Under the Dome

Morning Memo: Tillis makes about-face, will attend debate as May races take shape

For weeks, the upcoming primary races remained undefined as roughly one-third primary voters sat undecided in key races. This week, the picture may come into focus.

The collective attention is finally starting to turn toward the May 6 vote. Early voting starts Thursday. The races are getting much more publicity. And the Republican candidates for U.S. Senate will face off in two major debates this week.

To catch up on the big news from Friday: House Speaker Thom Tillis did an about face on the WRAL-TV debate and now says he will attend Wednesday. Tillis had planned to skip the debate, just as he did some other candidate forums earlier this year, saying he had an unspecified prior obligation. His opponents were likely to trash him without being rebutted.

The first debate is Tuesday and political observers suggest it may carry more weight than usual, given the large undecided population.

Other major races are taking shape, too. Get a rundown below on a few prominent Congressional races that are getting national attention.

***It’s all – along with a wrap on North Carolina political news from the holiday weekend – in the Dome Morning Memo. ***

TODAY IN POLITICS: Gov. Pat McCrory did not issue a schedule for Monday.

The legislative committee looking at food deserts meets at 1 p.m. in room 544 LOB. (Read more about it below.) A committee looking at the health care system in the state meets at 1 p.m. in room 643 LOB.

VOTERS GUIDE: A primer to all the May 6 races. Get the info here.

#NCSEN ---

DEMOCRATS ARE MEDDLING IN GOP PRIMARY: From columnist Rob Christensen – Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has gone to meddling in next month’s North Carolina Republican Senate primary.

The Senate Majority PAC, which is closely associated with Reid, last week began a $1 million TV ad campaign against state House Speaker Thom Tillis in what is likely an effort to influence the outcome of the May 6 GOP primary. ...

The Democrats, although they deny it, seem to be following the playbook they used to help re-elect Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, who like Hagan was regarded as a vulnerable Democratic incumbent in a swing state in 2012.

Reid’s PAC ran ads against all three GOP primary candidates in Missouri in 2012. The ads against GOP front-runner John Brunner questioned whether he was “a reliable conservative,” while the ones attacking Rep. Todd Akin called him “too conservative” – which of course was like throwing Br’er Rabbit into the briar patch.

THE McCASKILL-HAGAN CONNECTION: McCaskill’s media consultant was Dixon/Davis Media Group. DDMG is also Hagan’s media consultant this year, as it was in 2008 when she was first elected. Read more here.

DEMOCRATS CONFRONT VEXING POLITICS ON HEALTH CARE LAW: “There was an ability to exploit the unknown, to exploit the fear of people losing something that they have,” said Mr. Price, a political scientist. Read more here.

GREG BRANNON ON THE 9/11 CONSPIRACY TALK: From Mother Jones – In 2012, Greg Brannon, who is now a North Carolina Republican Senate candidate, wouldn’t say whether he thought the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 were an inside job – but, he said, “Things like this have to be asked.” Read more here.

TURN OUT THE OBAMA VOTERS IN NORTH CAROLINA: An early look at a Democratic effort to push the 2014 turnout closer to numbers akin to a presidential year.

From the Washington Post: ... Democrats are banking on the belief that they can better identify potential supporters, motivate them and get them to the polls – in essence, reshape the midterm electorate to make it look more like the electorate in a presidential year. To try to do so, they will for the first time fully employ the sophisticated tools and techniques used in Obama’s presidential campaigns to aid Senate and some House candidates. ...

(Kay) Hagan’s campaign is trying to build the capacity it will need later to identify, register, motivate and turn out supporters. The campaign is hiring and training the first of its field organizers, who will begin to recruit volunteers, who will in turn carry out voter registration efforts and do much of the door-to-door contact with targeted voters. Read more here.

Sunday A1 in Greensboro and Winston-Salem: THE GOP PRIMARY – Eight Republicans are vying for the chance to take on Sen. Kay Hagan, a Greensboro Democrat. Millions have been spent on ads by political groups from outside the state. Accusations, scandal-mongering and open political civil war have become the campaign’s daily routine.

“That shouldn’t be too much of a surprise,” said Michael Bitzer, a professor of political science and history at Catawba College in Salisbury. “Kay Hagan is in that endangered species category. She is very vulnerable, and the Republicans see a good chance to take the seat and the Senate.” Read more here.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN HELPS FUEL SENATE CAMPAIGNS: The recipients of her largess include vulnerable incumbents such as Sens. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), who each received contributions totaling $10,000. Read more.

HEADLINE: Mark Harris’ father cast ballot before he died. Read more here.

WEEKLY STANDARD: Conservative Fred Barnes writing from Raleigh – To win the Senate, Republicans must win North Carolina. While it’s mathematically possible to take the Senate without ousting Democratic senator Kay Hagan, the chances of that happening are close to zero. For Republicans, North Carolina is necessary. It’s the key to control of the Senate. Read more here.

ENDORSEMENT: Winston-Salem Journal endorses Thom Tillis in Republican primary. Read more here.

RANKING: North Carolina’s Senate seat is No. 6 most likely to flip political parties, Washington Post says. Read more here.

#NCGOV ---

McCRORY AND LAWMAKERS JUST CAN’T GET ALONG: From the News & Record – Key GOP state legislators said they didn’t get any meaningful advance notice of the plan, which at least one thought went too easy on Duke Energy in some areas.

“We received a phone call late Wednesday,” said Sen. Tom Apodaca, the chairman of the influential Senate Rules Committee. “It really would have been helpful if it had been given to us in advance, so we could have been prepared.” Read more here.

McCRORY ASKED NOT TO ATTEND ASHEVILLE MUSIC FESTIVAL: AP – Gov. Pat McCrory won’t attend the electronic music festival Moogfest next week in Asheville as originally planned.

McCrory spokesman Josh Ellis told the Asheville Citizen-Times that Moogfest organizers asked the governor to change his plans and not attend the festival Wednesday.

Moogfest spokeswoman Jill Lieberman initially said McCrory wouldn’t attend because of a scheduling conflict. After Ellis said organizers asked that the governor not attend, Moogfest officials said they regretted any miscommunication between themselves and the governor’s office and that they appreciate his support of the festival.

Local residents had organized a protest to coincide with the governor’s visit.

PREVIEW – DUKE ENERGY’S FAVORITE GOVERNOR: A new report from the National Institute on Money in State Politics (followthemoney.org) finds the utility giant gave Gov. Pat McCrory’s campaign three times the amount it gave any other current governor in the nation in recent years. Read more later today on Dome.

#NCPOL ---

A look at the 2nd District Democratic race – CLAY AIKEN TRIES TO AVOID ANOTHER SECOND PLACE: Covering all or parts of nine counties, the 2nd Congressional District, if nothing else, is a cross-section of the old and the new in North Carolina – fitting, in a way, for the main two contenders in the Democratic primary.

One, Keith Crisco, 70, is firmly in the tradition of North Carolina’s pro-business Democrats. Raised on a farm, he became a successful businessman and local politician before being named the state’s commerce secretary under Gov. Bev Perdue.

The other, Clay Aiken, 35, is also a native North Carolinian, a special education teacher who became rich and famous as a pop singer and has returned home as a philanthropist and candidate for federal office.

Both men – along with Toni Morris, a Fayetteville counselor who has not campaigned as extensively nor reported raising any money yet – hope to be the nominee to challenge U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers, a Republican from Dunn, in the November general election. Read more here.


On the Republican side – The race for the Republican nomination in the 7th Congressional District has focused less on issues in Washington and more on the candidates’ personal and professional lives.

Wilmington attorney Woody White and former state Sen. David Rouzer of Johnston County have taken different paths in life but now seek the same future. They want to represent Republicans on the November ballot and, ultimately, the district in Congress. Fayetteville veteran and political newcomer Chris Andrade has the same goal but has stayed out of tussles between Rouzer and White. Read more here.

On the Democratic side – For the first time in nearly two decades, a new name will fill the Democratic line on ballots in North Carolina’s 7th Congressional District come November.

It will be one of two politicians seeking higher office – Jonathan Barfield Jr., a Wilmington real estate agent and New Hanover County commissioner, or Walter Martin Jr., a private investigator and Princeton town commissioner. ...

Barfield, 48, owns Barfield & Associates Realty in Wilmington. He’s been a county commissioner since 2008. Although Barfield has eyed higher offices for years, McIntyre’s vote against the Affordable Care Act thrust him into this race. Barfield announced his campaign for the seat in February 2013, long before McIntyre said he wouldn’t run again. ...

Martin, who filed to run on the last day of the candidate filing period, said he is seeking the seat because he believes elected leaders are paying more attention to partisan desires than everyday people’s problems. Read more here.

MORE: Coverage of the same races from the Star-News – Democrats and Republicans.

A1 in Greensboro Monday: COBLE RETIREMENT DRAWS A CROWD IN 6th DISTRICT: Nine Republican candidates are vying for the 6th District seat held for 29 years by Congressman Howard Coble, who announced his retirement in November. Add the two Democratic candidates, and you’ve got enough players to field a football team.

The reason is simple. “When you have an open seat, it changes the political landscape,” says Martin Kifer, political science professor at High Point University and director of the Survey Research Center, the public affairs polling program. “So it’s no surprise that we would have a lot of competition for this relatively rare commodity.” Read more here.

Wilmington Star-News A1 Monday – The 3rd District Race: In the Republican race to represent the 3rd Congressional District, it’s become a question about who is more conservative, with 10-year incumbent Walter Jones and challenger Taylor Griffin both claiming they fit that bill. Read more here.

A1 Monday High Point Daily Enterprise – THE POWER OF THE PRIMARY GROWS: “The decision as to who is going to represent your district, more and more, now comes down to who is going to win the primary,” said Matthew DeSantis, professor of political science at Guilford Technical Community College. Read more here.

THE RACE TO REPLACE SEN. NEAL HUNT: When Neal Hunt, a Republican state senator, announced earlier this year that he wouldn’t run in 2014, he endorsed House Republican Jim Fulghum for his District 15 seat.

But Fulghum’s spot on the Republican ticket is not assured, as Apryl Major, who ran as a write-in candidate for the House in 2012, is also vying for the seat representing parts of Raleigh and northern Wake County. Read more here.

FOOD DESERT COMMITTEE TO RELEASE RECOMMENDATIONS: Getting convenience stores to sell fresh fruits and vegetables and other healthier food is seen as one way to help improve food access in these communities where many residents struggle with obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

The House Committee on Food Desert Zones, which was created to study the issue after Kroger closed two stores in Southeast Raleigh last year, plans to release recommendations Monday on how to help these communities. Read more here.


Coal ash unmonitored in fill sites across N.C. Read more here.

Attorney General appeals Duke Energy rate hike for a second time. Read more here.

Carole King performs at Hagan fundraiser, few will elect new state senator and more. Read here.

Bucking trend, Mecklenburg County boost early voting hours, sites for primary. Read more here.