Under the Dome

Morning Memo: Another poll indicates potential for Senate race runoff

A month to go in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate and voters remain undecided on who is the best candidate to challenge Democrat Kay Hagan.

A new survey from Public Policy Polling reflects Republican Thom Tillis’ rise but gives him less of an edge than other recent polls. The Democratic-firm says the race is deadlocked with Tillis at 18 percent and Greg Brannon at 15 percent, within the plus-or-minus 5.5 percent margin-of-error.

Mark Harris also saw a small boost to 11 percent, putting him in contention for second and a chance at a runoff, if the leader doesn’t get 40 percent in the May 6 primary election. From PPP pollster Tom Jensen: “34 percent of voters remain undecided and Tillis will probably have to win most of them in order to get to the 40% mark needed to avoid a runoff.”

The three headlines:

1. Race dynamic remains the same: Even though the days are dwindling, the same questions plague the race: Why can’t Tillis breakaway? Is Brannon at his tea party ceiling? And what will it take for Harris to jump into contention?

With millions being spent on TV ads to boost him, it seemed like Tillis was poised to break from the pack. But while his name ID jumped nearly 10 points and his favorabilility rose 7 points among Republican primary voters, his support increased by a lesser margin.

2. It’s a race for second place: With speculation about a runoff growing, the real race is between Brannon and Harris for who can take second place and push the primary into extra innings. Brannon has loyal tea party supporters to count on; Harris has dedicated evangelical voters. The question may be who can turn out more of their base and pull in other more mainstream Republicans.

3. Harris is in the debate: WRAL-TV acknowledged it is reversing course and allowing Harris into its April 23 televised debate, after saying it would exclude him. Harris mounted a public campaign to get the station to reverse course, pulling in support from the N.C. Values Coalition, but ultimately it was the PPP poll that helped. (Harris was already invited to two other televised debates before the poll.)

“Rev. Harris has now demonstrated more than 10 percent support in two respected polls. As a result, he has demonstrated the widespread support demanded by our threshold, and we are happy to invite him to the debate,” WRAL News Operations Director Leesa Moore said on the station’s website.

Harris accepted the invitation. “I was pleased to hear that this news station made the right decision and invited our campaign to attend,” he said in a statement.

Now, if only Tillis also will accept; so far, he has not, the station reports.

*** Get more numbers from the PPP poll and Senate race news below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

TODAY IN POLITICS: Gov. Pat McCrory will attend a commercial real estate conference at noon in Charlotte and later a British Business Council awards dinner in Charlotte at 7:30 p.m.

Two major legislative committees meet in Raleigh: at 8 a.m. the Environmental Review Commission will take another look at the coal ash spill in room 643 LOB and at 9:30 a.m. the Revenue Laws Study Committee will meet in room 544 LOB.

BULLETIN: Gas prices jump 15 cents in North Carolina. Read more here.

#NCSEN ---

MORE PPP NUMBERS – THE ELECTABILITY QUESTION: From Tom Jensen’s analysis of his poll’s results: “The general election story is the same as it’s been for six months now – Kay Hagan has negative approval numbers and finds herself within the margin of error against all of her potential Republican opponents. Forty-one percent of voters approve of the job Hagan’s doing to 48 percent who disapprove, pretty much what we’ve found ever since ads started attacking her over Obamacare in October.

“She trails most of her Republicans opponents by small margins – it’s 44/40 against Mark Harris, 43/39 against Heather Grant, 42/40 against Greg Brannon, 41/40 against Edward Kryn, 42/41 against Alex Bradshaw, and 43/42 against Ted Alexander.

“Hagan does tie Jim Snyder at 41, and the one Republican who she actually leads is her most likely opponent – she has a slim 43/41 edge over Thom Tillis.” See more results here.

RELATED: A new High Point University poll. No Senate primary numbers, though. See it here.

THE EQUAL PAY STORY: Republicans and Democrats were fighting about Tuesday. Read it here.

HAGAN’S TAKE ON THE ISSUE: “It is time to end gender discrimination in pay,” Sen. Kay Hagan declared in a speech on the Senate floor at 7 p.m. on Monday, after the Senate finished its votes for the day.

She called for support of the Paycheck Fairness Act when the Senate votes on it later this week. The bill would prevent all employers from punishing workers who share information about their pay.

Hagan spoke in advance of what activists call Equal Pay Day, marking the extra time the average woman must work into the year to earn as much as her average male counterpart did the previous year. Hagan said that nationally women earn 77 cents on the dollar compared to men. In North Carolina it’s a little better at 82 cents.

But she said that women in North Carolina who have some college education or an associate’s degree still earn less on average than men who have only received a high school diploma. “Over 50 years have passed since the Equal Pay Act was signed into law to require that men and women earn equal pay for equal work. Yet the wage gap between men and women remains persistently wide,” Hagan said.

Hagan faces a tough re-election later this year, and women are an important constituent group for Democrats. Hagan also is a longtime supporter of equal pay. The first bill she co-sponsored in 2009 was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which gave employees more time to file claims for wages lost due to discrimination.

AWKWARD: From a Mark Harris rally in Winston-Salem, as reported by the Journal: Before he spoke to the crowd, Harris’ wife, Beth, told the audience that her husband might gather enough Republican votes to force a runoff, rather than outright win the primary.

“We have to be realistic,” she said.

However, Harris said he could win the primary. “This is no longer a pipe dream,” Harris told the audience. Read more here.

GIVE BRANNON A SHOT: Greg Brannon’s campaign pokes fun at Democrats in its gun range fundraiser. See it here.

JUST IN: The paperwork for Kay Hagan’s joint fundraising committee with the Wake County Democratic Party, a move bypassing the N.C. Democratic Party. See it here and here.

#NCPOL ---

THE STORY McCRORY IS READING: Early speculators let drilling leases lapse as N.C. fracking prospects remain uncertain – Four years after North Carolina’s initial fracking boomlet, less than half of Lee County’s drilling leases remain under contract as those legal agreements expire and are not being renewed.

Initial energy speculators are losing interest in North Carolina and moving on to surer prospects in other states where fracking is already underway.

Most recently, Whitmar Exploration walked away from drilling rights to 2,716 acres, according to filings made last week with the Lee County Register of Deeds. Whitmar’s exploration manager, Kevin Brown, said the Denver-based company is losing patience with North Carolina’s glacial progress on fracking, which remains under moratorium.

THE QUOTE: “It was a speculative venture, and what we’ve learned is there’s no way to do exploration in North Carolina right now,” Brown said. “We paid out money, and we didn’t capitalize on it.” Read more here.

THE BIG STORY: UNDER NEW LAW, JOBLESS CHECKS TO DECLINE AGAIN –The maximum number of weeks that North Carolina’s jobless can receive unemployment checks is expected to decline significantly again in July because state law ties the benefits to the state’s declining unemployment rate.

The prospect of four or five fewer weeks of unemployment checks for workers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own is bemoaned by advocates for the poor. They argue that the job market remains quite challenging. Read more here.

CHRISTENSEN: GOD IN POLITICS – The risk in mixing religion and politics too closely is it leaves little room for compromise, or opening yourself to other views. Governing is about the ability to get people of different views and backgrounds to pull together to work for the common good. That is true for running a country, a state or a church.

If you believe God is whispering in your ear – and there is only one divine or moral position on, say, Medicaid expansion – then you believe you own the one correct moral position, and the other fellow is a heretic. Governing then becomes more difficult. Read more here.

A RICHARD HUDSON PROFILE: U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson admits he was “naive” last fall to think he and other Republicans could pin down Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and force Democrats to scale back Obamacare in order to avert a government shutdown.

The Democrats didn’t cave. The government closed for an embarrassing three weeks in a disastrous showing of Washington dysfunction. Republicans took most of the blame.

“I was wrong,” Hudson said during a candid moment in his office this month. “He got away with it and we were the ones who looked bad.” Read more here.

SEANC ADDS ONE MORE: The state employee’s association’s political action committee added challenger Stan White, D-Dare, for N.C. Senate District 1 to its endorsement list.

NEW AD: Republican Zack Matheny is relaxing on a living room couch and approving his new ad in the crowded race to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Howard Coble in the 6th District. See it here.

QUICK HEADLINES ---

N.C.’s Haw River makes national most endangered list. Read more here.

Like Gov. Haley, McCrory to make trip to India. Read more here.

N.C. retains ‘AAA’ bond rating. Read more here.

McCrory’s office announces 228 jobs in Catawba County. Read more here.

12th District hopefuls split on school vouchers. Read more here. Also: The dirt on 12th District candidates. See it here.

Staff writer Renee Schoof contributed to this report.

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