Tillis Claims Republican U.S. Senate Nomination

State House Speaker Thom Tillis beat out seven Republican challengers for the chance to take on U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan in the November general election.

Tillis avoided a run-off, receiving 46.13 percent of the vote. His closest competitor was OBGYN Dr. Greg Brannon of Cary, who tallied 32.66 percent, according to the North Carolina State Board of Elections.

Reverend Mark Harris, a Baptist minister from Charlotte, came in a distant third.

Hagan easily defeated two primary opponents to win the Democratic nomination to take on a possible second term.


Poll: N.C. Republican Primary For U.S. Senate Likely Headed For A Run-Off

We’re less than a month away from the May 6 primary election, and according to a new poll, the Republican race in the state for a seat in the United States Senate looks like it’s headed for a runoff.

Tom Jensen, of the left-leaning Public Policy Polling in Raleigh, said that North Carolina Speaker of the House, Thom Tillis, leads the GOP field with 18 percent of voters’ support, and his nearest competitor, OBGYN Greg Brannon, sits at 15 percent.

“Thirty-four percent of voters remain undecided, but Tillis would have to win about two-thirds of those undecideds in order to get to 40 percent. Unless something changes drastically, we are going to be headed to a second primary,” Jensen said.

This is somewhat surprising, Jensen said, considering that Tillis’ lead is so narrow in spite of having more name recognition than the rest of the Republican field. Sixty percent of voters know enough about Tillis to have formed an opinion, compared to 31 percent for Brannon, according to the poll.

“It is just a situation where his [Tillis’] campaign has not really caught fire with voters yet,” Jensen said. “Also, when we see so many voters undecided still, it shows that a lot of people just haven’t tuned into this race at all yet. But we could see more happen in these last four weeks than we did in the previous six months combined.”

The general election numbers remain stagnant, with incumbent Senator Kay Hagan receiving negative approval numbers. Forty-one percent of voters approve of the job she is doing compared to 48 percent who disapprove. This is the same trend that Jensen said he has observed since attack ads began airing in October concerning her connection with Obamacare.

Hagan also trails most of the Republican candidates by small margins, except for her most likely opponent, Tillis.

Jensen said the state Speaker of the House remains unpopular with voters due to his affiliation with the controversial 2013 legislative session.

“Republican [candidates], I think, in general would be favored against Hagan,” Jensen said. “But they may have sort of given her a life-line by running somebody else [Tillis] who is an unpopular politician against her, as opposed to somebody maybe outside the system.”

Similarly, Jensen said Hagan will have to overcome her association with Obamacare.

To see the full results from Public Policy Polling, click here.


Republican Senate Primary Tied In NC; Tillis’ Numbers Drop

A new poll finds that the North Carolina Republican primary in the race for the United States Senate is likely headed for a run-off unless one candidate breaks away in these final eight weeks before voters cast their ballots.

Tom Jensen, of Public Policy Polling in Raleigh, says that state House Speaker Thom Tillis, who was the front runner last month, has seen a drop in support. He’s now tied for the Republican Senate nomination with OBGYN Greg Brannon at 14 percent.

“That is a big change from a month ago when we had Tillis up 20 percent to 13 percent [from the closest challengers]. He has had kind of a rough month and with eight candidates, and all of them so closely bunched together, it is looking more and more likely that this is going to be headed for a run-off,” Jensen says.

Tillis drew some negative attention recently for his comments on Obamacare and the minimum wage. He said that he didn’t think there should be a minimum wage and expressed that “Obamacare is a great idea that can’t be paid for.’” Jensen says these views were not received favorably by Republican voters.

The general election picture for the Senate race continues to look like a toss-up as well, Jensen explains, with every potential match-up within two percentage points.

The poll shows a slight improvement for Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan compared to a month ago. She leads Tillis 45 percent to 43 percent. In February, she trailed in head-to-head comparisons with all of the Republicans challengers except one.

“Definitely the overall big picture is that this is one of the closest races in the country, and it could go either way.”

Jensen says Hagan’s current position is not unexpected and has been the case for the past five months.

“Hagan is in a situation where she is not that popular. Only 41 percent of voters approve of her; 51 percent disapprove,” Jensen says. “These are numbers where you really expect her to be trailing, but voters don’t really know the Republicans candidates yet. To the extent they do know them, they aren’t that popular. You really have a situation right now where voters aren’t particularly thrilled with any of their choices, and because of that, it is pretty evenly matched.”

The outcome of this race is one of four contests across the country that will determine which political party takes the majority in the United States Senate.


Do Proposed Changes In Poultry Inspections Address Contamination Concerns?

CHAPEL HILL – Fewer federal inspectors could be required in poultry processing plants soon if the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture approves the proposed change. Supporters of the regulation modification, including N.C. Senator Kay Hagan, have said that it will allow processing to speed up, increasing profits in an industry which already contributes nearly $13 billion to our state’s economy.

The proposed regulation seeks to transfer the responsibility of the inspections to employees of the chicken plant.

WCHL’s resident science expert Jeff Danner said that this change does not address the real contamination concerns. He said that 97 percent of the chicken breasts tested carried bacteria that could make you sick, according to a study conducted by Consumer Reports in December.

Currently, a chicken processing plant is required to have federal inspectors on site—as many as four. Each inspector can examine 35 birds a minute—that’s as many as 140 chickens per minute.

“The theory is that they [plant employees] will be able to do the same or an even better job of pulling out these damaged or contaminated birds by having more people, so now they will be allowed to process about 175 chickens,” Danner said.

An inspector is looking for three things, Danner explained: damage to the chickens, left over feathers, and/or feces.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture last updated chicken and poultry inspection standards in 1957. In a news release, Hagan said that under the new rule, plant employees will perform more quality assurance tasks, such as detecting visible carcass defects. She asserted that is would free up federal inspectors to focus on sanitation standards, blood testing, and antimicrobial controls throughout the entire production process.

However, this proposed change, Danner said, has very little to do with food safety from the perspective of a consumer.

“What they are looking at is just taking advantage of the capital that they have in place and their labor cost. It is the same equipment, the same building, and in theory, the same number of workers,” Danner said. “Their expenses are the same, but now they can spread those expenses over the 175 birds a minute instead of the 140 birds a minute. Their profit margin would go up in that circumstance.”

Another contributor to the contamination problem is that some bacteria found on chickens have become resistant to antibiotics.

“Big chicken plants use antibiotics from the day chickens are born. This is not intended to keep them well. The low-level use of antibiotics has been shown over many decades to help the chickens grow faster through some mechanisms that are not entirely understood. What this means is that all of those chickens have low-level doses of antibiotics within them all the time—so that gives the bacteria living with in them the chance to develop drug resistance.”

Danner added that after the chickens are slaughtered and inspected, the carcasses have to be chilled so that the meat doesn’t spoil. All of the chickens that pass the inspection are thrown into large vats of cold water.

Hundreds of carcasses are in the same pool of water, and that is how the bacteria are spread. This is another source of the contamination problem, according to Danner.

In Europe and Canada, he said chicken producers are converting to air rather than water coolers, which reduce the carcass-to-carcass-transfer of bacteria.


Race For US Senate: Tillis Widens Lead In Rep. Primary

CHAPEL HILL – North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis is leading his Republican primary opponents for the first time in the race for the United States Senate, according to a new poll.

Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling says that Tillis, the presumptive front runner of the Republican challengers, has distanced himself slightly and now leads the field with 19 percent of voters polled picking him. His closest challenger trails with 11 percent.

“Just last month, we found that all the candidates were pretty much within one or two points of each other, but after starting to run television ads last week, we are finally seeing Tillis get out ahead of the pack,” Jensen says.

Forty six percent of Republican primary voters are familiar with Tillis, Jensen explains, compared to less than 30 percent for his field of challengers which include physician Greg Brannon, nurse practitioner Heather Grant, and radio host Bill Flynn.

Tillis is now leading in every region of the state except the Triad, where Flynn is well-known for his radio show. Jensen says Tillis has the lead with both conservative and moderate voters.

In the North Carolina general election, Jensen says the race has been in a holding pattern over the last three months. Incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan is trailing her potential Republican opponents by small margins as she continues to suffer from poor approval ratings.

“Throughout the summer, we had found Kay Hagan up by a pretty substantial margin, but ever since the Obamacare stuff, this has really been looking like a 50-50 race.”

Jensen says Hagan’s affiliation and support of the Affordable Care Act is greatly impacting her approval rating.

“She has some of the lowest approval ratings she has had over her entire term,” Jensen says. “Only 39 percent of voters approve of the job Hagan is doing. Forty-nine percent disapprove. What is really interesting is when you look at those approval numbers, they mirror the approval numbers for Obamacare in North Carolina almost exactly.”

Only 38 percent of voters in the State support Obamacare, compared to 48 percent who are opposed.


President Obama To Announce Innovation Institute At NCSU Wed

RALEIGH – President Barack Obama will announce a new manufacturing innovation institute and address the economy in front of students and others at N.C.State’s Reynolds Coliseum Wednesday afternoon.

According to an Obama administration release, the President will announce N.C.State as the leader of six universities and 18 private-sector companies that will be a part of the “Next Generation Power Electronics Innovation Institute”. The institute will invest in manufacturing technology that can make chips and devices smaller and more efficient.

The Triangle’s economy continues to show positive signs as outlined in the unemployment rate of Orange, Durham, and Wake counties. All three were in the top seven in the state of lowest unemployment rates in November.

Five hundred tickets were handed out to NCSU students who will likely also hear President Obama speak in favor of U.S. Senator Kay Hagan. The North Carolina democrat says she will not make the trip to Raleigh because the senate is currently in session.

Tune in to WCHL in the 1:00 p.m. hour Wednesday to hear the President’s speech live from N.C.State’s campus. Carolina Connection’s Zach Mayo will be in attendance and will provide a report.


VP Biden To Visit Chapel Hill For Hagan Campaign

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Vice President Joe Biden is coming to Chapel Hill Friday to help raise campaign money for State Senator Kay Hagan.

The White House made the announcement on Tuesday.

Hagan seeks re-election next year. Vice President Biden had planned a trip to Durham last month, but that trip was cancelled due to the partial government shutdown.


Vice President Joe Biden Calls Chapel Hill Mayor

CHAPEL HILL – Shortly after Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt was easily re-elected to his third term last Tuesday, he received a surprise phone call of congratulations from the Vice President of the United States Joe Biden.

“I just picked it up and said hello, and I was greeted with a ‘Hello, this is Joe Biden,” said Kleinschmidt, a Democrat.

After leaving an election party, he received a call from an unknown number and thankfully answered it rather than letting it go to voice mail.

“I’ve participated in several campaigns over the years and never received a call like that one,” Kleinschmidt said.

Biden, considered likely to run in the 2016 presidential election, made several calls that evening to Democratic municipal election winners in Iowa, which holds the nation’s first caucus, and the battleground states of North Carolina and Pennsylvania, according to USA Today.

“We have a particularly well-tuned-in White House that understands that change is made by fostering and nurturing connections between all levels of government,” Kleinschmidt said.

The Vice President has pledged support for U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan as she seeks a second six-year term in 2014. North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis is one of several Republicans running for their party’s nomination to challenge her.

Kleinshmidt is among those who support Hagan.

“I told him [Biden] how excited I was to participate in the next election here in North Carolina next year and [for me to help] Senator Hagan get re-elected. He was glad to hear that.”

Republicans hold a super majority in the North Carolina House, Senate and Governor’s Mansion. Many local elected officials here in Orange County have voiced their opposition to legislation enacted by the General Assembly this past legislative term. Kleinschmidt said Biden offered praise for the progressivism that’s come to be attributed to this community.

“He responded by thanking [us] for the work we have been doing and acknowledging that places like Chapel Hill are where progress is being made in our country, and he was grateful that we were continuing to be committed to it.”

As far as offering endorsements for potential presidential nominees in the 2016 election, Kleinschmidt said he was inclined to support Hillary Clinton, though he said it was still early in the process.


Hagan To Get Help From VP Joe Biden In NC

RALEIGH – Vice President Joe Biden will visit North Carolina later this month in part to raise money for U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan’s re-election bid.

A Hagan spokeswoman confirmed Monday that Biden was scheduled to speak Oct. 21 at a luncheon at the Washington Duke Inn in Durham. Tickets range from $500 to $10,000. Proceeds go to a committee for Hagan, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and state Democratic Party. The News & Observer of Raleigh first reported Biden’s appearance.

Hagan is seeking a second six-year term in 2014. At least four Republicans are running for their party’s nomination to challenge her, including state House Speaker Thom Tillis.

Tillis is getting fundraising help from Karl Rove, the one-time strategist for President George W. Bush. He’ll be appearing at Tillis events next month.


Sen. Hagan “Very Frustrated” With Shutdown

WASHINGTON – Two and a half days have passed since non-essential government employees were told to stay home as congress can’t agree on a budget, and there are reportedly no signs of reaching an agreement any time soon.

WCHL’s Ron Stutts spoke with U.S. Senator Kay Hagan about the shutdown and the current mood in Washington.

***Listen To The Interview***