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: Tillis Widening Gap In N.C. Republican Senate Race

A new poll finds that that state House Speaker Thom Tillis has widened the gap between his opponents in the North Carolina Republican primary in the race for the United States Senate.

Tom Jensen of the left-leaning Public Policy Polling in Raleigh says that the latest numbers show that Tillis will likely avoid a run-off with forty-six percent of Republican voters indicating that they will vote for him on May 6.

That’s compared to 20 percent for his closest competitor, OBGYN Greg Brannon.

“We’ve really found that Thom Tillis has blown open the Republican Senate primary over the last month. The key thing for Tillis is to get to forty percent and avoid a run-off,” Jensen says. “With a week to go, he is in a pretty good position to do that.”

In March, a PPP poll found a drop in support for Tillis, who was then tied with Brannon at 14 percent.

In the following weeks, Tillis has had much more exposure to voters through campaign advertisements, and Jensen says that given the high number of undecideds for this primary, the added name recognition has contributed to additional support.

“We found that 80 percent of people who planned to vote in the primary have seen Tillis’ ads, but when it comes to Gregg Brannon and Mark Harris only about a quarter of voters say that they have seen their ads.”

Jensen says that Tillis has had to “tack pretty far to the right” in order to appeal to Republican primary voters, and it will be interesting to see how that stance will impact him in the coming months.

“There was a lot of question about whether Tom Tillis would be able to win over a Republican primary electorate that is this far to the right. It looks like he has won them over,” Jensen says. “The biggest question is whether this chance that he has had to take to do that will come back to bite him in the general election.”


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.


Gov. McCrory Announces Raise For Incoming Teachers

JAMESTOWN, NC – Governor Pat McCrory and other state leaders announced a plan Monday morning to increase starting teachers’ salaries nearly 14 percent in the next two years, but no immediate increase was mentioned for teaching professionals already in place.

This year, starting teacher pay will increase $2,200 to $33,000; next year an additional $2,000 will be added taking salaries to $35,000.

Supplemental pay for teachers who completed their coursework for their Master’s degrees has been extended up until July 1, 2013 as well.

However, there was no discussion of raising teachers’ salaries for those who are just getting their start.

The announcement to raise incoming teachers’ salaries $4,200 in the next two years was made at Gov. McCrory’s former high school, Ragsdale, with Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, Senate Leader Phil Berger, and House Speaker Thom Tillis in attendance.


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.


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.


Local Representatives Criticize State Budget

CHAPEL HILL – Over the weekend, your state’s House and Senate leaders met to reconcile the differences between their two budget proposals. Now with a settled budget that both House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate leader Phil Berger seem happy about, passage looks likely.

But Representative Verla Insko, who represents OrangeCounty in the General Assembly, says she opposes the new budget and feels its cuts will end up costing North Carolinians more in the future.

“I just disagree with the philosophy of austerity during a recession,” Insko says. “I think stimulus makes a lot more sense.”

Among the items in the budget are a reduction in sales tax-free periods and cuts to the estate tax, corporate tax and a new income tax that would put all citizens, regardless of income level, at the same tax rate.

“There’s very little evidence, some would say no evidence, that cutting taxes for the wealthiest people actually produces any new jobs,” Insko says. “What produces new jobs is having the middle class have enough money to be able to purchase goods and services.”

State Senator Ellie Kinnaird also opposes the budget, criticizing its cuts to public sector employees.

“There’s a particularly sensitive group, the Highway Patrol, that had been promised over the years that they would have a certain percentage of pay raise every year no matter what,” Kinnaird says. “And they’ve just gone back on that.”

Insko especially criticizes cuts to child and adult service programs, namely those that deal with mental health care. She says she feels these cuts are not only unnecessary, but that it cuts more than it lets on.

“There’s a hidden $20 million cut to mental health in this budget because last year, they made a $20 million appropriation non-recurring and they didn’t fund that this year, so there’s really a $35 million cut to mental health,” Insko says.

While the state budget gives additional funding to voucher programs to help low-income families pay for private or charters schools, it also eliminates teacher tenure. Insko says that tenure should have been “tinkered with,” but not done away with altogether.

“Teachers don’t make a whole lot anyway, and job security was one of the things that allowed us to keep people who could make a lot more money in another job,” Insko says.

Kinnaird even speaks out against the funding for vouchers and says they are part of a larger goal in the state’s budget.

“Because they’ve instituted a voucher plan for private schools, that reduces the average daily funds going to the public schools,” Kinnaird says. “It’s a concerted effort to really, I think, destroy our public schools.”

While Kinnaird says that she was surprised by the “boldness” of the General Assembly’s budget, she says the individual provisions themselves were all expected.

“We’ve known, right at the beginning, what they were going to target,” Kinnaird says. “There’s nothing there that’s a surprise to me.”

Insko and Kinnaird did add that they were happy to see compensation for victims of the state’s eugenics program. Insko was one of the co-sponsors of legislation in the House to authorize compensation for the victims.


Berger Still Not Ready To Decide On US Senate Bid

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – The Republican leader of the North Carolina state Senate says he should make a decision by the end of July about whether to enter the race to try to unseat Democratic U.S. Senator Kay Hagan.

Senator Phil Berger told reporters Tuesday about his potential timetable. The Eden attorney has been weighing a bid for several months. His counterpart in the House – Speaker Thom Tillis – already announced in May he would seek the Republican primary nomination.

Berger confirmed he spoke Tuesday morning with representatives of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which recruits candidates and usually gives financial support to primary victors.

Physician Greg Brannon of Cary is running in the GOP primary. The Rev. Mark Harris of Charlotte is considering getting in as well.