GOP harmony abounds at 2nd U.S. Senate primary debate

Image courtesy WRAL

The four leading candidates in the Republican U.S. Senate primary were largely in agreement during a half-hour debate at the studio of WRAL-TV in Raleigh on Wednesday night.

As moderator David Crabtree posed questions, and tried to pry more specific answers from the candidates, the GOP contenders varied little when it came to their views on the Affordable Care Act, illegal immigration, the economy and climate change.

“The Affordable Care Act is a disaster,” N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis said. He called for repeal of the law, while touting Republican plans to reduce health-care costs through increased competition by allowing citizens to purchase insurance across state lines.

Heather Grant, a nurse from Wilkes County, also said she wanted to repeal the health-care law, while proposing state-base regulations to allow patients with preexisting conditions to receive coverage.

“There is no federal function for health care,” Wake County physician Greg Brannon said. He said Congress should de-fund the Affordable Care Act and echoed Tillis’ argument of increasing competition among insurance providers.

Charlotte pastor Mark Harris also expressed opposition to the federal health-care law and called for its repeal. “Expand health savings accounts, allow folks to purchase their insurance across state lines, put an end to the frivolous lawsuits,” Harris said in response to Crabtree asking how he would help Americans obtain health insurance without the Affordable Care Act.

The candidates were also generally unified in their opposition to illegal immigration.

“For me, the people who have crossed into this country without due process have committed a criminal act, they are criminals,” Grant said. “We should not reward them in any way, shape, form or fashion. If they are caught, we deport them.”

“I don’t believe that I have yet sensed in our country the political or moral will to round up 12 million, if that’s the number that you choose to say, and to send them in one fell swoop and deport them,” Harris said. “However, there is really no other conversation to have about immigration until you, number one, secure the boarder, but then number two, enforce the laws we currently have in place.”

Also on Wednesday night, the candidates were able to give a fuller response than they had at the first televised debate the evening previous at which each said a simple “no” after being asked if they believe in man-made global warming.

At the WRAL debate, all four conceded that climate change is occurring but expressed skepticism that humans contribute to the phenomenon.

Tillis accused incumbent Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan and President Barack Obama of using the issue of climate change as a “Trojan horse for their energy policy.”

“They’ve got a war on coal, they’ve got a war on traditional energy,” Tillis said. “And they’re trying to use it as a tool, I think, to put fear in people so that they can weaken our position internationally, weaken and reduce our options for reducing the costs of energy, which damages jobs and causes a whole list of problems out of this false science.”

“Climate changes everyday. Does a human being affect it? The answer is no. The literature is so clear on this,” Brannon said. “When you and I were kids Time magazine said it was our new ice age, 15 years later, now we’re over heating. It’s a way to control carbon, and David, you and I are made out of carbon.”

Unlike the debate on Tuesday night, Brannon refrained from attacking the frontrunner Tillis during the WRAL debate, instead focusing on his belief in constitutional limits to the role of the federal government.

For his part, Tillis turned most of his responses into criticisms of Hagan, including his closing statement.

“I’m running for the United States Senate because Kay Hagan has failed the citizens of North Carolina,” Tillis said. “She failed the citizens of North Carolina when she was in the state Senate, and for the last three years I’ve been cleaning up her mess.”

Hagan’s campaign was quick to respond to the attacks from Tillis, releasing a statement just minutes after the debate concluded.

“No matter which Republican emerges, it will be a candidate that supports the special-interest agenda that has already proven to be disastrous for middle-class families under Thom Tillis’ watch in Raleigh,” Sadie Weiner, the Hagan campaign’s communications director, said.  “This election is a clear contrast between Kay’s record of fighting for North Carolina families and Republican candidates who are bought and paid for by special interests.”

It remains to be seen what, if any, impact Wednesday night’s debate will have on the crowded Republican field, which includes four other candidates not invited to participate based on their low polling numbers. A survey released by Time Warner Cable News found that viewers who tuned in for its Tuesday night debate said there was no clear winner.

Early voting for the May 6 primary kicks off Thursday across North Carolina. A third and final Republican senatorial debate will be broadcast by UNC-TV on Monday.

The complete Wednesday night debate can be seen at

Posted in Election 2014, N.C. primary, North Carolina, primaries, U.S. Senate | Leave a comment

Poll: No clear winner in first GOP Senate debate

A survey in the wake of Tuesday night’s first Republican U.S. Senate debate finds none of the four candidates scoring a decisive victory.

According to the SurveyUSA poll commissioned by debate host Time Warner Cable News, 51 percent of viewers said there was no clear winner in the meeting. Among respondents who did name a debate victor, 21 percent said N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis carried the night, followed by physician Greg Brannon at 15 percent, nurse Heather Grant at 7 percent and pastor Mark Harris at 6 percent.

With early voting for the May 6 primary kicking off Thursday, the initial debate seemed to do little to change the minds of viewers.  Tillis saw his support slightly dip by 2 percentage points – from 51 percent to 49 percent – among Republican-leaning debate-watchers. Harris had the largest decline, falling from 21 percent support before the debate to 13 percent after. Grant’s support dropped one percentage point from 10 percent before the telecast.

Brannon, who repeatedly took swipes at the frontrunner Tillis during the broadcast, had the biggest boost among this group of viewers, rising from 18 percent to 26 percent support.

The same four candidates met again Wednesday night for a debate hosted by WRAL-TV in Raleigh. A final debate will be broadcast statewide by UNC-TV on Monday.

With the primary fight now in its homestretch, recent polls show Tillis with an edge over the total eight-candidate field, but with a plurality of likely Republican voters still unsure of which contender they will support for the party’s nomination against incumbent Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan.

If no candidate can win at least 40 percent of the primary vote, the top two vote-getters will move on to a July runoff.

Posted in Election 2014, N.C. primary, North Carolina, Polls, U.S. Senate | Leave a comment

U.S. Supreme Court tosses overall cap on campaign contributions, keeps individual limits

In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that caps on aggregate campaign contributions are unconstitutional, but left in place limits on individual donations to candidates.

At question in the case of McCutcheon v. FEC were overall limits on giving to candidates, political action committees and parties.

Those caps were put into place in the wake of the Watergate scandal and as of 2013 limited donors to a grand total of $123,200 in contributions over a two-year period, including a ceiling of $48,600 to federal candidates and a $74,600 maximum on contributions to parties and PACs. That would mean a donor could give the maximum $2,600 individual contribution to 18 congressional candidates before hitting the limit.

Under Wednesday’s ruling, donors can now give up to the maximum $2,600 individual contribution to as many federal candidates as they choose.

Chief Justice John Roberts, backed by three other Republican-appointed justices, wrote the majority opinion in the case.

Roberts acknowledged that “Congress may regulate campaign contributions to protect against corruption or the appearance of corruption” and that “money in politics may at times seem repugnant,” but argued “the aggregate limits do little, if anything, to address (quid pro quo corruption), while seriously restricting participation in the democratic process.”

Justice Clarence Thomas, also appointed by a Republican president, joined Roberts in the majority, but produced his own opinion in which he said he would have gone even further and done away with limits on campaign contributions entirely.

Justice Stephen Breyer issued a highly critical dissenting opinion on behalf of himself and the three other members appointed by Democratic presidents, saying the majority decision “eviscerates our nation’s campaign finance laws, leaving a remnant incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy that those laws were intended to resolve.”

Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a chief sponsor of the landmark Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, said he was disappointed by the case’s outcome.

“I predict that as a result of recent court decisions, there will be scandals involving corrupt public officials and unlimited, anonymous campaign contributions that will force the system to be reformed once again,” McCain said.

However, Republican U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who had filed a brief with the court in support of doing away with aggregate contribution limits, said the ruling “reminded Congress that Americans have a constitutional First Amendment right to speak and associate with political candidates and parties of their choice.”

Campaign-finance reform advocates expressed dismay over the ruling, saying it echoed the court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which struck down limits on independent spending by corporations in elections.

“Today’s decision in McCutcheon v. FEC is Citizens United round two, further opening the floodgates for the nation’s wealthiest few to drown out the voices of the rest of us,” said Miles Rapoport, president of Common Cause.

Full audio of oral arguments in the McCutcheon case, held in October of last year, can be heard below, courtesy of

(Click here for MP3 audio version)


Read the full text of the McCutcheon decision, including Breyer’s dissent

The Washington Post offers a look at the winners and losers in the McCutcheon decision

Posted in courts | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Chart: Voter turnout in North Carolina (primary vs. general elections)

Today’s fun with charts and graphs features a look at voter turnout in North Carolina:

The low turnout in primary elections may reflect a more intensely engaged (and more intensely ideological) segment of voters going to the polls than what candidates face in higher-turnout general elections.

This leads to the delicate dance that many contenders engage in to court their party’s base for the more insular primary, then shifting to the middle for the general election’s wider audience, with its growing segment of independent voters.

Unsurprisingly, turnout is stronger in years with a presidential election, given that the round-the-clock media coverage of the race for the White House raises voter awareness with a power not matched in non-presidential years.

The 2014 election may be unlikely to reach the 68 percent turnout seen in the 2012 presidential contest. But given a high-profile U.S. Senate race, along with deep antipathy felt among Republican voters toward the Affordable Care Act and profound dislike of the GOP-led legislature on the part of Democratic voters, this year could very well exceed the 44 percent turnout seen in the last mid-term election of 2010.

More fun with charts and graphs:

Snapshot: A look at who has received free voter IDs in N.C.

Could you afford to serve in the N.C. legislature?

Posted in Election 2014 | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Snapshot: A look at who has received free voter IDs in N.C.

Some 260 North Carolina voters in 56 counties have thus far received free voter IDs from the DMV.

Under a law passed last year by the N.C. General Assembly, voters will need to show a photo ID when casting a ballot beginning in 2016.  While that requirement doesn’t begin for two more years, voters who do not have valid identification can already receive one at no cost from a DMV office.

Here is a quick look at who has received a free ID from Jan. 1 through Mar. 20:

According to data from the State Board of Elections, 55 percent of voter ID recipients thus far have been Democrats, followed by independent voters at 31 percent, Republicans at 12 percent and Libertarians at 2 percent.

The vast majority of ID recipients – 87 percent – have also taken the opportunity  to register to vote when requesting identification, compared to 12 percent that were already registered.

Men outpace women in requesting free IDs, 60-40 percent. African-American voters make up 62 percent of those who have received an ID, with white voters comprising 35 percent.

Voters 46-65 have been more likely to request a free ID than other age groups, at 40 percent, followed by voters age 18-29 at 34 percent.

Guildford County has had the largest share of voters receiving free IDs at 13 percent, with Mecklenburg and Forsyth counties at 9 percent and 8 percent, respectively.

While North Carolinians will not be required to show a photo ID until 2016, this year poll workers will inform voters of the upcoming requirement, which might spur an increase in requests for free ID cards from the DMV.

Posted in Election 2014 | Tagged | Leave a comment