Morning Memo: New poll gives Republicans advantage in Senate race

Posted by John Frank on January 28, 2014 

A new poll from a Republican-leaning firm shows what most in North Carolina know already: the U.S. Senate race appears close.

In Rasmussen Reports’ first public survey of the race, it tested just two Republican candidates against Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan and avoided polling the big question: who will win the GOP primary race in less than four months?

And the selection of the two Republican candidates is intriguing: House Speaker Thom Tillis, the established front-runner supported by GOP leaders in Washington, and Greg Brannon, the upstart tea party candidate backed by Rand Paul. The polling didn’t include Mark Harris, a Charlotte pastor that many prognosticators considered would mount the best challenge to Tillis. (Nor were the other four announced candidates in the race.)

The poll found Tillis with a 47 to 40 percent lead against Hagan, outside of the plus-or-minus 4.5 percent margin-of-error. Brannon posted a four percentage point advantage (43 to 39 percent) against Hagan.

Tillis’ projected lead, should he survive the primary, is larger than the one other poll of the head-to-head matchup.

But Brannon’s advantage and the other numbers essentially mirror what Democratic firm Public Policy Polling has found for the last few months: Hagan’s popularity suffered as she was hit with constant attack ads and now sits essentially even with her Republican challengers.

The automated Rasmussen poll, with help from Pulse Opinion Research, was conducted Jan. 22-23.

*** Thanks for reading the Dome Morning Memo, even amid all this news about “a major snow storm” hitting North Carolina. For your weather news, turn here. For more political logs to fan the fire, keep reading below.***

TODAY IN POLITICS: Gov. Pat McCrory will attend the inaugural meeting of his advisory council on small and historically underutilized businesses at 11 a.m. in Raleigh and later hold a Teacher Advisory Committee Meeting at the executive mansion at 1 p.m.

McCrory is scheduled to attend the Henderson/Vance County Chamber banquet at 6:30 p.m. in Henderson, though no word on whether the forecast for snowy weather will cancel the event.

The Joint Legislative Commission on Government Operations, led by House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate leader Phil Berger, will meet at 9 a.m. to get an update on the Commerce reorganization plan and recent salary hikes for select state employees.

The Big Story -- IN LEAKED MEETING, TOP REPUBLICAN TEES OFF: A leading Republican state senator accused Gov. Pat McCrory of a “flagrant violation of power” and used crude language to deride fellow lawmakers for pushing a bill to crack down on puppy mills.

Sen. Bill Rabon, the chairman of the powerful Finance Committee, made the remarks in a private meeting earlier this month with animal welfare advocates and the Brunswick County sheriff.

Rabon called the legislation – one of the governor’s top legislative agenda items, championed by first lady Ann McCrory – an “abomination” and declared it dead for the 2014 legislative session.

“It came to the House without being vetted. It was bullied out of committee by the executive branch,” Rabon said in the meeting. “The executive branch had absolutely, absolutely no business sticking its nose in the legislature and that sort of issue and for the governor to want a particular piece of legislation because the first lady wants it or because he wants it personally to me is a flagrant violation of power.”

Rabon, a Southport veterinarian, said the legislation would do little to improve animal welfare and he pledged to use his power to get a tougher bill that bans animal gas chambers and funds a statewide abuse hotline signed into law in 2015.

ON THE HOUSE: House lawmakers approved it because “they are a bunch of (expletive),” Rabon screamed at the meeting, according to the transcript. “They got political heat. They said we can no longer sit on this. We know the Senate will not pass it because it is a piece of crap, so we will send it to them and they will take the heat. Ladies and gentleman, that is politics 101.”

ON THE GOVERNOR: Rabon said McCrory pressed him to approve the bill. “I will quote your governor, ‘Well, Bill, what in the hell is wrong with a bill that just makes people feel good?’ ” Rabon told the advocates. “I said, ‘Nothing. I’m not up there to make people feel good. I’m up there to do something that is good.’ ”

ON THE FIRST LADY: Rabon took particular issue with Ann McCrory’s visit to the House on May 9 to watch the vote, saying she was “in chamber lobbying, which was against all laws, inviting legislators to the mansion to lobby, which is against all law,” the transcript stated.

Withers responded: “If she broke the law, why was she not charged with breaking the law?”

“Maybe she did, maybe she did not,” Rabon said. “What she did was borderline.”

ON HIMSELF: “Let me blow my own horn,” he said. “I have been there for three years. I’m in the top five. The best shot you folks ever have you are talking to.” Read the full story here and find the advocates’ transcript of the meeting here.

NEW DOCUMENTS SHOW MORE DETAILS IN FAILED STATE CONTRACT: State officials have described their decision to halt an $85 million contract for a new tax software system as a “mutually agreed” decision made earlier this month between the state and the vendor.

But new documents show the state took action in November against the company, CGI Technologies and Solutions, saying the tax software project wasn’t meeting the contract’s terms. The state then sent notice to terminate the contract on Jan. 10, with language that said the project was a failure. Read more here.

N.C. RESIDENT GETS SPECIAL SOTU SEAT: Tyrone Davis of Winston-Salem, a fellow with the Environmental Defense Fund’s Climate Corps, will join First Lady Michelle Obama in her box to watch the State of the Union speech Tuesday.

More from the White House bio: “His recommendations showed the (Elizabeth City State University) how to achieve savings of more than $31,000 a year, resulting in nearly 200 million tons of carbon emissions reductions annually. ... Now in his third year at Elon University School of Law, Tyrone hopes to use his skills to benefit the environment and make communities safer.”

FUNDRAISING CORNER: U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan is raising money in New York City on Feb. 6 at the home of Silda Spitzer, wife of estranged husband Eliot Spitzer. Read more here.

Speaker Pro Tem Paul “Skip” Stam is raising money Thursday at the Halle Cultural Center in Apex. Keith Weatherly, the former Apex mayor and Stam staffer and now lobbyist for the McCrory administration, was listed as of the original hosts.

Other hosts include legislative players, including Royce Everette, whose fundraiser for Speaker Thom Tillis drew headlines, and Darrell Allison, a school voucher advocate and president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina.

Newly minted Democratic state Sen. Valerie Foushee is hosting a fundraiser with Attorney General Roy Cooper as the special guest on Super Bowl Sunday at the Hillsborough home of Stephen Burke and Randy Campbell.

AARP HONORS DOLLAR: The North Carolina chapter of the AARP named state Rep. Nelson Dollar, a key House budget writer, as its 2013 legislator of the year. The group honored him for protecting funding for senior services in the state budget.

LAWMAKERS PIT FERRY TOLLS AGAINST ROAD MONEY: After years of deals, delays and reversals in the General Assembly, North Carolina might finally start charging tolls this year on four coastal ferries – now toll-free – that take hundreds of commuters to work each day and thousands of tourists to Ocracoke each summer.

New tolls will be imposed on four routes, and tolls will be increased on three others, starting late this year – unless legislators in Raleigh change their minds again, or unless local elected leaders on the coast exercise their new power to veto the ferry tolls. Read more here.

WHITE HOUSE DISMISSES BURR’S OBAMACARE ALTERNATIVE: On the eve of the president’s State of the Union speech, Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina on Monday offered a plan to repeal Barack Obama’s signature accomplishment, the Affordable Care Act, and replace it with a plan he says would lower costs and expand access to coverage.

His proposal would keep popular elements of the health care law: the ban on limits on lifetime insurance benefits and the option for people to keep adult children on their plans until age 26.

But the rest is different, and its rollout the day before the president’s annual report to Congress helped put Republican ideas on how to replace the law into public debate, though it has virtually no chance of passing as long as the Senate is controlled by Democrats.

The White House dismissed the plan as “just another repeal proposal.” Read more here.

N.C. REPUBLICANS LIKELY TO REVERSE COURSE ON PRESIDENTIAL POWER PLAY: North Carolina is likely to tinker with its decision to move up the state's presidential primaries for 2016 to gain nominating influence now that national Republicans have reinforced rule changes to punish maverick states, a key lawmaker said Monday. Read more here.

USDA DEADLINE LOOMS FOR DHHS: From the Winston-Salem Journal -- A legislative oversight committee will receive its next update from top state health officials Feb. 11 — the day after those officials are required to meet a crucial performance deadline on the state’s food-stamp processing system.

It will be the first presentation by state health Secretary Dr. Aldona Wos and her management team since a Jan. 14 meeting in which there was bipartisan criticism of more than a year’s worth of N.C. Department of Health and Human Services inefficiencies and missteps. Read more here.

QUICK HITS ---

Gov. Pat McCrory visits Wilmington port. Read more here.

CBS Evening News focuses on North Carolina, unemployment benefits. See it here.

Gallup poll puts Obama approval in North Carolina at 43 percent. Read more here.

UNC-Chapel Hill’s apology tour continues. A vice-chancellor flies to New York to issue mea culpa. Read more here.

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