Poll: Hagan builds lead over Tillis in U.S. Senate contest

Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan’s edge over Republican N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis in North Carolina’s U.S. Senate contest has grown by 5 percentage points since last month, according to new numbers from Public Policy Polling (PPP).

The latest survey finds Hagan with a seven-point advantage over Tillis, 41-34 percent, while Libertarian candidate Sean Haugh garners 8 percent and 16 percent of voters are undecided.

When Haugh’s supporters are asked to choose between Hagan and Tillis, Hagan’s lead slips to just three points, 42-39 percent, with 19 percent unsure.

Neither Hagan nor Tillis are all that popular among North Carolina voters. Hagan’s approval rating is a net negative 10 percent, while Tillis’ is a net negative 23 percent.

However, Tillis is still less well known among voters than Hagan, with 29 percent unsure of their opinion of the Republican, compared to just 10 percent who are undecided in their views on Hagan. The gap could signal that a key component of both campaigns will be to define Tillis in the minds of voters between now and Election Day.

The relative unpopularity of the candidates may be tied to the institutions they are members of. The U.S. Congress is near rock-bottom in terms of approval ratings in most polls, while the new survey from PPP shows the N.C. General Assembly’s favorability at just 19 percent.

With the legislative session dragging on into mid-summer, the poll finds 50 percent of voters think it’s inappropriate for Tillis to attend fundraisers for his campaign even as lawmakers are still haggling over state budget adjustments.

A key component of that budget debate centers on raising salaries for North Carolina teachers. But the survey shows that a majority of voters – 54 percent – say the legislature is not making a “good faith effort” to follow through on the pledge to increase educator pay.

While the Hagan campaign will almost certainly try to make the contest a referendum on the Republican-controlled state legislature, the Tillis camp will likely try to make the campaign about national Democratic politics and President Barack Obama, who has a net negative 12 percent rating among North Carolina voters.

“The big question is whether the momentum toward Hagan over the last few months will stick once the legislature has gone home,” pollster Tom Jensen writes in his analysis of the survey results. “Last year Hagan saw her lead spike upwards during the summer, before crashing back to earth in the wake of the negative Obamacare fallout. But for now things have definitely trended in her direction.”

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Poll: Americans divided on their opinion of U.S. Supreme Court

A new poll from Gallup finds Americans increasingly polarized when it comes to their attitudes toward the nation’s highest court.

According to the survey, 47 percent of Americans approve of the job being done by the U.S. Supreme Court while 46 percent disapprove.

The poll shows approval among Republicans on the upswing, with 51 percent having a favorable view of the court, up from just 30 percent last year. Meanwhile, Democrats have a diminishing view of the court, with 44 percent disapproving of the justices’ work, down from 58 percent in 2013.

That shift in partisan attitudes toward the court comes after a series of rulings this year celebrated by conservatives and criticized by liberals, such as placing limits on buffer zones around abortion clinics and allowing closely held companies to refuse to include certain types of contraception in their employee healthcare plans.

Looking over Gallup’s 14-year tracking of public attitudes toward the court, Republican support reached a high of 80 percent in the wake of the Bush v. Gore decision that effectively ended the 2000 presidential election in favor of Republican George W. Bush.

Meanwhile, Democratic support for the Supreme Court rose to 68 percent after a decision upholding the Affordable Care Act in 2012.

“Controversial decisions since 2012 have resulted in dramatic changes in views of the court among Americans of different party affiliations,” Gallup’s Rebecca Riffkin writes in her analysis of the poll. “However, this term, nearly two-thirds of the court’s decisions were unanimous, in contrast to the 5-4 split in the two high-profile cases at the end. Americans’ current views more closely reflect the court’s own ideological divisions in these two recent decisions, rather than its bipartisan unanimity.”


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Walker defeats Berger for Republican nod in 6th congressional district runoff

Photo: Mark Walker campaign

Mark Walker won the Republican primary runoff in North Carolina’s 6th congressional district on Tuesday, soundly defeating Phil Berger, Jr., a district attorney and son of powerful N.C. Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, 60-40 percent in a low-turnout election.

The July runoff result was a reversal from the initial May primary when Berger led a crowded field of nine GOP candidates with 34 percent of the vote, followed by Walker at 25 percent. However, since Berger was unable to reach the 40 percent threshold needed to win the nomination outright, the race extended into a head-to-head matchup between those top two vote-getters.

Some 31,000 ballots were cast in the runoff contest, compared to the 44,000 votes seen in the May primary.

Once the race’s outcome became clear on Tuesday night, Berger conceded and quickly backed Walker, a Baptist minister, for the Republican-leaning seat currently held by retiring 15-term Rep. Howard Coble, who had endorsed Berger in the runoff. Democrat Laura Fjeld awaits Walker in the general election.

In other runoff races on Tuesday, Josh Brannon defeated Gardenia Henley 66-34 percent to claim the Democratic nomination in the 5th congressional district and the chance to take on incumbent Republican Rep. Virginia Foxx.

In the Democratic runoff for N.C. House District 23, Shelly Willingham appeared to edge out Rusty Holderness for the win, 52-48 percent. Willingham is virtually guaranteed to succeed retiring Rep. Joe Tolson given that no Republican candidate bothered to run in the heavily Democratic district.

And in Wake County, John Walter Bryant easily won the Republican runoff for district attorney over Jeff Cruden, 64-36 percent, and will face Democrat Lorrin Freeman in the November election.

Overall voter turnout in Tuesday’s runoff elections was an anemic 6 percent, down from the weak 16 percent seen in the May 6 primary, but higher than any “second primary” in North Carolina over the past decade, according to the State Board of Elections.

Full election results, including those in 15 other local contests around the state, can be seen here.

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

Polls open for runoff primary races in 37 counties

A handful of unresolved primary contests in 37 North Carolina counties are headed for a conclusion on Tuesday.

Two congressional races are among 19 elections from the May 6 primary that had no candidate taking at least 40 percent of the vote, leading to a head-to-head “second primary” between the top two vote-getters.

Perhaps the most closely watched race on Tuesday will be the Republican runoff in the 6th congressional district, where Phil Berger Jr. and Mark Walker are competing for the GOP nomination. Berger led the nine-candidate field in May with 34 percent of the vote, followed by Walker at 25 percent.

The winner here could be well-positioned to succeed the retiring 15-term Rep. Howard Coble in what is a Republican-leaning district. Democratic nominee Laura Fjeld awaits in the general election.

The Democratic nominee for the 5th congressional district will also be decided on Tuesday, with Gardenia Henley facing off against Josh Brannon for the chance to take on incumbent Republican Rep. Virginia Foxx. Brannon led the May primary with 33 percent of the vote to Henley’s 26 percent.

Meanwhile, Democrats in Martin and Edgecombe counties will decide their party’s nominee to replace retiring Rep. Joe Tolson in N.C. House District 23 with Shelly Willingham and Rusty Holderness facing off. The winner Tuesday is virtually guaranteed victory in November given that no Republican or Libertarian candidate bothered to enter the race in the heavily Democratic district.

Republicans in Wake County will decide their party’s pick for district attorney, as Jeff Cruden and John Walter Bryant square off. The two were neck and neck in the May vote, with Cruden taking 34 percent and Bryant 33 percent. The winner here will face Democrat Lorrin Freeman in a fall election.

Local runoff contests will also be held in Anson, Avery, Beaufort, Burke, Caldwell, Catawba, Cleveland, Henderson, Iredell, Jackson, Orange, Randolph, Robeson, Rutherford and Union counties.

Since these are partisan primary contests, registered Republicans can vote only Republican races, with the same being true respectively for Democratic voters.

Unaffiliated voters who cast a ballot in the May primary can vote only in that same party’s runoff contests, while unaffiliated voters who did not go to the polls in May can choose which party’s runoff primary to vote in on Tuesday.

Libertarian voters will not have an opportunity to vote on Tuesday, since their party does not have any runoff contests.

While turnout in the May primary was a weak 16 percent, voter participation in these runoff primaries are likely to be even lower. A 2012 primary runoff saw less than 5 percent turnout at the polls.

Polls will be open 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday.

Click here to find your polling place.

Check your voter registration status here.

Profiles on many of the candidates can be found at NCVoterGuide.org.

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July 1, 1971: North Carolina makes history by ratifying 26th Amendment, lowering voting age to 18

On this day in 1971, North Carolina became the pivotal 38th state to ratify the proposed 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, lowering the voting age nationwide from 21 to 18.

The effort to allow 18-year-olds to vote grew out of World War II, when many young adult Americans were sent off to foreign lands in defense of their nation. Thus arose the slogan “old enough to fight, old enough to vote.”

Notably, it was the former commander of those young soldiers, Dwight D. Eisenhower, who became the first sitting president to call for lowering the voting age to 18.

“For years our citizens between the ages of 18 and 21 have, in time of peril, been summoned to fight for America,” Eisenhower told Congress in his 1954 State of the Union Address. “They should participate in the political process that produces this fateful summons.”

A decade later, 18-year-olds were again being sent off to war, this time in Vietnam. An attempt was made by Congress to lower the voting age statutorily in 1970, but a U.S. Supreme Court decision struck down that law the same year, ruling that Congress had no constitutional power to regulate the minimum voting age in state elections.

In the wake of that court case came the 26th Amendment, which easily passed 94-0 in the U.S. Senate and 401-19 in the U.S. House, before being approved by the states in just three months – the swiftest ratification of a constitutional amendment in U.S. history.

Given that much of the momentum for lowering the minimum voting age was based on young Americans’ bravery and sacrifice on the battlefield, it seems especially fitting that North Carolina, with its large military population, would be the state to complete the ratification process and officially enshrine the 26th Amendment in the Constitution.

Upon signing the newly ratified amendment, President Richard Nixon said, “I sense that we can have confidence that America’s new voters, America’s young generation, will provide what America needs as we approach our 200th birthday, not just strength and not just wealth but the ‘Spirit of ’76,’ a spirit of moral courage, a spirit of high idealism in which we believe in the American dream, but in which we realize that the American dream can never be fulfilled until every American has an equal chance to fulfill it in his own life.”

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