Morning Memo: GOP Senate primary crunch time, as Democrats plot fall strategy

Posted by John Frank on April 7, 2014 

There is less than a month before the primary election and tensions are escalating in the race, but Republican candidates still kept it mild at a Durham County forum Sunday that drew the three top contenders.

From the report: The Republican primary is less than a month away, and state House Speaker Thom Tillis was the only candidate to compare himself to his Republican opponents.

Greg Brannon, Mark Harris, Ted Alexander and Edward Kryn didn’t mention each other as they delivered five-minute speeches to about 75 people at the Redwood Ruritan Club.

Three takeaways:

1. Fact check needed: “I’m in a unique position as a politician of saying every single promise we made to you, we fulfilled,” Tillis said, referring to tax and regulatory reform efforts in the state General Assembly.

2. Mark Harris’ limited scope: Harris, a Baptist preacher from Charlotte, talked about his “life record.” Harris said he volunteered for Ronald Reagan’s presidential campaigns, held signs at anti-abortion rallies and “was leading the fight for the marriage amendment.”

3. Voters remain unexcited about the candidates: Durham County Republican Jim McKenzie said he hasn’t decided whom to vote for in the primary. The candidates’ speeches didn’t sway him one way or another. Read more here.

*** The voter registration deadline is Friday and this year – with the end of one-stop voting – that deadline means something. Read about it and more in the Dome Morning Memo.***

TODAY IN POLITICS: Gov. Pat McCrory will have lunch with Office Shane Page, who was wounded in a shootout with a supsect earlier this year, and the Charlotte police department’s Violent Criminal Apprehension Team at noon.

McCrory later will issue awards for volunteer service at 3:30 p.m. at the executive mansion.

Four legislative committees meet Monday: 9 a.m. House Committee on property owner rights in 544 LOB; Child Fatality Task Force at 10 a.m. in room 1027 of the legislative building; House Committee on mechanics liens and leaseholds at 1 p.m. in 415 LOB; and House Committee on Public Enterprise Systems at 1 p.m. in room 544 LOB.

In Washington, the U.S. Senate is expected to vote on a bill that includes a provision to restore long-term federal unemployment benefits to North Carolina workers after they were cut off with the passage of state legislation in 2013. Democrat Kay Hagan’s campaign will use it to hit Republican Thom Tillis, who opposes the measure.

THE BIG STORY – REGISTRATION DEADLINE CONCERNS VOTING ACTIVISTS: Those wishing to cast a ballot in May’s primary election must register to vote by Friday – and this year the deadline is final.

Since 2008, North Carolinians who missed the deadline got a second chance: They could both register and vote at the polls during the early voting period, as late as three days before Election Day. But last year’s sweeping state election law eliminated that provision and reverted to past methods, which require registration 25 days before an election.

The approaching April 11 deadline is the latest change in last year’s elections law to come into effect. Other changes that will be enacted for the May 6 primary are a shortened early voting period – which starts April 24 – and no straight-ticket voting.

The two perspectives: Kim Strach, executive director of the state Board of Elections, said she doesn’t expect the change to pose a problem for voters.

“We’re trying to do our best to educate people about it and make sure people are aware of the deadline and make sure it’s business as usual,” Strach said.

Others argue that some people are unaware of the earlier deadline and will be unable to vote.

“People talk about the word ‘disenfranchising’ – that’s something that will be on my mind,” said Bob Phillips, executive director of the political advocacy group Common Cause North Carolina. “When you had a law that allowed people to register up to three days before Election Day, and then suddenly they can’t, that’s a problem.” Read more here.

#NCSEN –

BULLETIN: Republican Greg Brannon announced to his supporters that he raised $500,000 in the first three months of 2014. The 11,473 donors puts the average contribution at roughly $40. The number is big for Brannon, but expect it to be dwarfed by his top rivals, Tillis and Hagan.

MUST-READ: IN SENATE RACE, DARK MONEY MEANS DONORS REMAIN SECRET – Outside groups have spent more than $15 million on political advertising – most of it negative – on both sides of North Carolina’s U.S. Senate race, more money than in any other state.

Who is behind much of it remains a secret.

Supporters of transparency in government say all this matters because the people watching political ads on TV often don’t know who’s paying for them and why. ...

Much of the outside spending early in the campaign season was simply anti-Hagan, linking her to the federal health care law. More recently money has been spent to bolster specific GOP candidates. Cary doctor Greg Brannon has received some attention, but the primary beneficiary has been state House Speaker Thom Tillis, who most GOP strategists think has the best chance of beating Hagan. Read more here.

RELATED: A Q&A on so-called dark money. Read it here.

THE BIG PICTURE: Two national stories this weekend looked at the Democratic tactics at work in U.S. Senate races, including North Carolina.

1. New York Times: To hit back at Kochs, Dems revive a tactic that hurt Romney ... After months of wincing in the face of negative ads funded by the industrialists David and Charles Koch, Democrats believe they have finally found a way to fight back: attacking the brothers’ sprawling business conglomerate as callous and indifferent to the lives of ordinary people while pursuing profit and power.

By drawing public attention to layoffs by subsidiaries of Koch Industries across the country – a chemical plant in North Carolina, an oil refinery in Alaska, a lumber operation in Arkansas – Democrats are seeking to make villains of the reclusive billionaires, whose political organizations have spent more than $30 million on ads so far to help Republicans win control of the Senate. Read more here.

2. Politico: Senate leaders prop up vulnerable Democrats: It’s all part of an effort to blunt a furious Republican midterm campaign centered on attacking President Barack Obama and Democrats in the Senate who supported his signature health care law.

Leaders are coalescing around giving Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor the lead on a bill to protect the Medicare eligibility age, which has become a key issue in his race. Kay Hagan will tout her fight for long-term unemployment benefits rejected by the GOP-dominated North Carolina Legislature and her likely opponent, statehouse Speaker Thom Tillis. And leaders hope to give Jeanne Shaheen a triumph on energy efficiency, a bipartisan breakthrough that would play well in purple New Hampshire. Read more here.

A PROFILE OF THOM TILLIS SUPPORTER PAUL SINGER: His support of the Republican House speaker in the Senate race is drawing attacks from rivals. Meet him here.

KAY HAGAN ON HEALTH CARE LAW: From the Citizen-Times, dateline ASHEVILLE – Hagan said reaching the 7 million benchmark, which was the Congressional Budget Office’s initial projection, shows the law is important.

“Now there are certain common sense fixes that need to be made to this law, and I am certainly working on that, but I also think that people in North Carolina don’t want to see us go back to a time that if you have a preexisting condition, if you have a child with diabetes, that you won’t be able to get health coverage,” she said. “And we do not want to go back to that time, or a time where women automatically paid more for their coverage than men. And currently now our seniors are paying thousands of dollars less in prescription drug coverage than they were before.” Read more here.

TILLIS ON ENERGY: “I think we do need to do some exploratory drilling,” he said. “Not only does it give us an opportunity to have less of a carbon footprint, it’ll be of benefit to the economy.” As to wind energy, Tillis said he’s in favor of developing it as long as it doesn’t require a government subsidy. Read more here.

#NCPOL –

SEN. DAN CLODFELTER MAY HAVE VOTES TO BECOME MAYOR: With hours to go before the vote, state Sen. Dan Clodfelter appeared to be the favorite to be named Charlotte’s next mayor.

The City Council is scheduled to meet at 6 p.m. Monday to make a selection.

It’s unclear what the final vote Monday will be. But council members on both sides of the debate – those who support Clodfelter and those who support James “Smuggie” Mitchell – said Sunday night it appears Clodfelter has at least six votes on the 11-member council. Read more here.

INSIDE THE VOTER FRAUD REPORT: From the Institute for Southern Studies – The cross-check of North Carolina voters was conducted by the office of Kris Kobach, the controversial Secretary of State in Kansas. A long-time Republican political operative, Kobach is known nationally as the architect of legislation cracking down on immigrants in Arizona and elsewhere, as well as severe voting restrictions.

Kobach launched the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program in 2005 as a free service to states – almost exclusively those led by Republican lawmakers – to flag voters who may be casting ballots in multiple states in the same election, which is a felony. Read more here.

COBLE GETS TEEN HONOR: He’s 83, but U.S. Rep. Howard Coble on Saturday officially became an honorary teenage Republican.

The North Carolina Federation of Teenage Republicans planned to bestow the award on Coble at an event in Greensboro. Coble has represented the state’s 6th District since 1985 and plans to retire at the end of the year.

“Congressman Howard Coble is the definition of what a public servant should be. I have looked up to him for many years as a mentor and friend,” North Carolina Federation of Teenage Republicans chairman Nick Vaughn said in a news release. “Having the privilege of previously interning with Congressman Coble I know his shoes are going to be hard to fill with his statesmanship quality.”

Coble’s response to the award: “Even though I turned 83 years old last month, I am proud to be named an Honorary Teenage Republican by the North Carolina Teenage Republicans. Serving the people of the Sixth District, including the outstanding youth who reside in our district, has kept me young for all of these years.”

QUICK HEADLINES –

How much does N.C. trust state government? Not much. See here.

N.C. Supreme Court races draw political interest. Read more here.

Judge rules Duke Energy records not entirely protected. Read more here.

Christensen: Before Patrick Cannon, there was Jimmy Green. Read more here.

N.C. DOT rolls out new “data-driven” project ratings. Read more here.

Drescher: Rep. Avila with courage pushes for open government. Read more here.

Staff writer Renee Schoof contributed to this report.

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