House Speaker Thom Tillis has drawn criticism from within his own party for skipping several candidate forums in his campaign to win the Republican nomination to challenge U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan.
But on Thursday, he said he’s not hiding.
After speaking to about 150 people at a home healthcare rally in Raleigh, Tillis pointed out he was making a public appearance there, and had participated in recent legislative committee meetings.
“I’ve probably been in front of 300 people in the last three weeks,” he said.
Tillis said he’ll be debating his fellow primary hopefuls after the candidate filing period ends this month.
“After it’s done, we know everybody who’s serious about running, I welcome several forums across the state to point to my track record over the last three years,” he said. “I’m proud of it. It’s going to make us win the election.”
*** Much more on the Senate race, including new poll numbers, below in the Dome Morning Memo.***
TODAY IN POLITICS: Gov. Pat McCrory is participating in the Greenville Dental Society’s annual event at 8 a.m. He is then scheduled to attend the a retreat with North Carolina lawmakers in New Bern at 7 p.m. The event is closed to the press, his office said.
At 9 a.m., the joint legislative oversight committee on transportation will meet in room 1228 at the legislative building.
The N.C. Republican Party is getting ahead of Saturday’s protest march in Raleigh with a press conference at 11 a.m. at party headquarters.
Sen. Richard Burr is in Sanford on Friday for a groundbreaking ceremony for a VA outpatient clinic at 2 p.m.
MARK HARRIS GETS ENDORSEMENT: Former N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice I. Beverly Lake announced Thursday he is supporting Mark Harris in the Senate GOP primary for Democrat Kay Hagan’s senate seat.
Lake said he had “full confidence in Mark’s leadership abilities, his courage, and his commitment to our Republican values.”
“We have watched far too many elected officials, even Republicans, that are too timid and scared to fight the really important fights,” he said in a statement released by the Harris campaign. “Mark Harris will never be one of those. In the United States Senate, he will not be afraid to take a stand – even if the media, the lobbyists, our GOP leaders, or the President are all lined up against him.”
THE #NCSEN TAKEOUT: Former N&O political reporter Chuck Babington – now an AP reporter in Washington – recently returned to North Carolina to pen a take out on the U.S. Senate race. The headline: “Divided NC GOP agrees: Tie Sen. Hagan to Obamacare.”
From the story: As in many places, Republicans want to focus the campaign overwhelmingly on Obama and his health care overhaul. Without waiting for Republican voters to pick a nominee from a crowded field, a conservative group has spent nearly $6 million attacking Hagan for supporting the national health care law.
“This is the most toxic issue I’ve seen in my political life,” says Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., who entered Congress 19 years ago. He predicts the health law — and Obama’s overall unpopularity — will sink Hagan, a lawyer and state legislator who seemingly came from nowhere to oust GOP Sen. Elizabeth Dole six years ago.
... “You’ve got the Republican civil war playing out right here,” says Raleigh Democratic activist Thomas Mills. “You’ve got your tea partyers, your Christian conservatives and your bankers and country clubbers.” Read more here.
NEW SENATE POLL NUMBERS: American Crossroads, the Karl Rove-led group, conducted a recent poll in North Carolina that shows Kay Hagan tied with Thom Tillis but barely edging Mark Harris. Politico first reported the results and posted them Friday.
Tillis: 44; Hagan: 44. Hagan: 44, Harris 40. The rest are undecided.
Kay Hagan’s approval rating in the survey – conducted by the Republican firm Harper Polling – is 36 percent with 49 percent disapproving.
The numbers generally fit others in a recent spate of polling. But it’s worth putting a big caution on the poll: Rove is supporting Tillis. And the other candidates in the race beyond those two weren’t polled. With a plus-or-minus 3.51 percent margin of error, it essentially shows the race is a dead heat. See more numbers here.
OBAMA, BIDEN BEGIN FUNDRAISING FOR DEMS: So far, no sign North Carolina is (at least pubicly) on the list. Read more here.
RELATED: President Obama, struggling with low approval ratings after a dispiriting year of setbacks, conceded in private remarks Wednesday that some Democrats might not want his help in this fall’s elections. Read more here.
ACU REVERSES COURSE: The American Conservative Union recently gave out awards to lawmakers who voted the way the organization wanted on certain pieces of legislation. The top award is dubbed a “Defender of Liberty.” And as we noted on Dome, one prominent Republican didn’t get the award: Thom Tillis.
Well, now, after a little behind-the-scenes maneuvering, ACU is revising its statement. Tillis’ campaign sent along the update. It now reads: “To be consistent with past ratings, we honor Speaker Thom Tillis as a ‘Defender of Liberty.’ It is customary that the Speaker of the House does not cast a vote for every piece of legislation.”
MORE #NCSEN ---
LOOK ANONYMOUS DONORS FOR HAGAN, TOO: From Politico -- A collection of Democratic-aligned groups are launching a coordinated push in 2014 Senate races to counter heavy spending from the powerfully funded conservative organization Americans for Prosperity, Democratic strategists said Thursday evening.
The nonprofit Patriot Majority USA will begin airing TV ads over the next week in North Carolina and Arkansas, home to two highly competitive Senate contests that have seen considerable outside spending on the right. Read more here.
RELATED: Where Is the Democratic Party’s Pro-Obamacare Campaign? Read more here.
A FACT CHECK: NO, CBO DID NOT SAY OBAMACARE WILL KILL 2 MILLION JOBS. From the Washington Post: Some jobs will go away, but the actual number is unclear because of the unknown interaction between part-time and full-time work. Once again, we award Three Pinocchios to anyone who deliberately gets this wrong. Read more here.
THE BIG STORY -- DAYS AFTER SPILL, McCRORY PUTS FOCUS ON DAN RIVER DISASTER: The Environmental Protection Agency said the up to 82,000 tons of ash dumped into the Dan River on Sunday likely ranks third-highest in the nation’s history.
McCrory traveled to Eden with state environment officials and, his office said, directed Duke to take “all needed measures” to stop the leak so a cleanup can start.
... Duke spokeswoman Erin Culbert said the corrugated metal and concrete pipe continued to release “very minimal” amounts of material, but she did not have a volume estimate. The pipe can’t be plugged, she said, because workers need access to its interior to attempt permanent repairs.
“We agree with (McCrory’s) position that there is urgency at the site,” she said. “We are leveraging all available resources to not only stop the flow but seal the pipe.” Read more here.
VIDEO: McCrory briefing the press. See it here.
BIG MARCH PLANNED FOR RALEIGH -- PROTESTERS WILL TAKE AIM AT GOP LEADERS: Gov. Pat McCrory created a stir eight months ago when he described the protesters who gathered weekly at the state Legislative Building as “outsiders” coming in to North Carolina to “try to change the subject.”
Organizers of the Monday demonstrations immediately decried the description and gathered data to show the governor and other GOP leaders that the mass rallies were homegrown.
This week, as they tend to last-minute details of a march and mass rally scheduled for Saturday, leaders of the state NAACP are welcoming people from outside North Carolina. They have invited faith leaders from up and down the East Coast and across the country to join in their mass protest of what they describe as the “extremist policies” and “regressive agenda” adopted last year by the Republican-led General Assembly.
Buses are set to roll from Massachusetts, Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama, organizers say. Read more here.
ALMEIDA TO DEPART GOVERNOR’S OFFICE: His departure is the fourth in a five-week span and the second from McCrory’s economic team. Almeida’s deputy, Blannie Cheng, left the McCrory administration Dec. 31. The governor’s office did not provide a reason for her exit.
It is not unusual for the governor’s office to experience turnover after its first year. But since McCrory took office in January 2013, he has lost seven key staffers, according to state personnel records, including three of his five highest-paid aides. Read more here.
LOCAL TESTS ENOUGH: The State Board of Education gave permission Thursday to 30 school districts to use local tests to show that third-grade students are meeting Read To Achieve promotion requirements.
That means thousands of third-grade students who pass the local tests in districts such as Wake County, Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Johnston and Chatham won’t have to attend summer reading camps or take 36 new minitests. Read more here.
MORE CLAY --- The national media can’t get enough
Jimmy Kimmel Live: Clay Aiken’s Running Mate. See it here.
Buzzfeed: Clay Aiken’s deleted tweets. Read more here.
Staff writer Craig Jarvis contributed to this report.