Morning Memo: Ahead of visit, Obama’s approval rating sinks to new low

Posted by John Frank on January 15, 2014 

On the same day President Barack Obama visits North Carolina, a new poll puts his approval rating at a new low: 40 percent.

Public Policy Polling director Tom Jensen said it’s the lowest ever rating for Obama in the Democratic firm’s monthly North Carolina poll. His disapproval rating is 54 percent with another 5 percent unsure, according to numbers released first to Morning Memo.

Self-identified independents overwhelmingly disapprove – 63 percent to 26 percent approval – and even one in five Democrats are upset. A driving factor is the federal health care law, which musters 38 percent approval in North Carolina compared to 48 percent who are opposed.

Sixty-one percent of voters think its implementation has been unsuccessful with about one-third deeming it a success. The number is actually slighting improving for the president; in November the unsuccessful mark stood at 69 percent.

The poll – with a plus-or-minus 2.6 percent margin of error and conducted last weekend – is likely to fuel Republicans’ criticisms of Obama’s visit.

***Obama visits a day after big headlines in North Carolina politics. The N.C. Senate race is heating up with Thom Tillis feeling the pressure and Hagan on the defensive. And lawmakers are making big news on fracking and health and human services. Get more and a full guide on the president’s visit below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

GUIDE TO OBAMA VISIT ---

THE BIG ANNOUNCEMENT: President Barack Obama will announce Wednesday that N.C. State University will be home to a $140 million consortium of companies and universities that will develop the next generation of energy-efficient electronic chips and devices.

The Next Generation Power Electronics Institute will be headquartered on NCSU’s Centennial Campus. Over the next five years, the U.S. Department of Energy will provide $70 million to the institute, to be matched by at least $70million in nonfederal money by the businesses and universities and the state of North Carolina. Read more here.

BEFORE HIS SPEECH: President Barack Obama will tour Vacon, a Durham manufacturing company that makes AC drives used in electric motors.

Rob Christensen column -- TWO OBAMA VISITS AT TWO CRISES POINTS: N.C. State University, where the president will speak this afternoon, holds a special place for Barack Obama.

It was at Reynolds Coliseum where Obama – worried that his march to the White House was about to crash and burn – claimed victory in the North Carolina Democratic presidential primary, essentially ending the effort of his chief rival, fellow Sen. Hillary Clinton.

Today, Obama faces a different challenge when he speaks at the J.W. Isenhour Tennis Center: How to refocus a second term that is threatened by problems with his troubled health care program.

Obama’s two trips to N.C. State reflect not only different points of crisis in his career, but starkly different political climates. Read more here. RELATED VIDEO: Rob discusses the president’s visit. See it here.

THE SURPRISE: Republican Gov. Pat McCrory will greet Obama at the airport. The governor has been critical of the president repeatedly, even blaming him for the state losing its federal long-term unemployment benefits, only to correct himself weeks later. It’s unclear whether he will attend the speech.

It’s not uncommon for governors to welcome the president to the state but this is the first time McCrory has done so.

THE PROTESTS: Conservatives to raise a ruckus. Read more here.

KAY HAGAN WON’T ATTEND: “I’ve got a job to do, and I’ve got serious votes to take,” she said. Read more here.

VOTER QUESTIONS: What’s on voter’s minds? N&O readers submitted roughly 50 questions to ask the president upon his arrival in North Carolina and we sent 13 (the ones submitted with names) to the White House asking for answers. Hopefully answers will arrive soon.

#NCPOL ROUNDUP ---

TODAY IN POLITICS: Gov. Pat McCrory’s schedule doesn’t include any events other than the Obama meeting at the airport.

The Environmental Review Commission will meet at 9:30 a.m. in room 643 of the legislative office building. The Joint Purchase and Contract Study Committee meets in room 544 at 1 p.m.

THE BIG STORY -- EMPTY CHAIR REPRESENTS TILLIS AT SENATE GOP FORUM: WINSTON-SALEM — Five Republican U.S. Senate candidates sat at the front of an auditorium Tuesday to make their case for why they were the best candidate to beat Democrat Sen. Kay Hagan in November.

One chair at the front sat empty. Thom Tillis didn’t show. Again.

It’s the third candidate forum that the state House speaker has skipped and the second this month. The two previous forums were hosted by county tea party groups – a population skeptical of Tillis’ candidacy – but the latest event was hosted by the county Republican Party in a part of the state where Tillis will need to run strong to win his party’s nomination.

GOP CHAIR CRITICIZES ABSENCE: “You’ll notice at the end of the row we have an empty seat,” Forsyth County Republican Party Chairman Scott Cumbie said at the start of the forum in Winston-Salem. “We have one candidate who is not here tonight. I just want you to be aware of that because it is important that our candidates are here with the people so we can hear from them.”

Tillis’ absence is a driving storyline for party activists in the still-young race. But political analysts say it is a strategic calculation – and one with an unclear result.

BRANNON DIDN’T VOTE FOR ROMNEY: Brannon stood alone in stating he didn’t vote for Mitt Romney for president in 2012, even as other candidates criticized Republicans who stayed home on Election Day.

Romney, Brannon said, favored abortion rights until 2007. “To me, you cannot ever waver on life,” he said. Read more here.

( NOTE: Look for more highlights from the forum in coming days.)

MORE #NCSEN -- HAGAN PREVIEWS HER RACE: WASHINGTON — As Sen. Kay Hagan prepares for what is likely to be a tough and competitive re-election campaign, she emphasized a populist message that would portray her as fighting for average North Carolinians against Republicans on the side of “outside special interest money.”

The Tar Heel state Democrat hopes to gain an advantage by contrasting her work on Capitol Hill with the influence of undisclosed outsiders who are pouring in money to defeat her.

"These individuals don’t know the people, don’t know the values, don’t know the problems,” Hagan said in an interview on Tuesday previewing her 2014 campaign. “They’re looking for any issues having to do with their corporations and their taxes.” Read more here.

QUOTABLE -- GOP OFFICIAL WORRIES ABOUT CROWDED SENATE PRIMARY: “They’re going to use up all their funds in a circular firing squad,” said Mark Schneck, chairman of the Scotland County Republican Party. Read more here.

IS HAGAN WASHING HER HAIR?: A CNN reporter in the White House briefing suggested Democrat Kay Hagan’s reason for not joining the president on his visit to Raleigh today is the equivalent of the “washing your hair” excuse. Watch it here. RELATED: White House defends Hagan. Read more here.

MOTHER JONES HIGHLIGHTS BRANNON FOOD STAMPS REMARK: The liberal website is focused on his remarks on food stamps from a tea party video. The lead: “North Carolina Republican Senate candidate Greg Brannon has an interesting argument for eliminating food stamps: "slavery." Read more here.

DUCKING JUDICIAL QUESTIONS: From Huffington Post -- Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) avoided question after question on Tuesday about why he's blocking a long-stalled judicial nominee that he previously recommended to President Barack Obama. Read more here.

THE BIG HEADLINE -- FRACKING CHEMICALS TO REMAIN SECRET: Fracking companies won the right to keep secret the chemical cocktails they pump underground during shale gas drilling in North Carolina under a chemical disclosure rule approved Tuesday by the N.C. Mining and Energy Commission.

The public safety standard will help the energy companies protect their secret sauce used in natural gas drilling, but critics said it would also keep residents in the dark about potent chemicals used near local farms and waterways.

The rule was passed after nearly three hours of intense debate Tuesday, and it follows more than a year of deliberations that had the commissioners tied up in knots. Read more here.

ANOTHER BIG ONE -- ALDONA WOS APOLOGIZES: The head of the state’s health agency apologized Tuesday for errors that resulted in violations of federal privacy rights of nearly 50,000 children.

“I deeply apologize for the impact this has caused to the citizens of this state,” said Dr. Aldona Wos, state Department of Health and Human Services secretary, at a legislative committee meeting that once again focused on the agency’s shortcomings. Read more here.

LAWMAKERS DON’T GET THE ANSWERS THEY WANT: That’s the headline from the meeting in the Winston-Salem Journal. Read the story here.

McCRORY PREVIEWS EDCUATION AGENDA: Gov. Pat McCrory will emphasize meeting international education standards, building a qualified labor force and rewarding teachers with increased pay when he announces his proposals for education legislation in the coming weeks.

McCrory previewed his legislative agenda in a speech at the Hunt Institute’s Holshouser Legislators Retreat on Monday night, though he did not provide specific policy plans. Read more here.

McCRORY DEFENDS SPECIAL ELECTION SCHEDULE: Firing back at critics, Gov. Pat McCrory Tuesday defended his timetable for a special congressional election, calling it “the simplest, least costly and least confusing option.”

The Republican governor made the argument in a letter to two Democratic congressmen who last week accused him of leaving voters in the 12th Congressional District without representation for nearly a year.

McCrory’s letter came hours after the state NAACP implicitly threatened legal action if he doesn’t change the schedule. Read more here.

QUICK HITS ---

N.C. Medicaid budget prediction still unavailable. Read more here.

New York Times: Ads Attacking on Health Law Stagger Outspent Democrats. Read more here.

N.C. lawmakers at odds over unemployment benefit extension. Read more here.

State senator wants McCrory administration to take over Union County DSS. Read more here.

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