Under the Dome

Morning Memo: Early voting starts with less time for some

When early voting begins Thursday, voters in more than a third of North Carolina’s 100 counties, people will have less time to vote.

The changes are a result of the state’s new election law, which shortened the early voting period by one week but called on counties to keep the same number of cumulative early voting hours as in the last comparable election – in this case the non-presidential primary of 2010.

That provision prompted some counties to add more voting sites or keep the polls open longer each day and others to ask for a waiver from the requirement – which was also allowed under the new law.

Josh Howard, State Board of Elections chairman, stressed that decisions to reduce hours were made unanimously by bipartisan elections boards at the county and state levels after reviewing unique circumstances in each county, such as past voter turnout and available sites.

The other 62 counties are offering the same or more early voting hours than in 2010, squeezing them into fewer days by opening new sites, extending daily hours or both. Get a primer on early voting changes here.

***Miss last evening’s #NCSenDebate? Well you didn’t miss much. Get the recap below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

TODAY IN POLITICS: Gov. Pat McCrory is huddling with the N.C. Airports Association behind closed doors at noon in Asheville and then visiting Central Carolina Sprinkler Co. in Lincolnton at 4:40 p.m.

In Raleigh, the legislative committee on Common Core will meet at 10 a.m. in 643 LOB. Where the House falls on the national education standards was telegraphed by Speaker Thom Tillis in the debates, as he said he supports their repeal.

The committee looking at land development rules meets at 1 p.m. in 421 LOB.

WHO WILL VOTE EARLY? Catawba College’s Michael Bitzer puts midterm early voting in perspective in one chart. See it here.

SECOND DEBATE DOES LITTLE TO SEPARATE CANDIDATES: Sticking to their campaign scripts, Republican candidates for U.S. Senate continued Wednesday to take hard-line positions on climate change and immigration, even as they struggled to differentiate themselves in their second debate in two days.

More than reinforce the candidate’s stances, the back-to-back debates did little to shift the order in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate, as the fast-paced, 30-minute contest at WRAL-TV in Raleigh touched only five issues and revealed little new ground.

The candidates didn’t criticize their rivals by name once in the entire debate, a contrast from the first contest, in which Brannon questioned Tillis’ conservative merits on a number of issues.

WHAT THE PUNDITS SAID: In the second debate, Chris Sinclair, a Republican political strategist, said Tillis broke away from the pack. “He came across as a candidate who, if elected, would go to Washington and solve problems,” said Sinclair, who is not working for any of the U.S. Senate candidates.

“I don’t think they differentiated themselves from one another,” said David B. McLennan, a political science professor at William Peace University. “If you’re really undecided, it would be hard to look at this and say the other three brought Tillis down a peg. Tillis didn’t seal the deal for May 6, but it’s going to move in that direction.”

Tillis appears focused on Kay Hagan and making the case that he’ll be the strongest candidate in the general election, said Joe Stewart, executive director of the North Carolina FreeEnterprise Foundation. “It seems very much the various candidates played the roles they played last night, and played throughout the primary,” Stewart said. “I don’t see it changing the dynamic, such as it is.”

With less than two weeks before the primary, conventional thinking would have it that someone would “take the gloves off” and go after Tillis and Hagan, said Michael Bitzer, a political scientist at Catawba College. “They’re either trying to prove themselves and haven’t gotten to that next level of strategy, or they’re banking on ‘I’ve got to finish second and keep Tillis under 40 percent,” Bitzer said.


A shortened debate. The debate lasted 30 minutes, half the length of Tuesday night’s event, with decidedly less attention from the press and the public. The limited time allowed for candidates to address only five topics: the Affordable Care Act, immigration, jobs, religion and climate change.

Separation of church and state. The one new issue raised was how big of a role religion should play in government. The candidates differed in their descriptions.

“The individual, as an American … should not be told that in order to run for office or to bring forth ideas that somehow we’ve got to check our belief system at the door,” Harris said.

Tillis’ reply was more nuanced. “I don’t think that necessarily you bring your church to the legislature,” he said. “A religious life, I think, instructs you in everything you do.”

Brannon said everyone is free to have beliefs. “This whole fallacy of the separation of church and state is nowhere found in our founding documents,” he said.

The Twitter reaction. There was no audience for Wednesday’s debate, but North Carolinians chimed in on Twitter to offer opinions. Many expressed dismay with WRAL-TV moderator David Crabtree, whom some called “biased” or “intrusive.” Crabtree cut off some candidates’ answers, asked follow-up questions and emphasized issues, such as climate change, that many Twitter users felt was not important to Republican viewers.

The pin debate. The candidates sported different lapel pins to show their colors. Tillis wore a puzzle pin that is a symbol for Autism Speaks, an organization that supports research and awareness. Grant, an Army veteran, wore a flag pin. Harris, a pastor, wore a “Jesus Speaks” pin. Brannon didn’t wear one.

Get more coverage here.

POST DEBATE POLL: A Survey USA poll conducted for Time Warner Cable News after the first debate showed Tillis maintaining his position, with Brannon gaining ground and Harris slipping. But the margin of error is so large it’s hard to reach broader conclusions. See the full results here.

#NCSEN ---

FACT CHECK: Check out WRAL’s breakdown of the candidates’ misstatements from the debate. Read more here.

HEADLINE: Democratic donors seek to pull party to the left. Read more here.

THE BIG PICTURE: Southern Whites’ Loyalty to G.O.P. Nearing That of Blacks to Democrats. Read more here.

NO SURPISE: Liberty Action Fund, a national youth political action committee associated with Rep. Ron Paul, endorsed Greg Brannon in the Senate race.

BRANNON TO HEADLINE FREEDOMWORKS RALLY: Greg Brannon’s campaign announced Wednesday it would headline a tea party rally Saturday in Charlotte. The rally is organized by FreedomWorks, a national group affiliated with the tea party, is organizing the event at the Charlotte Convention Center. Details here.

#NCPOL ---

A1 – McCRORY TOUTS COAL ASH PLAN, PUSHES BACK AGAINST LAWMAKERS: From The News & Record – Gov. Pat McCrory fired back Wednesday at legislators, some from his own Republican Party, who have criticized his plan to clean up the state’s coal ash problems.

In an exclusive interview with The News & Record, the governor said the self-described “comprehensive plan” his administration unveiled last week could become the gold standard nationwide for judging efforts to deal with the long overlooked problem.

“I think that this plan that we presented will be a national role model plan, not only for North Carolina but all the other states that have basically pretended this problem did not exist,” McCrory said after appearing at an afternoon event in High Point that focused on historic preservation. Read more here.

McCRORY MAKES A SURPRISE VISIT TO VIP EVENT IN ASHEVILLE: Gov. Pat McCrory made it to Asheville for Moogfest after all.

McCrory appeared Wednesday evening at a VIP pool party atop the Aloft Hotel. It was a surprising development in what publicly appears to be an on-and-off relationship with the music festival.

McCrory was originally scheduled to appear at a kickoff panel of the five-day festival, which celebrates music technology and innovation. Local residents organized a protest against the Republican governor after the announcement. Read more here.

DEEP DIVE: From CNN – Can Mr. Jones stay in Washington? Read more here.

THE BIG STORY – REPUBLICAN TEACHER TENURE LAW TAKES A HIT: A Superior Court judge on Wednesday put a halt, in at least two school systems, to the state’s mandate on giving raises to teachers who give up tenure.

Special Superior Court Judge Richard Doughton issued a preliminary injunction in a lawsuit brought by the Guilford and Durham school boards, granting their request to put new state-mandated contracts on hold. They argued the law outlining the process, passed last year by the General Assembly, is unconstitutional.

Doughton also ruled against the state’s motions to dismiss the lawsuit. ...

It is unclear, however, how the order will affect other school districts. Doughton has not yet signed a written order on the injunction, but one is expected next week. Read more here.

SCOTUS HEARS N.C. POLLUTION CASE: Raw emotions bubbled just below the surface Wednesday as the Supreme Court considered a crucial North Carolina groundwater pollution case.

... Simply put, it’s about how long people have to sue polluters when they’ve been harmed. Being the law, though, it’s rarely that simple.

For a host of North Carolina residents and former Camp Lejeune Marines, the technical argument Wednesday rarely touched the personal depths that carried them to court in the first place. It comes down to this: If CTS Corp. and its Obama administration allies win, as they well might, a number of North Carolina-related environmental lawsuits and health claims will fail. Read more here.

PERSONAL STORIES INFORM 12th DISTRICT RACE: One candidate didn’t meet her father until she was 15. Another grew up in public housing. Another experienced firsthand the problems of veterans returning from war.

Several candidates often dug into their own backgrounds Wednesday night as they offered prescriptions to some of the problems faced by people in North Carolina’s most urban congressional district. Read more here.

RELATED: Subtle swipes at Sen. Graham as ex-rival endorses Battle in 12th District. Read more here.

PRESS RELEASE: The North Carolina Bar Association is pleased to announce that the Judicial Performance Evaluation survey reports for District and Superior Court candidates involved in the May 6 primary have been compiled and posted on the special ElectNCJudges.org website.

PERSONNEL FILE: Gov. Pat McCrory appointed former Supreme Court Justice George Wainwright Jr. of Carteret County to the State Ethics Commission.


McCrory touts historic preservation tax credits. Read more here.

Five Democrats challenge to fill N.C. Senate District 40. Read more here.

Mud flying in race against Rep. George Cleveland. Read more here.

Former Democratic Party leaders takes helm at St. Aug. Read more here.

Henderson Dispatch A1 – U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield faces a challenge. Read more here.