Under the Dome

Morning Memo: Tillis launches another attack on Greg Brannon

In the final days of the GOP primary, Republican Thom Tillis is leveling new attacks on U.S. Senate rival Greg Brannon in a mailer that calls him “the Democrats’ candidate of choice.”

The mailer, first reported by the (Greensboro) News & Record, hits Brannon for a nearly $500,000 civil judgment after a jury found he misled two investors in a technology company he helped launch. The mailer includes a clip of the court papers from the case. Brannon is appealing.

“Greg Brannon talks a lot about honor and values and core principles. But while his opponents were filing to run for U.S. Senate he was sitting in a courtroom for defrauding investors in one of his failed businesses,” it says. “Greg Brannon doesn’t share our values, shouldn’t be trusted and he sure can’t defeat Kay Hagan in November.”

The bold language reads like the attacks Tillis and Democrats are trading in the race – not what Tillis is saying about his opponent in public. In fact, Tillis didn’t mention Brannon’s civil judgment once in three televised debates. (Rival Mark Harris brought it up in the Monday debate but didn’t name names.)

But it amplifies the first attacks Tillis launched a week earlier about Brannon in a mailer mentioning his property taxes.

Pulling it out now, at the 11th hour in the primary, suggests to Brannon’s camp that Tillis isn’t as confident about his lead as polls suggest. Brannon has attacked Tillis for months now and so have Democrats, who are airing attack ads on Tillis about the $20,000 taxpayer-funded severance package he gave two top legislative aides who resigned after admitting romantic affairs with lobbyists.

*** Get a glimpse at the Brannon campaign’s strategy and more North Carolina political news below in the Dome Morning Memo.

Also, start thinking about your primary election predictions – the Dome Election Pool is making a return. Look for it this weekend. ***

TODAY IN POLITICS: Gov. Pat McCrory did not issue a public calendar Friday.

On the campaign trail, Mark Harris will visit early voting locations in Lillington and Fayetteville on Friday, as well as a private fundraiser. Neither of the other two main candidates, Thom Tillis or Greg Brannon, announced public events.

THE BIG STORY – NC enrollments for subsidized health insurance top 357,000: The late rush of insurance enrollments under the Affordable Care Act elevates North Carolina to the fifth-highest slot in the nation, surpassing most expectations for the law’s first year of enrollment, particularly in a Republican-controlled state that did not run its own insurance exchange.

Enrollments here represent a third of the state population eligible for health insurance, and are expected to take a significant chunk out of North Carolina’s uninsured population, which was 17 percent in 2012. Almost all of North Carolina’s enrollments came with federal subsidies for the applicants, suggesting that many of those signing up had been unable to afford coverage in the past. ...

Nationwide, more than 8 million have signed up for insurance under the new law, with several states doubling their enrollment totals in the last weeks of the open enrollment period.

North Carolina’s surge boosted enrollments from about 200,000 in February to 357,584. The total represents the number of people who have selected a plan but haven’t necessarily taken the final step of submitting a payment.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield, the state’s biggest health insurer, next week plans to announce the total who have paid and are insured. The company in past months said some enrollees never make a payment, and their applications lapse. Read more here.

#NCSEN ---

GREG BRANNON IS RELYING ON HIS ARMY: Stacey McKown didn’t help a Republican candidate in 2012 but felt drawn to Brannon’s brand of conservative politics – one critics consider polarizing and detrimental to his electability.

“He’s a conservative,” she said outside the Cary polling location. “And I think we as a country need to go back to the conservative principles our country was founded on. We’ve gotten too far away from the Constitution, and that’s why we are seeing a decline in the country.”

More than the other GOP challengers, Brannon’s campaign is relying on activists and volunteers like McKown. From a dozen offices across the state, the campaign says hundreds are working polling locations and phone banks to turn out supporters.

FreedomWorks, a national tea party organizer based in Washington that endorsed Brannon, is helping to coordinate hundreds more who have distributed 70,000 door hangers, 22,000 yard signs and 4,000 bumper stickers to boost the campaign, spokeswoman Jackie Bodnar said.

WILL IT WORK? David McLennan, a political expert at William Peace University on Brannon’s core of support: “That’s a very small committed group – but they are small. They don’t represent the mainstream of the Republican Party.”

In his campaign, Brannon appeared to do little to reach beyond his base to the business community or even evangelical conservatives. “His message is very limited to tea partyers,” McLennan said. “This is not a winning strategy for him.” Read more here.

TILLIS VOTES, CAMPAIGNS IN CHARLOTTE: U.S. Senate candidate Thom Tillis can count on the support of Republicans such as John Ayers and his wife, Barbara – just not in the primary.

The couple cast their votes for Republican Greg Brannon at South Regional library Thursday, moments before Tillis walked in to cast his. “We feel that Tillis is the only one that can beat that gal,” said John Ayers, 83, referring to Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan.

“But today,” added his wife, “We want to show support for Greg Brannon.” Read more here.

THE BIG PICTURE – DOES THE TEA PARTY HAVE MUSCLE? The tea party movement, staggered by dwindling popularity and strong challenges from the Republican establishment, faces a series of crucial primary election tests over the next month – and its prospects look grim.

From Tuesday to June 3, Republican primaries in North Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky, Idaho and Mississippi will provide clues as to whether the grass-roots movement can regain the momentum that made it a major national force at the start of the decade. Read more here.

MORE BIG PICTURE – RUNOFFS COMPLICATE GOP PICTURE: AP – As Republicans try to win control of the Senate in the 2014 elections, they may be forced to confront runoffs in key states that could expose conservative-vs.-establishment rifts and allow relatively tiny numbers of voters to pick the nominees. ...

A runoff could be problematic for Tillis because he would be leading the state House of Representatives during a potentially contentious summer special session that starts in mid-May. Read more here.

ROB CHRISTENSEN: In a conversation with The Week, The N&O’s Rob Christensen broke down the N.C. political picture. Read the highlights here.

#NCPOL ---

DUKE ENERGY, STATE OFFICIALS TARGETED AT SHAREHOLDER MEETING: Duke Energy stockholders waded through a raucous carnival of protesters Thursday for an annual meeting that produced no major changes after three months of coal ash intrigue. Read more here. NOTE: Don’t miss the photo gallery. Rep. Tim Moffitt, Secretary John Skvarla, Gov. Pat McCrory all made cameos, sort of.

RELATED: The governor’s office confirmed Thursday that McCrory has sold his Duke stock. “As public records have shown since April 15, the governor is not a shareholder of Duke Energy,” communications director Josh Ellis said by email. “This eliminates the often repeated, ridiculous and false, partisan left-wing attacks challenging the intent of our decisions and policies.” Read more here.

McCRORY PUTS FOCUS ON DMV CHANGES: DMV touts the $6.7 million building (in Huntersville) as its “modern, state-of-the-art flagship office” that brings all DMV services under one roof and features self-service kiosks to cut wait times.

Drivers take their written exams on computers and can retrieve, via computer, any insurance or other document they may have forgotten to bring with them.

The building, which opened on April 7, includes driver’s-license, vehicle-registration and administrative-hearing areas. “It’s one-stop shopping,” McCrory said. “That’s exactly what we wanted.”

McCrory said his goal is for DMV offices statewide to resemble the Huntersville office, which also is one of 11 statewide with expanded weekday hours of 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and 8 a.m. to noon Saturdays.

DMV also soon plans to offer kiosks in grocery stores and malls as part of the governor’s push for more customer service. Read more here.

LABOR DEPARTMENT FACING QUESTIONS ABOUT RIDE INSPECTION: The state Labor Department is defending safety inspectors who failed to detect three separate instances of electronic tampering by operators of the Vortex thrill ride at last fall’s N.C. State Fair, where jumper wires were installed to override safety controls several days before five people were hurt when the ride malfunctioned.

“This is an isolated incident,” said Dolores Quesenberry, a department spokeswoman. “The inspectors did what they were supposed to be doing.”

The Labor Department’s report on the accident, released last week, shows that extra inspectors were on hand to scrutinize the Vortex, a ride that was making its first appearance on the State Fair midway. They paid attention to hydraulics, welding and mechanics while operators assembled the ride before the fair opened on Oct. 17.

But the inspectors did not scrutinize the electrical wiring inside control cabinets and a junction box. That’s where the tampering took place, according to the Labor Department report. Read more here.

THE WOODHOUSE BROTHERS: Family Split Over Politics Is Now on the Big Screen. Read more here.

PERSONNEL FILE: A North Carolina native who once served as controller of the United States has been named to a similar job in state government.

Gov. Pat McCrory announced Thursday he’s appointed Linda Morrison Combs as state controller. Combs will succeed David McCoy, who retired at the end of March following a state government career that included jobs as budget director and transportation secretary. Read more here.


Charlotte Motor Speedway may ask for state money for upgrades. Read more here.

Malcolm Graham targeted in 12th District race. Read more here.

Workers call for higher minimum wage in May Day protest. Read more here.

Watchdogs say two N.C. TV stations failed to follow political ad rules. Read more here.

2 N.C. schools on federal list of those under investigation for sexual assaults. Read more here.

N.C. Zoo wants state bond package to raise money. Read more here.