Morning Memo: Final Senate poll shows Tillis on cusp of outright win Tuesday

Posted by John Frank on May 5, 2014 

Republican Thom Tillis is standing on the edge of what it takes to win the U.S. Senate primary without a runoff, a new poll finds, as the race tightens ahead of Tuesday’s vote.

A Public Policy Polling survey conducted Saturday and Sunday put Tillis at 40 percent, Greg Brannon at 28 percent and Mark Harris at 15 percent. The other five candidates combine for 8 percent and about 1 in 10 Republican primary voters still remain undecided in the race, the Democratic firm found.

To win outright, a candidate needs to top 40 percent. Otherwise, the top two will go to a runoff July 15. The margin of error on the poll is plus-or-minus 3.2 percent.

A week ago, Tillis stood at 46 percent and appeared more likely to win Tuesday. But Brannon’s support jumped 8 percent and Harris saw a 4 percent bump in the final week, pollster Tom Jensen said.

“Nevertheless Tillis looks to have a pretty good chance at getting to the magic 40 percent mark on Tuesday. He’s in the 39-43 percent range with all three major ideological groups that we track – moderates, ‘somewhat conservative, and ‘very conservative’ voters. He has the lead in every section of the state,” Jensen said.

If the race did go to a runoff, Tillis would start at 46 percent compared to 40 percent for Brannon. If Harris were to make a runoff, Tillis starts with a bigger lead, 49 to 34 percent, the poll found.

Inside the numbers, Jensen said 73 percent of the GOP primary voters have seen the Democrats’ negative ads about Tillis and among them his favorability is 47 percent, about 5 percent lower than his overall number. His unfavorable rating also is higher at 38 percent for those who’ve seen the ads compared to 29 percent overall. Tillis is in a dead heat with Brannon among those who’ve seen them.

*** The day before the vote – get a full roundup of Senate race news below in the Dome Morning Memo. And check back later today for the Dome Election Pool contest. ***

TODAY IN POLITICS: Gov. Pat McCrory will attend a U.S.-Canadian trade alliances conference Monday at 9 a.m. in Raleigh.

Three legislative committees will meet Monday, ahead of next week’s session: at 9 a.m. in room 544 LOB, the Committee on Public Enterprise Systems and Use of Funds; at 1 p.m. in 643 LOB, the Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee; and at 1 p.m. in 544 LOB, the Committee on Property Owner Protection and Rights.

#NCSEN ---

THE FINAL DAY: On the eve of Tuesday’s primary, N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis will be knocking on doors in Huntersville; the Rev. Mark Harris will be making phone calls at a get-out-the-vote site in Charlotte; and Dr. Greg Brannon will appear with U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., during a noon rally at uptown Charlotte’s NASCAR Hall of Fame.

They and five others are vying for the chance to take on U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, the Democrat incumbent from Greensboro, in November. Read more here.

A WEEKEND PUSH: Their U.S. Senate primary races winding down, two leading Republican candidates converged on a south Charlotte library Saturday, one hoping to force a runoff and the other hoping to avoid one.

Thom Tillis and Mark Harris stood far apart as they joined a gauntlet of sign-waving candidates and volunteers greeting the last of the early voters at South Regional library. Read more here.

THE RACE THAT WASN’T –ROB CHRISTENSEN’S TAKE: It was to be a tea party vs. establishment vs. evangelical brawl, and it drew national support along those very lines. The GOP’s possible White House hopefuls for 2016 picked their Tar Heel favorites in sort of a proxy battle.

But with voters going to the polls Tuesday, the expected ideological smack down has fizzled.

The three televised debates more often sounded like a conservative gospel quartet than a battle for the party’s soul; the lack of money for some campaigns precluded insider vs. outsider wars on TV, and much of the national party establishment has lined up behind Tillis. The two major outsider candidates, Brannon, a Cary physician, and Harris, a Charlotte minister, have had a difficult time gaining traction.

“You really had half of the primary that never developed,” said Carter Wrenn, a veteran Republican strategist for former Sen. Jesse Helms and others. “The Harris-Brannon part just never got the plane off the runway.” Read more here.

THE NARRATIVE FROM WASHINGTON: CNN: Will the Tea Party be “humiliated” in the primaries? Read here. Wall Street Journal: Thom Tillis faces test in N.C. primary. Read here. Tampa Bay Times: N.C. Senate primary gauges tea party influence on GOP identity. Read here. Bloomberg: Republican Civil War Climaxes as Senate Primaries Test Tea Party. Read here. Politico: May primaries to test GOP establishment clout. Read here. The Hill: Can GOP establishment get a win in NC? Read here. USA Today: Upcoming primaries test GOP establishment’s clout. Read here.

MORE – TILLIS LOOKS AHEAD: From National Journal – As he mingled with the retirees in the ballroom, Tillis was buoyed by more than just the National Right to Life endorsement. He had also just learned that he was to receive the enthusiastic backing of the U.S. Chamber; the National Rifle Association would soon follow suit. Careful as Tillis is, he couldn’t help but crow a bit, saying that he’d love to become chairman of the NRSC, helping to elect other Republican senators in the future – presuming that he won his own race, of course. Read more here.

ON THE TRAIL WITH MARK HARRIS: Before Republican Mark Harris could say a word about his U.S. Senate campaign, Dick Kuehl told him he couldn’t win.

A member of the local tea party, Kuehl said he was supporting rival Greg Brannon against House Speaker Thom Tillis, whom he considered the front-runner. “I don’t think you can make the runoff,” Kuehl told Harris. But 45 minutes later, after a remarkably forthright conversation with Harris, Kuehl left with a campaign yard sign, ostensibly for his wife. “I wish I would have heard you earlier,” he said as the two men stood to shake hands.

Harris, a Baptist pastor, is leading a last-minute political revival that emphasizes an old-school style of retail politicking that makes him one of most active candidates in the race. Read more here.

HAGAN: Sen. Claire McCaskill to raise money for Kay Hagan. Read more here.

#NCPOL ---

THE TURNOUT QUESTION: The final tally is in: More people cast early ballots for Tuesday’s primary than they did in the last mid-term elections, in 2010.

The count, released Sunday by the state Board of Elections, shows 279,103 early votes. Most of that – 258,780 – was one-stop voting. The 2010 total was 172,972. Read more here.

THAT NASTY 6th DISTRICT RACE: Foster mom of child rape victim wants Berger to explain plea offer – From the News & Record: Dean was initially upset with the VonCannon campaign for using the case to score political points, but her anger turned to Berger when she found out that according to court records, he had, in fact, offered the plea deal to James Dunlap, the child’s stepfather. Read more here.

CLAY AIKEN COULD BE RUNNER UP AGAIN – AND HERE’S WHY: From RollCall – “American Idol” runner-up Clay Aiken could come in second place again on Tuesday – this time in a congressional primary in North Carolina. ...

Aiken reported disappointing fundraising. Privately, North Carolina Democrats said his campaign spent too much money on initial start-up costs and consulting fees – and not enough on direct voter communication. ...

Of those funds, Aiken spent $57,000 in advertising production and editing costs for a web video and 30-second bio spot, according to his fundraising reports filed with the FEC. A larger chunk of his campaign funds, $87,000, went toward consultant fees and polling. Read more here.

RELATED: NBC Today gives Clay Aiken the fan-dom treatment. See it here.

THE BIG STORY – AP: MONEY PICTURE MAY MAKE TEACHER PAY RAISES MORE DIFFICULT: North Carolina government now faces a $445 million revenue shortfall when the fiscal year ends June 30, state budget analysts estimated Friday, raising more hurdles to Republicans’ efforts to give pay raises to all teachers and state employees.

Revenues are now predicted to fall 2.1 percent short of the $20.6 billion the legislature said it needed to carry out this year’s budget, according to a memo written by the General Assembly’s top economist and a state budget official and obtained by The Associated Press.

The adjustment is based in part on April 15 tax filings and other trends related to last year’s tax overhaul and the federal budget agreement in late 2012 that led to higher tax rates from Washington, the memo said. Before April 15, analysts had reported that overall revenues for the first nine months of the year were on track with projections. Read more here.

A FOCUS ON TEACHER PAY: After years of study and struggle, no state has created a large-scale, long-lasting pay system that recognizes and rewards the most effective teachers, a North Carolina task force recently concluded. Instead, the teacher compensation panel said, the best hope lies in local flexibility. ...

The search for answers comes as North Carolina’s low teacher salaries get renewed attention. When the General Assembly convenes next week, boosting teacher pay – especially for early-career teachers – will be high on the agenda. North Carolina ranks 46th in average teacher pay.

Also next week, the CMS school board will vote on a budget. Superintendent Heath Morrison wants $27 million from the county to ensure that employees get 3 percent raises. Read the entire Charlotte Observer package on teacher pay here.

TEACHERS RALLY: Educators from across the state came together Saturday to find their voice and tell Raleigh lawmakers what they think will keep public schools strong.

The forum – Keeping North Carolina Public Schools Strong – was a first for Raleigh-based Public Schools First NC, a nonpartisan public education advocacy group. It opened with a panel discussion among four state lawmakers that at times received hearty applause and, in the case of Republican Rep. Paul Stam, reluctant applause and growing dissent. Read more here.

McCRORY TO SELL HELICOPTER: To save money, Gov. Pat McCrory wants to sell the state’s helicopter. The 1998 Sikorsky S-76 cost $265,000 to operate and maintain in 2013, even though it logged only 14.3 hours in flight. So the governor is putting it on eBay. Read more here.

TOP LAWMAKERS FACE INTRA-PARTY RIVALS ON PRIMARY DAY: A glut of primaries for state House and Senate seats has turned what could have been waltzes for some incumbents into all-out battles. Voters go to the polls on Tuesday and will narrow the field in Republican or Democratic primaries in nearly one-third of the state’s 170 legislative districts.

In some cases, the fiercest competition for the seat is in the primary because legislative districts are drawn to favor either the Democratic or Republican candidate. And the results will go a long way in determining who ends up helping make laws next year. Twenty-four legislators will be chosen this primary season because the party’s winners will face no opposition in November.

It’s typical for vacant legislative seats to draw a crowd of candidates. But this year, some veteran and influential legislators seeking re-election are facing opponents from their own parties: Read more here.

RELATED: Competition lacking for some seats in Tuesday’s N.C. primary. Read more here.

SEN. STAN BINGHAM’S OPPO REASEARCH: The Republican primary race for North Carolina Senate District 33, which includes all of Davidson and Montgomery counties, has intensified due to a flier mailed out by incumbent Sen. Stan Bingham. ...

Bingham said he was made aware of the charges (against his opponent) by the North Carolina Republican Party, which felt it was an issue that needed to be addressed. He also said he understands some people will not be happy about him distributing the flier.

“I didn’t look any of this up, it was brought to me from the GOP in Raleigh,” Bingham said. “They think it is important and wanted to do something about it. I don’t know if it will have a negative impact or not, but in an election you need to know as much as you can about the candidates.” Read more here.

MORE CRITICISM ABOUT TREE BILL: State legislators plan to introduce a bill this month that would prohibit local tree ordinances such as Charlotte’s, igniting immediate protests from tree lovers. A legislative study commission this week approved draft legislation that says cities and counties can’t regulate the “removal, replacement and preservation of trees on private property.”

Reaction was swift, with critics accusing lawmakers of intruding into community matters and jeopardizing years of work to protect trees. Read more here.

GOP CANDIDATE WHO IMPERSONATES WOMEN AT GAY NIGHTCLUB TO STAY IN RACE: From the Winston-Salem Journal: Steve Wiles, a candidate in the Republican primary for state Senate District 31, said he has received mixed responses from the community – everything from threatening phone calls to outreach from people saying they support him – after his past as a female impersonator for a gay nightclub was revealed in a Journal article last week.

Wiles is continuing with his campaign, saying that the past is the past. Read more here.

QUICK HEADLINES –

Wake County Commissioners drop raise in teacher pay from legislative agenda. Read more here.

Democrats elect Jeff Jackson to replace former state Sen. Clodfelter. Read more here.

Three Democrats compete for chance to battle U.S. Rep. George Holding. Read more here.

Danville prepares for coal ash spill dredging. Read more here.

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