will switch things up. (More: News & Observer)

VYING FOR INDEPENDENTS: In Tuesday's Virginia Senate debate, incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Warner and Republican challenger Ed Gillespie are seeing a similar battle. Warner has been careful not to align himself too strongly with Obama, who currently has a 50% disapproval rating in the state, though Gillespie was mindful Tuesday to tie the two's policies together at numerous moments. (More: The Hill)