Friday, November 21, 2014

In speaker's race, Leo Daughtry hopes second time's the charm

The last time Republican Rep. Leo Daughtry ran for N.C. House speaker, it precipitated one of the biggest legislative upheavals in state history.

Now the Smithfield lawyer is running again. He's one of six GOP lawmakers in a race that House Republicans will decide Saturday at a meeting in Asheboro.

In November 2002, Republicans had just won a slim, 61-59 majority in House elections. A split GOP caucus nominated Daughtry for speaker. Not everybody was happy.

Critics, led by GOP Rep. Richard Morgan, continued to criticize Daughtry while scheming with Democratic leader Jim Black. With the caucus still divided in late January, Daughtry stepped aside in the name of unity. Republicans chose veteran Republican George Holmes as would-be speaker.

But the bottom was falling out for Republicans. Rep. Michael Decker made a surprise party shift, giving Democrats one more vote. And Morgan cut a deal with Black that made them co-speakers and sparked a long-running feud within the Republican Party.

Turned out Black had given Decker cash, campaign contributions and favors to switch parties. Both would go to prison on federal corruption charges. Morgan became a pariah to many Republicans and lost his seat in a 2006 GOP primary.

Monday, November 17, 2014

White smoke for House Republicans Saturday?

Republican House members gather in Asheboro Saturday to pick a new leader, a process that one legislator compares to another celebrated conclave.

"It's like electing a Pope in the Sistine Chapel," says Rep. Charles Jeter, a Huntersville Republican. "You cast secret ballots. Nobody knows how you vote.

"The only thing is, we don't put up white smoke when we're done."

Six Republicans, including three from the greater Charlotte area, are running to replace GOP Speaker Thom Tillis, who was elected to the U.S. Senate. Republicans will meet at Randolph County Community College Saturday to nominate a candidate for speaker and elect other caucus leaders.

Running for speaker are Republican Reps. Tim Moore of Kings Mountain, John Blust of Greensboro, Justin Burr of Albemarle, Leo Daughtry of Smithfield,  Bryan Holloway of King and Mitchell Setzer of Catawba.

Like the cardinals in Rome, Republicans may have to go through several ballots before anyone gets the 38 votes needed. The winner would face a vote of the full House in January, though with 74 votes, a GOP candidate with broad party support will be the odds-on favorite.

Jeter is among other Republicans running for leadership positions. A candidate for GOP conference leader, a job that would give him oversight of the next elections, he's the only one running unopposed.

For Jeter, re-elected this month with 52.5 percent of the vote, that's welcome news.

"I'm certainly grateful that my election is unopposed," he says. "Being in a Democratic district where you're always going to be opposed, (it's nice) to finally be in an election unopposed."

Friday, October 17, 2014

New Spanish-language ad targets Tillis

My colleague Franco Ordonez reports that Republican U.S. Senate candidate Thom Tillis is the target of a new Spanish-language ad directed at North Carolina Latino voters.
The 30-second spot, that will be aired starting Friday, by liberal advocacy group People for the American Way says Tillis “doesn’t respect the values of our community.” It also targets his positions on education and minimum wage.

“Republicans like Thom Tillis keep blocking opportunities for us, and that kind of disrespect we will not allow!,” the ad states in Spanish.
Latino voters make up less than 2 percent of the electorate in North Carolina, but some experts say they could be the difference in the close race between Tillis, the Republican state House speaker, and Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan.
The ad makes no reference to immigration. Tillis opposes a path to citizenship for those in the country illegally, while Hagan supported a Senate bill that provided such a path. She, however, opposed efforts by President Obama to issue an executive order that would allow more undocumented immigrants to remain and work in the country legally.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Hagan stimulus money focus of new $1 million ad campaign

Freedom Partners Action Fund plans to launch a $1 million ad campaign targeting Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan over allegations that her family benefited from the 2009 stimulus program.

The group, funded by the conservative Koch brothers, announced the ad campaign Thursday.

The ad is the first broadcast response to a story first reported last month by Politico.

Politico cited public records in reporting that JDC Manufacturing, a company co-owned by Hagan's husband, Chip, got nearly $390,000 in grants and tax credits under the stimulus law, which Kay Hagan voted for.

Hagan's campaign said at the time that Hagan was not involved with the business and consulted an ethics attorney, who advised that there was no conflict of interest.

But the Freedom Partners' ad says, "The Hagans got richer and we paid the price."

Hagan spokeswoman Sadie Weiner says the family did not profit from the transaction.

"Speaker Tillis and his allies are desperate to say or do anything that will keep the focus off of his failed record in the General Assembly," Weiner said Thursday. "So now they are resorting to false attacks on Kay's family. Kay's only involvement was to seek the opinion of an ethics attorney who found it would be appropriate for her husband's company to receive these grants just like hundreds of other North Carolina companies did."

Caitlin Legacki, a spokeswoman for JDC, said the federal money was monitored by inspectors and auditors. "Kay Hagan had no role during any of this process,: she said. "Under no circumstances did JDC profit from these grants and any assertion otherwise is false."

A 12th District first? A Republican outraises the Democrat

Republican Vince Coakley did something no Republican has done before in the 12th Congressional District: Raise more money in a quarter than his Democratic opponent.

Coakley raised $172,000 in the third quarter to Democrat Alma Adams' $158,000, according to new reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. He also had more cash on hand at the end of September, $105,000 to Adams' $64,000.

Not that money is a big advantage in the district, which is overwhelmingly Democratic.

Adams, a state legislator from Greensboro, has raised more for the entire election: $666,000 to Coakley's $291,000. But she had a competitive primary.

Both are running for the seat held for two decades by Charlotte Democrat Mel Watt, who left to head the National Housing Finance Agency. Each of their names will actually appear on the ballot twice. Once to fill Watt's unexpired term and once for a full term.

Adams and Coakley, a Charlotte broadcaster, are about as far apart on issues as candidates can be. Both tapped national fundraising bases.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Guess who's not coming to the next Senate debate?

Four U.S. Senate candidates are expected to debate Friday night at UNC Charlotte. And none of them are named Kay Hagan or Thom Tillis.

Libertarian candidate Sean Haugh and three write-in candidates will appear at what's billed as an "all inclusive" debate sponsored by a group called Free the Vote North Carolina.

Hagan and Tillis were invited. Organizers never heard from Hagan; Tillis claimed a scheduling conflict.

It will be the second debate appearance for Haugh, who stood alongside the majority party candidates in Wilmington last week. It will be the first for write-in candidates Barry Gurney, John Rhodes and David Waddell.

Organizers say the debate is to show voters all their choices. That's what elections should be about, says Brian Irving, a spokesman for the Libertarian Party. "We have a democracy," he says, "All the choices available to (voters) should be allowed to speak.”

The event is trying to make a statement about a system that not only keeps some candidates out of debates but often off the ballot.

Some debate organizers, including media organizations, require a candidate to hit a certain polling number to participate. And North Carolina's ballot is notoriously hard to get on.

To get on the ballot, for example, a new political party or unaffiliated candidate has to submit petitions signed by 2 percent of the total number of votes cast in the last gubernatorial election. Now that's 89,366.

Last year a bi-partisan group of state House lawmakers introduced the Voter Freedom Act of 2013, a measure that would have launched a study of ways to ease ballot access. It passed the House 109-5 but went to the Senate Rules Committee where it died.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Republicans doubling down on Thom Tillis

With polls tightening in North Carolina's Senate race, the National Republican Senatorial Committee is betting another $6.5 million on Thom Tillis.

The NRSC is investing that much to help Tillis on top of the $3.9 million already committed.

The move comes as groups are making last-minute adjustments to their spending strategies three weeks before Election Day. A week before the new N.C. investment, the NRSC canceled $850,000 in ads on behalf of Michigan Senate candidate Terry Lynn Land.

The NRSC bump still leaves it behind its Democratic counterpart. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has spent over $16 million on behalf of Sen. Kay Hagan, and just announced another $1 million.

The NRSC investment comes as internal tracking polls and outside surveys show the race is tightening. Real Clear Politics shows Hagan with an average lead of 1.5 points, smaller than just a few days ago.

After getting pummeled in TV spending for months, Tillis and his allies pulled even and even a little ahead in mid-September, according to the Center for Public Integrity.

Lately they've been hitting Hagan with a series of ads that highlight the time she missed a Senate security hearing to attend a Park Avenue fundraiser.

"Even though Sen. Hagan has persistently led in the polls, it’s never been anywhere close to a lead too big to come back from," said Tom Jensen, director of Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling.

"For instance in 2008 we found her lead go from 3 points to 7 points just in the final week of the campaign. If Tillis could make a similar gain over the next 3 weeks that would be enough to erase the 3-4 point lead Hagan has in the polls right now. We’re finding that the overall national climate right now is trending in the GOP’s direction."


Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Can Sean Haugh make Senate candidates play nice?

Sean Haugh watched this week's U.S. Senate debate in a bar with the sound down, just the way he liked it.

“I have absolutely no interest whatsoever," he said shortly before Tuesday's debate. "One of the reasons I don't watch it it I already know what they re going to say."

But Thursday night the Durham Libertarian and pizza delivery man will join Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan and Republican Thom Tillis on the set of Wilmington's WECT studio for the third and probably last Senate debate.

Haugh doesn't plan to get into the personal attacks each of the main party candidates leveled on each other during their first two debates.

"I don’t feel any great need to talk about them" he said. "I think people are already familiar with all the reasons not to vote for them. They've done a good job of that."

In fact he thinks he might help change the tone.

"I hope my presence might help them play nice with each other,” he said.

Haugh has lingered in the single digits in most Senate polls. A USA Today/Suffolk University Poll released Wednesday had him at 4 percent. He had 7 percent in an NBC poll released Sunday.

So he could be a spoiler in what's expected to be a close race. But a spoiler for whom?

Conventional wisdom has been that he would take votes from Tillis. But an Elon University survey suggested just the opposite.

The online survey gave 763 voters a choice of a ballot with all three candidates and one with just Hagan and Tillis. It found that Haugh would siphon twice as many votes from Hagan as from Tillis.

Tillis, the survey directors concluded, "should be thankful that Haugh is on the ballot."