Morning Memo: Supreme Court gets nasty with outside groups funding negative ads

Posted by John Frank on April 30, 2014 

Ostensibly nonpartisan, a N.C. Supreme Court race on the May ballot is one of the nastiest campaigns in the state right now with money flowing in from outside groups tied to noted national Republicans.

The negative ads rival those Democrats are running against House Speaker Thom Tillis in the Senate race and the vitriol in the 6th Congressional District GOP primary. Money is flowing into the race from major outside interests, including the Koch Industries, the company of Koch brothers, who are major conservative donors.

And the stakes are just as high, with a contentious redistricting before the state Supreme Court and Republicans controlling the governor’s mansion and legislative branch.

The race blew open when Justice For All NC, an organization that, according to campaign finance records, has received at least $650,000 from the Washington-based Republican State Leadership Committee, took to the TV airwaves on Friday with an ad that has been described as a blistering attack on Hudson. The ad accuses Hudson of siding with child molesters.

It’s part of a new initiative from the RSLC to elect conservative judges, the Washington Post reported. Senate leader Phil Berger is the immediate past chairman of its affiliated legislative organization, the Republican Legislative Leadership Committee. Read more here.

***Early voting ends Saturday. Get an update on the trends and look at the latest from the U.S. Senate race below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

TODAY IN POLITICS: Gov. Pat McCrory did not release a public schedule for Wednesday.

An agriculture and forestry study commission meets at 9 a.m. in 643 LOB. The joint legislative program evaluation committee will meet at 1 p.m. in 544 LOB with education policy on the agenda.

EARLY VOTING UP SLIGHTLY SO FAR: With fewer days in which to vote because of the new state elections law, people don’t appear to be waiting. About 18,000 more voted on the first day this year than in the 2010 primary.

Even though early turnout is up, the numbers remain small. Through Monday, 95,277 ballots had been cast – 90,051 of them one-stop voting and the rest mailed in. In a state with 6.5 million voters, that barely counts as a sliver.

If this were the general election, there would already be lines out to the street, said Michael Bitzer, a political expert at Catawba College. But this is shaping up to be a typical primary: In 2010, barely 20 percent of the ballots were cast by Election Day. Statewide voter turnout in the 2010 primary was only 14 percent.

--THE PARTISAN BREAKDOWN: There are more Democrats in North Carolina, and they tend to vote early. So far registered Democrats are voting at a higher rate: 49 percent of those who have voted; Democrats represent 42 percent of the registered voters. So far, 46,477 registered Democrats have voted and 30,693 Republicans have voted.

But Civitas numbers-cruncher Susan Myrick doesn’t see the results necessarily heralding a big Democratic turnout. At this point in 2010, she says, Democrats made up 51 percent of the early voters; this time around they are at 49 percent. Republicans remained a consistent 32 percent in both years.

More unaffiliated voters are casting early ballots this year, 19 percent compared with 17 percent in 2010. So far, they’re mostly asking for Republican ballots – almost 60 percent contrasted with almost 37 percent. Myrick said she thinks it’s all about the U.S. Senate race. Unaffiliated voters do not have to vote for the same party in the general election as they did in the primary. Read more here.

#NCSEN ---

THE STATE OF THE RACE: A wrap on the endorsements, TV ad campaign and poll that showed Republican Thom Tillis surging. Read it here.

RELATED: Pundits see Tillis winning without runoff. Read more here. And more from Slate’s Dave Weigel. Read here.

BULLETIN -- REPORT SAYS JEB BUSH MAY ENDORSE THOM TILLIS: From the National Review, a conservative publication: Florida governor Jeb Bush will wade into the hotly contested Senate primary in North Carolina on Wednesday to back establishment favorite Thom Tillis, according to two sources familiar with the situation.

For Bush, whose political future has been the subject of backroom whispers and front page newspaper headlines, taking a stance in the North Carolina race is something of a public re-entrance into the political fray, and it will undoubtedly fuel the speculation that he is seriously considering a presidential bid in 2016.

CHARLOTTE OBSERVER ENDORSEMENTS: For the U.S. Senate primaries, Kay Hagan, Thom Tillis, Sean Haugh. Read more here.

MARK HARRIS TO SUPPORTERS -- From a campaign email to supporters, signed by Harris: “Nominating either Tillis or Brannon could be a disaster for North Carolina Republicans. The negative press both have received will be used by Kay Hagan and her Democratic allies to devastating effect between now and November. This election is too important. I'm different. I have a conservative record and a lifelong history of service to our state. I will beat Kay Hagan on the issues.”

MINIMUM WAGE EFFORT LIKELY TO FAIL: Hemmed in by solid Republican opposition, the Senate seems ready to hand a fresh defeat to President Barack Obama by blocking an election-year bill increasing the federal minimum wage.

Democrats, aware that the measure faces all but certain rejection Wednesday in the chamber they control, plan to use the vote to buttress their campaign theme that the GOP is unwilling to protect financially struggling families. Read more here.

90 PERCENT OF ALL ADS IN NC SENATE RACE CAME FROM OUTSIDE GROUPS: From the Washington Post – We knew that outside groups were playing big in this year’s midterm contests, but the numbers released Tuesday by the Wesleyan Media Project really drove that fact home. ... Not surprisingly, these groups are driving the action in the states with competitive Senate races. In North Carolina, interest groups have run 90 percent of television ads, the Wesleyan study found.

LITTLE BITS: The Washington Post reports that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is spending $764,000 on TV ads backing Thom Tillis in North Carolina. Also, Senate Majority PAC is back with more ads to boost Democrat Kay Hagan, to the tune of $230,000. ... FreedomWorks is launching a door-knocking, sign waving and phone call effort for Greg Brannon’s Senate campaign Saturday through Monday largely focused on the Charlotte area ...

HAGAN FIRES BACK AT TILLIS MILITARY STANCE: Sen. Kay Hagan’s re-election campaign fired back Tuesday on a statement Thom Tillis, one of her Republican rivals, made in Monday’s debate. Tillis said Hagan was cutting the military.

The Hagan campaign, in a statement quoted Bianca Strzalkowski, the 2011 Military Spouse of the Year whose family is stationed at Camp Lejeune, as saying: “It is clear that Mr. Tillis has not spent much time paying attention to the North Carolina military community, otherwise he wouldn’t have eliminated the Earned Income Tax Credit that 64,000 North Carolina military families rely on.”

She went on to say that Hagan devotes an “immense amount of time” in supporting military families and also “getting to really know us.”

“When military spouses have personally reached out to her office in dire times of need, she actually gets results. When the education of our military spouses and Active Duty military were threatened, she was one of the first elected leaders to stand up for us. When a budget was proposed that would have harmed our military, she strongly opposed it, explaining to her colleagues why that was not an option for North Carolina. And when my own husband deployed to Afghanistan, Senator Hagan took the time to check in to see how my family was doing.”

Strzalkowski also wrote that she’s gone to many military events and “I have never once seen Mr. Tillis or anyone on behalf of him lending an ear to our causes.”

#NCPOL ---

VOTER ID LOOKING MORE VULNERABLE: Voter ID laws in North Carolina, Texas and other states appear more vulnerable to legal challenges after a federal judge struck down a Wisconsin law that required voters show a state issued photo ID at the polls.

U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman ruled the Wisconsin law places an unfair burden on poor and minority voters. The ruling could encourage opponents in North Carolina and other states to make similar challenges. Read more here.

McCRORY IN MAINE WHEN DEADLY STORMS HIT LAST WEEK: When tornadoes hit the state Friday evening, Gov. Pat McCrory was in Maine for a political event. He spoke at the state’s GOP convention Saturday and stumped for Gov. Paul LePage.

The timing drew questions. Asked about it Monday, McCrory couldn’t recall the timeline or whether he spent the night in Maine on Friday. An aide later confirmed he did.

“I almost came that day,” McCrory said. “I was actually back in North Carolina the day after. A lot of times it is worse for a politician to come visit and cause more problems the immediate day after.” McCrory said he called the local sheriff, who recommended he visit Sunday.

SCOTUS UPHOLDS EPA LIMITS: In a major anti-pollution ruling, the Supreme Court on Tuesday backed federally imposed limits on smokestack emissions that cross state lines and burden downwind areas with bad air from power plants they can’t control. Read more here.

QUICK HEADLINES ---

Democrats to elect Clodfelter’s state Senate successor. Read more here.

Former Gov. Bev Perdue to get honorary degree at UNC-Chapel Hill commencement. Read more here.

Congressional candidate forfeits inappropriate campaign contributions. Read more here.

Staff writer Renee Schoof contributed to this report.

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