Under the Dome

Morning Memo: Pat McCrory’s political tornado two-step

Three years ago this month, the Dome headline read, “Where was Perdue?”

Multiple tornadoes ripped through the state April 16, 2011, and then-Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue was missing in action. Later, it was learned Perdue was attending a horse race in Kentucky and visiting with that state’s Democratic governor. She came back to the state but her ( belated?) response created a bit of a political flap.

Fast forward to this past weekend, Gov. Pat McCrory found himself in a similar political two-step – but one that ended quite differently.

Multiple tornadoes hit Friday evening, destroying hundreds of homes and buildings and injuring dozens. An 11-month-old boy later died from his injuries.

The next day McCrory visited Maine for a Republican Party state convention, where he rallied the faithful and ate a lobster lunch with Maine Gov. Paul LePage. “That’s what people are looking for in a politician: say what needs to be said and be truthful to the people,” said McCrory of LePage, according to a local report from Bangor.

At midday, roughly the time of the event in Maine, McCrory’s office issued a statement praising the “good work of first responders.” It didn’t mention the governor was out of state.

Like Perdue, the absence meant it took McCrory time to get to the storm damage. But McCrory traveled to the area Sunday for a tour that started at noon in Chocowinity. He spent the whole day visiting affected counties, getting plenty of media attention that didn’t mention the delay.

“The people in this part of the state are resilient,” McCrory said in a statement, pledging state support. “They will come back from this tragedy stronger than ever.”

Unlike Perdue, it appears McCrory managed to avoid the political storm. Then again, the Republican Party helped push the narrative against Perdue three years ago and the Democrats were missing in action this time.

*** Two big stories in the North Carolina Senate race are developing and a full political news roundup – below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

TODAY IN POLITICS: Gov. Pat McCrory is scheduled to make an economic development announcement in Mecklenburg County at 10:15 a.m. He later will attend a 2 p.m. dedication of a historical marker at the High Point Market.

#NCSEN ---

THE BIG STORY – STYLE DIFFERENCES DEFINE GOP SENATE CANDIDATES: One week before the Republican primary for U.S. Senate, the differences between the candidates appear subtle.

But a deeper look reveals fundamental differences among the candidates in approach and how they would address major policies, differences that offer voters a choice ahead of the May 6 vote.

The contrasts also hold broad implications for how the candidates, if they defeat incumbent Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan, would position themselves in a Washington increasingly polarized by ideology within the political parties as well as between them.


Thom Tillis, the state House speaker endorsed by top Republican leaders in Washington, describes himself as a “practical conservative,” matching at times his more ardent rivals in his positions even while he takes more nuanced stances and talks about working with Democrats.

Greg Brannon, a tea party favorite backed by Kentucky U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, communicates in more ideological terms, using firebrand language at times, citing strict adherence to the Constitution, and arguing that the federal government should have no role in education, gun control or wage standards.

Mark Harris, a Charlotte pastor, emphasizes a personal approach, touching the issues in broad strokes as he touts his character and values as what differentiates him from his rivals.

Heather Grant, a Wilkesboro nurse, fits a tea party mold but is struggling to keep pace with her better-funded and more organized rivals. Read more here.

WHERE THEY STAND: The GOP candidates on five major issues. Read more here.

CATERING TO GOP BASE, TILLIS SHIFTS EMPHASIS: For months, Republican Thom Tillis’ Senate campaign touted his accomplishments and focused his attacks on Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan, acting like a frontrunner with his eye on November.

Now, in the final days before the May 6 primary, Tillis is changing his strategy. Last week, he mailed a flier to voters that attacked his top GOP rival for not paying his property taxes on time. He also debuted a TV ad that trumpets his opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage.

Tillis hit the social conservative issues Saturday in his speech at the 2nd Congressional District GOP convention in Sanford. “We need a Congress that understands the sanctity of life, the sanctity of traditional values, the sanctity of traditional marriage,” he said.

The shift in approach is an uneasy transition for the House speaker, who is not a loud voice on social conservative issues compared to Brannon, a Cary obstetrician and tea party candidate who wants to outlaw abortion, and Mark Harris, a Charlotte pastor who helped lead the 2012 campaign to ban gay marriage. Read more here.

THIRD AND FINAL DEBATE MONDAY: UNC-TV will host the four leading candidates – Thom Tillis, Greg Brannon, Mark Harris and Heather Grant – for a final debate in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate.

BARRY SAUNDERS OFFERS THIS #NCSenDebate DRINKING GAME: Check this out: When you watch the televised debate between Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate nomination Monday night on UNC-TV, you can make it an interactive experience. You won’t need a ball to play this game, just a bottle. Of booze. Preferably 90 proof or stronger.

Here’s how you play boozeketball: Every time a candidate snarls one of those red-meat buzzwords, like “Obamacare” instead of the “Affordable Care Act,” you have to take a drink. It’s apparent that any candidate who calls the health care law by its proper name risks having his conservative credentials questioned, if not revoked. ...

The rules initially called for taking a shot whenever Brannon said the word “Constitution,” “constitutionalist” or any derivative thereof, but the rule had to be changed because otherwise, everybody would be on the floor, comatose, before opening statements were concluded. Read more here.

THE BIG PICTURE – NATIONAL AP STORY – IN N.C., GOP FIGHTS AGAINST PARTY CIVIL WAR: The feisty personalities and anti-establishment fervor that fed tea party challenges in recent Republican U.S. Senate primaries are largely missing this year, a troubling sign for Democrats who want the GOP to nominate candidates with limited appeal.

In North Carolina, a once-promising clash between an establishment Republican and two harder-right rivals has yet to catch fire, with the May 6 primary approaching. Longtime activists say they find little awareness, let alone excitement, among conservative voters, even though Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan is a top target in November.

Asked about Democrats who say North Carolina Republicans are fighting a “civil war,” former Guilford County GOP chairman Marcus Kindley said, “They wish.” ...

North Carolina’s Senate race fits that mold so far. At one of last week’s two televised GOP Senate debates, a tea party candidate and another from the Christian right barely made a dent in Thom Tillis, the establishment favorite.

Running their first campaigns, they seemed unable or unwilling to paint Tillis as too accommodating to Democrats. That allowed Tillis to minimize his differences with them. Read more here.

LOOKING AHEAD TO NOVEMBER – NYT – Why the Democrats’ turnout problem is worst in North Carolina: Senator Kay Hagan of North Carolina seems as if she should be part of the firewall in the Democrats’ bid to retain the Senate, considering that incumbents tend to win re-election in states that are competitive in presidential elections.

But Ms. Hagan is far more vulnerable than she appears at first glance. North Carolina might be the state where Democrats suffer the most from low midterm turnout. The state is divided between older, culturally Southern and conservative voters, and younger, more diverse and more liberal voters, especially around the Research Triangle and Charlotte.

In presidential elections, those two groups fight nearly to a draw. In midterm elections, when older voters turn out at much higher rates than younger ones, the Republicans have a big advantage. If Ms. Hagan cannot broaden her political appeal, it is not clear she can win a midterm election in North Carolina. Read more here.

THE OTHER DEBATE – From WRAL: The four Republicans widely seen as trailing in the eight-person field for the party’s U.S. Senate nomination took advantage of their only shot at statewide exposure to lay out their case for why voters should pick them in the May 6 primary.

Former Shelby mayor Ted Alexander, Alex Bradshaw, a computer programmer from Icard, Edward Kryn, a retired doctor from Clayton, and Lexington lawyer Jim Snyder took part in a debate hosted by WRAL News that aired Saturday evening. Read more here.

HEADLINE: Kay Hagan, Dems try to buy time before facing Thom Tillis. Read more here.

OPINION: Greg Brannon’s not-so-firm constitutional foundation. Read more here.

#NCPOL ---

2nd DISTRICT – VOTERS TORN: CLAY AIKEN OR KEITH CRISCO? Tami Kennedy is torn. The 57-year-old mother from Cary can’t decide which Democrat she favors in North Carolina’s 2nd Congressional District.

She likes Clay Aiken, the 35-year-old pop singer, because he speaks with conviction and is energetic. But she said he sometimes comes across as too young for the job.

She respects the resume of 70-year-old Keith Crisco, the state’s former commerce secretary. But after seeing him in person, Kennedy said Crisco may be too “dry and rehearsed” to fire up voters. Read more here.

THE 3rd DISTRICT – GRIFFIN LOOKS FOR TRACTION AGAINST FAMILAR JONES NAME: At the annual 3rd District Republican convention on April 12 in Havelock, (Taylor) Griffin said the National Journal’s rating showed that (U.S. Rep. Walter) Jones had voted with President Barack Obama more than any other Republican. He asked for a show of hands of convention delegates who had seen him or a surrogate from his campaign. Many hands went up. When he asked the same about Jones, only a few did.

Jones didn’t attend the convention. Before he knew the date, he said, he’d agreed to speak at the annual Down East Walk to Defeat ALS in Greenville. Even so, he won the convention’s straw vote with 54 percent, compared with 40 percent for Griffin and 7 percent for a third candidate, Albin “Big Al” Novinec. Read more here.

6th DISTRICT – SPIN ALERT, BERGER CLAIMS LEAD IN POLL: Rockingham District Attorney Phil Berger Jr. is just a few points shy of avoiding a runoff in a competitive GOP primary for an open House seat in North Carolina, according to an internal poll conducted for his campaign and provided first to CQ Roll Call. Read more here.

CHRISTENSEN: THE SAVVY OF COOPER, McCRORY: One of the cardinal rules of politics and public relations is that bad news should be released before a big holiday weekend, and good news is trumpeted when people are paying attention.

So the Easter week maneuverings of Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper and Republican Gov. Pat McCrory tell us something about the political savvy of the two political camps that are likely to face each other in the 2016 governor’s race. Read more here.

FILM INCENTIVES FOR REALITY SHOWS, WRESTLING MAY BE CUT: Film industry executives often point to high-budget motion pictures such as “Iron Man 3” and TV series such as Showtime’s “Homeland” as examples of projects the state tax incentives have lured here ... But reality-show episodes, late-night TV shows, commercials, documentaries and “sports entertainment” programs such as professional wrestling also are eligible for and get money back from their spending in North Carolina – at least for now.

Lawmakers will return to Raleigh May 14 to begin the year’s legislative session, and the film industry incentives program is expected to be among the most intensely debated issues. It cuts across political lines, with members from both parties supporting and opposing it. ...

Internal documents and interviews with film industry advocates and state officials indicate a strategy that would propose making changes to try to preserve the incentive, including making some types of productions ineligible for the credit.

Late-night shows, reality TV and wrestling would no longer qualify, according to draft proposals, but the incentives program would remain for larger-budget motion pictures, scripted TV series and pilots and commercials. Read more here.

ASHEVILLE RESTAURANTS STRUGGLE WITH NEW GUN LAW: Grass Roots North Carolina, a not-for-profit gun rights group, lays claim to a number of pro-gun initiatives, including helping to pass legislation enabling concealed handgun permit-holders to carry in parks and financial institutions and striking down legislation to require registering of private gun sales with the FBI.

Its latest effort, the “GRNC Safe Restaurant Project,” works to point the finger at restaurants that don’t allow weapons on-site by encouraging supporters to avoid those establishments – more than 130 statewide – and spread the word via social media. ...

Although Asheville is known as a left-leaning city, a walk through town reveals just a handful of signs dissuading concealed weapons. Read more here.


Patrick Cannon faces difficult defense in corruption case. Read more here.

Raleigh Mayor McFarlane snubs Art Pope's ribbon-cutting. Read more here.

U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry wants social program spending cut. Read more here.

Auto insurers propose another rate-making shift. Read more here.

With runoff in mind, 12th District candidates pony up. Read more here.

Super PAC Progressive Kick boosts Alma Adams in 12th District. Read more here.

McCrory discusses military issues, saving 440th. Read more here.