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The handshake that will launch 1,000 negative ads

President Barack Obama shakes hands with Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., left, who has criticized the Obama administration on veterans issues, as he arrives at North Carolina Air National Guard Base in Charlotte, N.C., Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014. Obama is in Charlotte to address the American Legion’s 96th National Convention. At right is Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

The most-talked about handshake of this political week happened this morning on a tarmac in Charlotte, North Carolina. The participants were President Obama, in the Queen City to speak to the American Legion convention, and Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan, one of the biggest Republican targets this fall.

Hagan, fearing that the image of her warmly greeting an unpopular president of her own party would be a Republican ad maker's dream, was careful to pre-but those attacks. “I have told the President that promises alone aren’t going to get it done,” Hagan plans to tell the Legion convention, according to her prepared remarks reported on by the Charlotte Observer. “The Obama Administration must understand that we need a complete change in culture at the VA.”

That statement, of course, won't keep Republican nominee Thom Tillis and aligned outside conservative groups from using the image of the Hagan-Obama handshake to tie her to President Obama. And, since a picture is worth a thousand words, it's likely the photo above -- should it make it into Republican ads -- will have a negative impact on Hagan among some segments of the electorate.

That said, Hagan probably made the right call in showing up to greet the presidents.  Here's why.

1. Hagan is going to get blasted for being an Obama clone -- whether or not she shook his hand on the tarmac today. (The Republican National Committee released a statement Tuesday morning noting that she voted with the president 96 percent of the time.)

2. Being perceived as running away from Obama could dampen enthusiasm for Hagan within the Democratic base -- particularly within the African American community.

3. Richard Burr, the Republican U.S. Senator from the state, was also on the tarmac (you can't see him in the picture above), which gives Hagan a bit of cover.

Politics -- especially for a Democrat running in a swing state in a Republican-tilting year like this one -- can be full of choices between the bad and the worse. Hagan chose the former by showing up on the tarmac today.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.

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