Under the Dome

Morning Memo: Kay Hagan launches first ad, attacks Tillis on health care, sex scandal

Democrat Kay Hagan is launching her first ad in the 2014 campaign, a radio spot that attacks Republican Thom Tillis for his mixed message on the federal health care law and sex scandals in the House speaker’s office.

The 60-second advertisement debuting this week piggybacks on a hit leveled a day earlier against Tillis by a Democratic super PAC and replicates criticism the polling frontrunner is taking from his Republican rivals.

It clips – arguably misleadingly – from an interview Tillis gave about the federal health care law on WPTF radio’s Bill LuMaye show. The spot quotes Tillis saying “it’s a great idea” but cuts the part where he says the law is too expensive and onerous. “So Thom Tillis thinks he can attack Kay Hagan over something he calls ‘a great idea’? Watch close. Seems Thom Tillis wants it both ways,” the ad narrator says.

From there, the ad pivots to the sex scandal, saying “values still matter.” It criticizes Tillis for two inappropriate romantic relationships his staffers – including his chief of staff who shared a Raleigh apartment with him – had with lobbyists in 2012.

“Instead of firing them, Tillis arranged for golden parachutes, paid for by taxpayers,” it says.

The ad’s kicker: “Those may be values, but they’re not North Carolina’s.”

Hagan’s decision to attack Tillis in the final weeks of the Republican primary will amplify critics’ charges that Democrats are trying to influence the May 6 vote. Reacting to the Senate Majority PAC’s TV ad tying Tillis to the affairs two top staffers had with lobbyist, his campaign said Democrats “have given up on propping up Kay Hagan, and they know their only chance at victory is meddling in the Republican primary.”

In 2012, Republicans accused Missouri Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill’s campaign of trying to boost Todd Akin, a flawed insurgent candidate who defeated a more established Republican in the primary only to lose in November.

Tillis is facing a challenge from Greg Brannon, a first-time candidate backed by Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and tea party activists. Brannon is pushing an agenda that includes eliminating most federal government functions to return to a strict Constitutional reading.

Hagan campaign spokeswoman Sadie Weiner dismissed the Tillis campaign’s suggestion, saying the ad follows millions of dollars in attack spots aimed at Hagan by groups allied with Tillis and Republicans. “After taking on $10 million in outside spending that is aimed at defeating her, this is an effort to set the record straight about Thom Tillis trying to have it both ways,” she told Dome.

Hagan’s campaign has focused on Tillis from the start, assuming he would be the candidate to emerge from the primary. The attacks may weaken Tillis and increase the likelihood of a runoff, which would further sap the Republican chances in November, regardless of who wins the primary.

The Hagan campaign refused to provide details about the radio ad buy, except to say it was a “significant statewide buy.” Without knowing how much money is behind the spot, it’s difficult to know whether it will make a difference or is designed to merely generate headlines.

*** Get much more Senate race news below in the Dome Morning Memo. ***

TODAY IN POLITICS: Gov. Pat McCrory will make a veterans initiative announcement Thursday in Raleigh.

At the legislative office building, the health and human services oversight committee meets at 10 a.m. in room 643. The legislative panel looking at cultural and natural resources meets at 1 p.m. in room 544.


THE MARK HARRIS PROFILE – The Rev. Mike Whitson was surprised when his friend and fellow pastor Mark Harris told him he planned to run for the U.S. Senate.

“Why would you step down from where you are to become a United States senator?” he asked him.

What some may consider a step down, Harris sees as another way of living his faith, and giving his flock a voice in public policy.

That’s been his hallmark as pastor of Charlotte’s First Baptist Church and as president of North Carolina’s Baptist State Convention. Now he’s brought that blend of missionary zeal and conservative politics to his first campaign. ...

He invited former Republican presidential candidates Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum to speak at his church and even hosted GOP precinct meetings. He endorsed Supreme Court Justice candidate Paul Newby from the pulpit. Though they’re all Republicans, he likes to point out that before the 2012 Democratic National Convention, he asked a New York Democrat to speak at a prayer service.

“I have felt it was critically important to have the church engaged in public policy,” Harris says. “Because we have to live by the laws and we ought to have a voice in what those laws say and how those laws are constructed. So I don’t apologize the church having a seat at the table in the marketplace of ideas.” Read more here.

MORE PLAGIARISM CHARGES AGAINST GREG BRANNON: From BuzzFeed – Dr. Greg Brannon, a Republican who is vying for the party’s Senate nomination in North Carolina appears to have plagiarized several of his campaign “on the issues” pages from Republican Michigan Rep. Justin Amash. A Facebook post of Brannon’s also seems to be a near-direct copy of an article by a Cato Institute scholar. Another issues post appears to be copied from the Coalition for Jobs.

Brannon’s campaign has not responded to questions yet. Read more here.

A1 in Greensboro – N.C. RESIDENTS BOMBARDED BY U.S. SENATE CAMPAIGN ADS: With the May 6 primary election about two weeks away, voters are being bombarded with appeals by the candidates and well-heeled political groups from outside North Carolina.

Some experts say they’re surprised it has taken this long for one of the state’s most hotly contested GOP primaries – the battle for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Greensboro Democrat Kay Hagan – to lead to an all-out advertising war. Read more here.

KOCH FLOOD INSURANCE STANCE BECOMES CAMPAIGN ISSUE: From Bloomberg News – Democrats are exploring a new attack line against the Koch brothers and Republican allies, telling voters the billionaire energy executives want to let home flood insurance premiums soar to help corporate America.

It’s a potentially potent message in coastal states such as Louisiana, Georgia and North Carolina, where U.S. Senate elections in November are critical in the fight for control of the chamber. Read more here.

OUTSIDE SPENDING IN NORTH CAROLINA: A chart breaking it down, courtesy of N.C. FreeEnterprise Foundation. See it here.

HEADLINE: Coming this fall in the Senate races: Big fights over Personhood. Read more here.


THE BIG STORY – McCRORY PROPOSES ACTION ON COAL ASH PONDS: Gov. Pat McCrory will ask legislators for broader authority over coal ash disposal, but his plan does not envision eliminating all 33 of Duke Energy’s ash ponds.

The proposal, released Wednesday, calls for site-specific closures. Ash could be removed from some ponds but left in others, drained and capped to keep water out.

Duke has previously said it would weigh similar options. “The governor and I are adamant that one size probably will not fit all 33 ash ponds,” environment Secretary John Skvarla said. “The engineering and science is going to be a little more complicated than digging them all up and moving them to landfills.”

McCrory still prefers that ash be moved away from waterways, Skvarla said.

Environmental advocates are skeptical the plan will rid the state of contamination threats highlighted by Duke’s Feb. 2 ash spill into the Dan River. They say the McCrory administration has been too soft on the governor’s former employer. “All this is doing is attempting to put into law what Duke wants to do anyway, which is leave in place its ash at different sites where it continues to be a risk and continues to threaten communities,” said Frank Holleman, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. Read more here.

WHERE IT PLAYED: Front page in Charlotte Observer, Asheville Citizen-Times, Greensboro News & Record, Fayetteville Observer, News & Observer, and the Sanford Herald, among others.

GOP EVENT THAT DREW GOVERNOR, TILLIS A MONEY LOSER: From High Point Enterprise – A star-studded GOP dinner held in High Point has sparked an email from a Guilford County Republican leader who questions why the event may not have raised money for the party.

On the evening of Feb. 8, local Republicans hosted a banquet and reception at the High Point Country Club to honor retiring U.S. Rep. Howard Coble, R-6th. The 83-year-old congressman, first elected in 1984, announced last November that he will retire at the end of this year for health reasons. ...

Former Greensboro mayor Bill Knight, long active in county Republican politics, wrote in an email last month that the event may end up costing more than was raised. “This is inexcusable and it means GCRP (Guilford County Republican Party) will receive nothing from the dinner,” Knight writes in the email. “Ugly. We need to go to work to generate needed revenue for 2014.” Read more here.

STORY TO WATCH – FRACKING PANEL RUSHES TO APPROVE RULES, AS COAL ASH SPECTOR LOOMS OVER MEETING: The state commission that’s creating safety standards for fracking raced through 48 rules Wednesday under a legislative deadline to prepare North Carolina for shale gas exploration by next spring.

The state’s recent coal-ash spill near Eden loomed over the proceedings, prompting last-minute adjustments to prevent an accidental spill of frack fluid like the power plant accident that dumped 39,000 tons of toxic sludge into the Dan River in February.

Keeping to a tight schedule, the chairman of the N.C. Mining and Energy Commission cut off several residents during a public comment period as speakers made emotional statements about the state choosing a perilous path by clearing the way for gas drilling.

Rules approved Wednesday defined standards for wastewater disposal, site reclamation, surety bonding, permitting, water pit construction and other aspects of drilling. They are part of the state’s effort to update archaic oil and gas laws, which were written in 1945 and did not foresee horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, the technological advances that enable shale gas exploration.

In all, the Mining and Energy Commission has completed about 120 safety rules in the past year and a half, and next plans to collate the full set before three public hearings scheduled in August in the Triangle, Sanford and Rockingham County. The rules are due in October to the state legislature, which can approve or modify them in the final step needed to lift the state’s de facto moratorium on fracking. Read more here.

ALMA ADAMS HOLDS FINANCIAL EDGE IN 12TH DISTRICT RACE: With strong backing from women’s groups, state Rep. Alma Adams of Greensboro out-raised her Democratic rivals and holds a wide financial edge in the race to replace Mel Watt in Congress.

New reports show Adams raised nearly $353,000 and has a 3-to-1 cash advantage over her nearest opponent heading into the May 6 primary in the 12th Congressional District.

Meanwhile, two other Democrats have tapped national fundraising networks while three Charlotte candidates compete for local dollars, a fight that drove one from the race. Read more here.

QUESTIONABLE INTERNAL POLL SHOWS DEADLOCKED 7TH DISTRICT RACE: A recent poll conducted by The Wickers Group shows David Rouzer slightly ahead of Woody White in the race for North Carolina’s 7th Congressional District. The survey was conducted April 13 and 14 and has a margin of error of 4.75 percent, according to the release, which does not mention fellow GOP candidate Chris Andrade, who rounds out a three-way race in the May Republican primary. Read more here.

ALARMING NUMBER OF TEACHERS RESIGNING MID-YEAR: Wake County school leaders have scheduled a press conference for Thursday afternoon to discuss “the alarming increase in mid-year teacher resignations and the dwindling supply of NC-trained teachers who are qualified to fill the empty positions.”

The media briefing takes place at a time when Wake is pushing for teacher pay raises. School leaders have also complained about the elimination of teacher tenure and the phasing out of extra pay for advanced degrees. Read more here.


McCrory says government pay hikes linked to revenue. Read more here.

N.C. CEOs make 108 times what average worker earns, study says. Read more here.

Chapel Hill helps launch national gun violence prevention group. Read more here.