Under the Dome

Morning Memo: Where does Kay Hagan’s voting record rank?

Where U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan ranks among her peers based on her voting record is the topic de jour in North Carolina politics.

As we noted on Dome Wednesday, the Democratic incumbent voted with President Barack Obama 96 percent of the time – but the number makes her one of the most likely to buck her party’s leader.

It’s a juxtaposition that doesn’t fit a political sound bite. And Republican House Speaker Thom Tillis is focusing on the first number. It’s featured prominently in a new web ad released by his campaign Thursday.

And one thing you won’t see in a Tillis ad – but may see in a Hagan spot – is National Journal’s 2013 ranking calling Hagan the “most moderate.”

As with all rankings – even the American Conservative Union ones we also posted – it’s all how you count.

*** Get more on the rankings and the spin from the Senate race below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

TODAY IN POLITICS: Gov. Pat McCrory lists one event on his public calendar: He will attend a dinner with tobacco farmers Thursday at the Angus Barn in Raleigh.

State lawmakers are holding three committee meetings: The joint oversight committee on information technology gathers at 9 a.m. in room 544 of the legislative office building and later will travel to IBM in Durham for a tour. At 10 a.m. the joint legislative committee on economic development meets in room 643 of the LOB.

The State Board of Education meets again Thursday to look at testing requirements. Get a recap from Wednesday’s meeting here.

And don’t miss this week’s Pints & Politics discussion sponsored by the N.C. Free Enterprise Foundation. Bill Adair, the founder of PolitFact, and Mark Binker from WRAL will talk about the challenges of fact checking in the modern political world. The event starts at 5:30 p.m Thursday at Natty Greene’s in Raleigh.

TILLIS TO JOIN HOME HEALTH ADVOCATES: AP – The home health care industry and its allies are getting help from U.S. Senate candidate Thom Tillis in opposing Medicare spending cuts for skilled nursing assistance for older adults.

Tillis was slated to attend a news conference Thursday in Raleigh with home health providers, patients and their family members. They are unhappy with a rule linked to the federal health care overhaul taking effect last month to reduce the base Medicare home health benefit by 14 percent over four years. The home health care industry says the reductions are already leading to job losses and threatens access to services for the homebound.

Tillis has made few public appearances to date since focusing on his Senate campaign. The Senate primary is in May.

TILLIS DEBUTS NEW WEB AD: Tillis’ campaign is rolling out a new web ad that uses footage from a prior campaign commercial. In this video, Tillis highlights two new numbers in the race: Hagan voting with Obama 96 percent of the time in 2013 and the reported 2 million people projected to drop out of the workforce because of the federal health care law.

The Tillis campaign did not release information about the buy behind the 30-second spot, so it’s unclear how widely it will be seen. See the web ad here and at the bottom of the memo.

BEHIND THE NUMBERS: As Tillis’ web ad shows, Republicans think that 96 percent number will hurt Hagan. But it’s not a holistic picture. Read a good analysis here.

MORE #NCSEN – DEMS OUTGUNNED BY AFP FOR NOW: The Washington Post took a look at Americans for Prosperity’s big ad buys against vulnerable Democrats, such as North Carolina’s Hagan. The headline: Dems seriously alarmed by Koch money.

From the story: “The main outside group counter-balancing AFP is the Senate Majority PAC, which spends to elect Dems to the Senate. Ty Matsdorf, a spokesman for the group, says this: “It’s unprecedented. It means that groups like ours have to go up early as well. We can’t let those attacks go unchallenged.”

The Post also has an updated number on the ad buys from the group: “Meanwhile, in North Carolina, the source says, AFP as of today has spent a staggering $7.2 million against Senator Kay Hagan, versus only $1.4 million by the SMP.” Read more here and here.

DEMOCRATS SAY AFP SUPPORT WILL BACKFIRE: Democrats are preparing to make candidates who are boosted by Americans for Prosperity TV ads – they are looking at you, Thom Tillis – accountable to the secret money that is pushing the conservative organization’s agenda.

National Democrats issued a memo today outlining the effort. But Hagan’s campaign is already pressing the case.

From spokeswoman Sadie Weiner’s memo Tuesday: “But what do the Koch Brothers and their shadowy interest group want with North Carolina? If you can’t ‘follow the money,’ the next best option is to follow their policy agenda. And that path, leads straight to the special interest pocket of State House Speaker Thom Tillis. In Raleigh, Tillis has shown his allegiance to AFP’s dangerous for North Carolina, special interest agenda, and now they are returning the favor by trying to buy him a U.S. Senate seat. It’s the new post-Citizens United quid pro quo – Tillis passes their agenda, they run ads to prop up his candidacy.”

It will be interesting to see how Hagan’s campaign reacts later this year if anonymous money comes to help her case.

GOP MEMO ON HAGAN RACE: The National Republican Senatorial Committee issued a memo from Political Director Ward Baker on Wednesday outlining the polling in the race (as we have on Dome in recent days) and the AFP ads. “This spells enormous trouble not just for Kay Hagan, but other Democratic Senators in similar circumstances,” it concludes.

THE GOP WAR WITHIN THE RACE: Charlotte’s Creative Loafing looks at how Tillis and Mark Harris represent the factions within the Republican Party as the two campaign for U.S. Senate: “Whoever wins could symbolize the end of the civil war plaguing the GOP, waged between plutocrats and Tea Partiers.” Read more here.

DEMOCRATS PLOT A STRATEGY TO WIN IN 2014: From the New York Times – The Democrats’ plan to hold onto their narrow Senate majority goes by the name “Bannock Street Project.” It runs through 10 states, includes a $60 million investment, and requires more than 4,000 paid staffers. And the effort will need all of that — and perhaps more — to achieve its goal, which is nothing short of changing the character of the electorate in a midterm cycle.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is preparing its largest and most data-driven ground game yet, relying on an aggressive combination of voter registration, get out of the vote, and persuasion efforts.

They hope to make the 2014 midterm election more closely resemble a presidential election year, when more traditional Democratic constituencies — single women, minorities and young voters — turn out to vote in higher numbers, said Guy Cecil, the committee’s executive director. Read more here.

BRANNON CAMP: Greg Brannon’s Senate campaign announced its “Women Back Brannon” effort, led by former Wake County Republican Women’s Club Chairwoman Felice Pete.

FULL PAGE AD: The Association for Mature American Citizens, an alternative group to the AARP, took out a full-page ad on the back of the A section of the News & Observer today to ask: “Why is Obamacare cutting my Medicare?” The ad highlight cuts to the senior health insurance program as part of the federal health care law but doesn’t mention Democrat Kay Hagan or urge any action.

CLAY AIKEN – AIKEN BID NOW OFFICIAL, HE FACES A DAUNTING POLITICAL REALITY: The N.C. Republican Party welcomed Clay Aiken to the race asking what he thinks about gun control and abortion. But those questions will persist in the battleground that is the weirdly lopsided U-shaped district that Republicans redrew in 2011.

The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake blogged that only three House Democrats represent districts that are more Republican than Ellmers’ district. Two of them – Rep. Mike McIntyre of North Carolina and Rep. Jim Matheson of Utah – are retiring. The third, Rep. Nick Rahall of West Virginia, is in a tight race despite having been in office for decades.

Mitt Romney won almost 60 percent of the vote in that district in 2012, according to an analysis by the N.C. Chamber. The election saw easy margins of victory by several statewide Republican candidates. ... “I have no doubt Clay Aiken will have all the money he needs to run an effective campaign. And his ‘I’m not a politician’ message is the right one for this political environment,” the Chamber’s Nathan Babcock said. “But even the strongest Democratic candidate faces a steep uphill climb in the 2nd Congressional District.” Read more here.

BARRY SAUNDERS ON THE ELLMERS’ CAMPAIGN ‘SAN FRANCISCO’ REMARK: He writes: “I’ve also spent time in Sanford, and the desires and aspirations of the residents of both cities seemed indistinguishable – jobs, affordable housing, a responsive government that works. The dude has barely dipped his toe into the political pool and already Ellmers’ camp is trying to separate the country into ‘them’ vs. ‘us.’

“Oy. Maybe Renee does, as Wood said, ‘best represent the values of the voters in the 2nd District and remains focused on fighting for their families.’ If her opening re-election salvo is an attack on a political novice, though, one might conclude that she hasn’t been fighting for families as effectively as she should have been.” Read more here.

RELATED: LGBT community reaction. Read more here.

WILL SING FOR MONEY: Aiken’s first emailed fundraising blast – “I want to do something about changing politics, starting right here in my part of my of North Carolina, and I need your help to do so. Will you contribute $10 to help make this campaign OUR campaign today?”

MORE #NCPOL – THE BIG STORY – McCRORY EFFORT LEADS TO DELAYED CHECKS FOR UNEMPLOYED: The state Division of Employment Security is wrestling with a larger backlog of unemployment claims, and a higher percentage of workers are waiting more than three weeks to receive their first unemployment check.

Agency officials say the delays stem from an increased effort to crack down on paying benefits to workers who actually aren’t entitled to receive them and changes in the state unemployment benefits system that went into effect in July.

Rep. Paul Tine, a Democrat from Kitty Hawk, told agency head Dale Folwell at a legislative committee meeting Wednesday that he’s been hearing from constituents who have been waiting for checks for 12-to-16 weeks. “These are folks who don’t make a lot of money and are living paycheck to paycheck,” Tine said.

Folwell said the agency is working aggressively to whittle down its adjudication backlog and hopes to have it cleared by the end of March. The backlog was about 12,000 in January, up from 7,296 in July, according to Employment Security. Read more here.

McCRORY DANGLED MILLIONS IN INCENTIVES BUT FAILED TO GET BOEING: Gov. Pat McCrory scheduled a quiet meeting with Boeing officials at an Arizona hotel last November, as North Carolina’s frenetic five-week quest for a new jetliner plant kicked into high gear.

“We will do ANYTHING we can to be helpful with your site selection process,” an aide wrote in summarizing McCrory’s message.

State officials considered offering up to $2.5 billion in state and local tax incentives to lure the jet maker, but ultimately made a top bid of $683 million, according to documents obtained by the Charlotte Observer through a public records request.

The documents show the state willing to craft a sizable tax incentives package for sites in Charlotte, Greensboro and Kinston. The proposed incentives were far larger than those for other recent Charlotte projects, such as the $22 million that lured Chiquita in 2011 or the $27 million announced in December for Electrolux to expand its North American headquarters.

HOW IT STARTED: According to the records, North Carolina’s hunt for the Boeing plant began when a consultant named Phil Musser connected Commerce Department officials with the aerospace company. Musser, the former executive director of the Republican Governors Association, had a long history with McCrory and was a “political dork,” according to Jonathan Felts, an aide to McCrory at the time.

After a call with Boeing officials, McCrory agreed to an in-person session at the Phoenician Hotel in Arizona, where the Republican Governors Association was holding its annual meeting. The governor initially preferred a 3:30 p.m. time slot, but had to adjust when Musser said the Boeing team was meeting with another governor at that time.

After the meeting, Felts summarized the exchange. Boeing needed a strong labor pool, speed, a big runway and although they weren’t focused on financial incentives “they are not opposed to ‘love.’ ” Read more here.

PIPE THAT LED TO SPILL NOT AS STRONG AS THOUGHT: As crews continued Wednesday to try to stop the flow from a leaking Duke Energy ash pond in Eden, the company announced a surprising discovery.

The stormwater pipe that broke Sunday under the 27-acre pond was made of corrugated metal, not the reinforced concrete that Duke had believed it to be.

The discovery underscores how much remains unknown about what caused a break that washed 50,000 to 82,000 tons of ash down the Dan River with at least 24 million gallons of water. Duke also reported that its own tests found trace metals, the potentially toxic elements of ash, in river water. The company said no samples that were filtered, as municipal water systems do, exceeded state drinking-water standards. Read more here.

A DEEPER LOOK: What the Rabon episode means – It reveals the uglier side of politics. Think less “West Wing,” more “House of Cards.” Such behavior only reinforces the public’s perception about politicians, whose approval ratings at the national and state level remain dismal.

“Any one event probably doesn’t make a big deal, it’s cumulative. In political science, we think voters kind of have a running tally, and it starts to reflect in the polls,” said Kenneth Fernandez, the director of the Elon University poll. “When you have a bunch of politicians misbehaving, people start to think, ‘Um, they aren’t supposed to do that.’ ”

Political observers say that having a legislative supermajority and sitting in districts drawn so acutely in their favor is making some Republican lawmakers feel invincible. Read more here.

QUICK HITS – State’s tobacco industry says, meh. Read more here.

NC FAST is accessible again. Read more here.