Morning Memo: Senate race gets hot ahead of key week

Posted by John Frank on April 18, 2014 

One of the biggest issues with Thom Tillis’ candidacy entered the race more prominently this week, courtesy of Democrats, not his Republican rivals, and adds amplitude as the race approaches a key week.

The discussion about what the Republican House speaker knew about extramarital affairs two of his legislative staffers had with lobbyists and his decision to give them severance packages entered the race just days before the first debate and early voting starts. It certainly helps Republican rivals Greg Brannon and Mark Harris, who are raising “character” issues, but don’t have the money to put them on television where voters will see them.

Expect to hear Tillis answer for it himself Tuesday during The News & Observer/Charlotte Observer/Time Warner Cable debate in Davidson, the lone debate with all four top candidates ahead of early voting opening Thursday.

The attacks – from a Democratic super PAC and U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan – are energizing Democrats and drawing concerns from Republican strategists. Get the latest here.

*** Get more on the spin surrounding the issue, go deep into Thom Tillis’ past and hear Greg Brannon answer for more plagiarism charges – all below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

TODAY IN POLITICS: Today is Good Friday, a state government holiday. Expect a quiet day on Dome. Gov. Pat McCrory did not issue a public calendar and no legislative meetings are scheduled.

#NCSEN --

THE THOM TILLIS PROFILE: Thom Tillis is all business.

Where other candidates emphasize personal stories or ideological purity, the U.S. Senate candidate is running on his resume, casting himself as a results-oriented executive who became House speaker and drove the state’s new Republican majority to implement a sweeping conservative agenda. ...

The narrative the Tillis campaign wants to tell focuses on his fast rise through the ranks, whether in the business arena, where he started as a warehouse records clerk and rose to partner at a premier consulting firm, or in politics, where he moved from town commissioner to House speaker in seven years.

Less known is the story of his sometimes difficult upbringing and how it shaped his career and his personal convictions. It helps explain his dichotomy, a crisp-suited executive who once made north of $500,000 a year but still refers to himself as a redneck; a health fanatic who mountain bikes and eats sushi, yet talks with smokeless tobacco tucked in his cheek. Read more here.

THE BIG HULLABALOO: From the N&O vault, a May 17, 2012 story – Dan Blue, a former House speaker who is now a state senator from Raleigh, said taxpayers should not have paid the money to staffers who resigned, noting each could have been fired ‘for cause’ with no pay over the relationships. ‘The speaker is always talking about how every dollar should be saved,’ said Blue, a Democrat. ‘This would have been an area for that.’”

THE QUOTE OF THE DAY ... OR POSSIBLY YEAR: A Democrat on voting for U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, from BuzzFeed – “She’s better than the alternative,” echoed Joshua Bradley, a member of the Wake County Progressive Democrats after a meeting in Raleigh. “I’m still probably going to wake up in the fetal position in the shower sobbing after I vote for her, but I’m going to vote for her.”

THE DEMOCRATIC EQUIVALENT OF THE TEA PARTY SOUNDS OFF ON HAGAN – More from the piece, dateline DURHAM: ... Motivated, active Democratic voters ... will be essential to Hagan this fall if she is going to hold onto her Senate seat.

They believe most will eventually come around to support the moderate Hagan, not because she’s especially inspiring, but because a Democratic-controlled Senate could hang on the outcome of Hagan’s race.

The frustration among some Democrats is real, though. While Hagan is essentially aligned with progressives against the state’s conservative legislature, she remains elusive. Read more here.

GREG BRANNON RESPONDS TO MORE PLAGIARISM CHARGES: Five months ago, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Greg Brannon was hit with charges he plagiarized passages on his campaign website from Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul.

Questions remained and more arose this week when BuzzFeed reported that other passages on his websites about where he stands on issues were likewise copied from other politicians.

Responding to the charges Thursday, Brannon campaign manager Reilly O’Neal said the plagiarism discovered this week is linked to the same people that helped put together his website a year ago and used the Rand passages.

Reilly downplayed the news, calling it old and saying the sections in question were fixed.

“My website was created over a year ago, and while I agree with every word I was unaware until now of this problem,” Greg Brannon said in a statement released by the campaign. “We have already fixed the passages.”

MARK HARRIS’ FATHER DIES: AP– The father of North Carolina U.S. Senate candidate Mark Harris has died.

The Charlotte pastor announced Everette Harris died Thursday at age 89 at his Winston-Salem home. The Harris campaign says his father had been in declining health over the past several months.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

The candidate says his father overcame great obstacles in life. Mark Harris said his father grew up in an orphanage and was an airplane gunner and prisoner of war during World War II. Mark Harris says he received critical counsel from his father before deciding to enter the Senate race.

The elder Harris and his wife had five children. Harris’ mother died in recent years.

RALLY PLANNED: Despite the news, Mark Harris plans to hold a rally Saturday for his birthday (which is April 24, the day early voting starts). The Greensboro event – dubbed #GOMark Birthday Rally – starts at 10 a.m. at the Marriott Downtown on 304 North Greene St.

#NCPOL –

DEM GOV. CANDIDATE ROY COOPER SETTLES LIBEL CASE, WILL PAY $75K: It took nearly 14 years and the threat of a contentious trial to resolve a feud between Roy Cooper and the family of the man he defeated to become attorney general in 2000.

To get it, Cooper, who is said to have his sights set on the governor’s job, had to offer something politicians are reluctant to deliver: an apology.

In a statement included in the settlement, Cooper and his aide Julia White called Dan Boyce and his family members ethical lawyers and honorable people. They apologized if a political ad they aired in 2000 implied anything contrary.

Boyce, a Raleigh lawyer who ran against Cooper for attorney general in 2000, filed a libel lawsuit against Cooper in November 2000 over a political ad aired by Cooper’s campaign. The commercial said Boyce had charged $28,000 an hour to represent taxpayers in a lawsuit against the state.

Cooper’s insurer will pay $75,000 in legal costs to the Boyce family. Read more here.

2016 FAST FORWARD, COMING TO A TV NEAR YOU: If Roy Cooper runs for governor in 2016, as he plans, expect Gov. Pat McCrory and Republicans to respond to his attacks with a line like this: “How can you trust what Cooper says? He paid $75,000 to settle a libel suit about an untruthful ad in a prior campaign.”

THE BIG STORY – TEACHERS RESIGNING AT “ALARMING” RATES: Teacher resignations have increased by an “alarming” 41 percent this school year, Wake County school leaders said Thursday, in a development they said makes it harder to keep high-quality educators in the classrooms working with students.

School leaders said that 612 of Wake’s 9,000 teachers have resigned since the beginning of the school year, compared with 433 during the same time a year ago. School officials said the increase in resignations in North Carolina’s largest school system points to the need to raise pay for teachers and to revisit changes made by state legislators to phase out tenure and to eliminate extra pay for advanced degrees. Read more here.

NEW LAWSUIT PUSHES SAME-SEX MARRIAGE FIGHT TO MILITARY FRONT: Supporters of same-sex marriage in the Carolinas opened a new legal front Thursday – highlighting the impact of the states’ marriage bans on military couples.

The advocacy groups Equality NC and South Carolina Equality have filed a legal argument with the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of same-sex military couples and their children. They were filed as a friend of the court brief in a Virginia case.

While the federal government and armed forces recognize those unions, marriage laws in the Carolinas continue to compromise benefits, parental rights and other family issues for military families, the groups argue. Read more here.

McCRORY WANTS IN-STATE COMMUNITY COLLEGE TUITION FOR VETS: Gov. Pat McCrory used an event for female veterans on Thursday to announce a proposal to allow all North Carolina-based veterans to pay in-state community college tuition the first year they get out of service.

“We are subsidizing your education,” McCrory told the crowd at the NC Women Veterans Summit & Expo, held at the N.C. National Guard Joint Forces Headquarters in Raleigh. “And you deserve it.”

Most of the 400-plus people who registered for the event would no longer qualify for the benefit McCrory proposed, but thousands of others would in coming years as they leave a downsizing military. Read more here.

PERSONNEL FILE: Chris Moyer, press secretary and new media director for U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, has joined the American Gaming Association, an organization that lobbies lawmakers, as director of media development and relations, Politico reports. Another Chris on her staff, press secretary Chris Hayden, recently left his official capacity to join Hagan’s campaign.

QUICK HEADLINES –

Insurance commissioners, including Wayne Goodwin, meet with President Obama. Read more here.

NC legislators question $3 million, no-bid contract at DHHS. Read more here.

FBI talks to city, county officials in Patrick Cannon case. Read more here.

N.C. Medicaid keeps shortfall at $120-140 million. Read more here.

Duke Energy coal ash costs at $15 million. Read more here.

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