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Republican establishment gets its pick in North Carolina

BY Domenico Montanaro, Terence Burlij, Rachel Wellford and Simone Pathe  May 7, 2014 at 9:09 AM EDT
GOP Senate nominee Thom Tillis in Huntersville, N.C., Monday, the evening before North Carolina's primary election. Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

GOP Senate nominee Thom Tillis in Huntersville, N.C., Monday, the evening before North Carolina’s primary election. Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

The Morning Line

Today in the Morning Line:

  • North Carolina, a key seat for Senate control, is set
  • Tillis, Boehner beat back tea party challenges
  • A good night for incumbents
  • Clay Aiken up just 369 votes
  • Election night, by the numbers

Tillis clears 40 percent to set up race with Hagan: The wheels are in motion now, as the first fall fight card is set in North Carolina, one of the key states on the road to Senate control. It’s incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan against Republican state House Speaker Thom Tillis. DC Republicans are breathing a sigh of relief Wednesday as Tillis, their favored candidate, overcame two tea party challengers and surpassed the 40 percent threshold needed to move onto the general election without carrying on the primary for another two months. “It’s not the end of the primary; it’s really the beginning of the primary mission – it’s been our mission all along – to defeat Kay Hagan and make Harry Reid irrelevant,” Tillis told supporters in Charlotte Tuesday night. Tillis finished with 46 percent to 27 percent for Greg Brannon, a doctor backed by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. Evangelical pastor Mark Harris finished third with 18 percent.

Tar Heel toss-up: A New York Times/Kaiser poll released last month showed Hagan with a two-point lead in a head-to-head matchup against Tillis, although the Democrat received just 42 percent support in the survey. In a preview of how Hagan will likely attack Tillis going forward, her campaign Tuesday accused the Republican of “pushing a special interest agenda that has rigged the system against middle class families” by cutting public education funding and slashing unemployment insurance benefits. Updated numbers from CMAG show a whopping 20,000 political ad spots have run to this point in the race at the incredible cost of $18 million, the Washington Post reports. There’s going to be plenty more where that came from.

Power of the incumbency: While the establishment had a good night, so did incumbents. They went 36-for-36 Tuesday night. Just two incumbents got real scares — GOP Rep. Walter Jones in North Carolina, who survived yet another challenge with a six-point victory; and Ohio GOP Rep. Dave Joyce, who held off a tea party opponent by 10 points. Also in the Buckeye State, House Speaker John Boehner easily overcame his tea party challenge with 69 percent of the vote. That’s down from his 85 percent mark in the 2012 primary, and Boehner ran an ad for the first time in four years. In North Carolina, GOP Rep. Renee Ellmers won 59 percent to 41 percent, but not without some work. She attracted a strong challenge from the right because of her openness to considering immigration reform. Think about this: Her opponent, talk radio host Frank Roche, got 41 percent despite being severely underfunded. He raised just $23,000 compared to Ellmers’ $1 million. And in Indiana, all of the incumbents won easily despite 40 challengers on the ballot. It’s worth pointing out that Republicans were the ones facing the most primary challengers, which Brookings detailed. By the way, just how powerful is the incumbency in North Carolina? The last time a House incumbent has lost in the Tar Heel state was in 1956, per the University of Minnesota’s Smart Politics blog. That’s 299 consecutive wins.

Clay Aiken leads by just 369 votes: Former American Idol star Clay Aiken leads by just 369 votes out of 23,000 over former state Commerce Secretary Keith Frisco. Aiken is barely above the 40 percent threshold, as a third candidate, mental health counselor Toni Morris, picked up 20 percent of the vote. Aiken didn’t declare victory at a campaign party, but said, “We feel very confident. We feel very comfortable with what we are seeing tonight.” Crisco took the stage briefly and said the race was too close to call. Crisco outspent Aiken three-to-one, $750,000 to $210,000. Crisco was endorsed by much of the state Democratic establishment, but the Raleigh News & Observer notes that Aiken proved to be able to “articulate issues quickly” at meet-and-greets and “was generally regarded favorably – if unexpectedly.” Whoever prevails will be the underdog (and underfunded) against Ellmers in a district Mitt Romney won with 57 percent of the vote. In a favorable Democratic year, this would be a potentially competitive seat.

By the numbers:
- $18 million — spent on TV ads in North Carolina
- $12 million — spent against Kay Hagan by pro-Republican groups already
- $3.2 million — spent by pro-Democratic groups attacking Tillis before he was even the nominee
- $2.5 million — spent to push Tillis over the top by pro-Republican groups
- 250,000 — political ad spots run in Ohio in 2012 at this point, per CMAG
- $155,000 — is all that was spent to support Tillis tea party opponent Greg Brannon
- 20,000 — ads run in the North Carolina Senate race
- 2,700 — ad spots run in 2014 in Ohio
- 369 — number of votes Clay Aiken leads by in the NC-2 Democratic primary
- 299 — consecutive wins for House incumbents in North Carolina, dating back to 1956
- 69 — percent total for Speaker Boehner, down slightly from 85 percent in 2012
- 40 — challengers in Indiana
- 16 — percent voter turnout in both North Carolina and Ohio
- 0 — challengers upended any incumbents Tuesday

Quote of the day: “Oftentimes working with my Senate Republican colleagues reminds me of chasing one of these little pigs in a greased pig contest. Regardless of all of our efforts, any time we get close to making progress, it seems as though we watch it slip out of our hands.” — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., accusing Republicans of not living up to a deal on energy-efficiency legislation during floor remarks Tuesday. In response, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell slammed Reid for violating what he sees as historical protocols.

Daily Presidential Trivia: On this day in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson’s daughter, Eleanor, was married in the White House. How many weddings have been held at the White House?
Be the first to Tweet us the correct answer using #PoliticsTrivia, and you’ll get a Morning Line shout-out. No one guessed yesterday’s trivia correctly. The answer was: One, JFK is the only president to have won a Pulitzer Prize.

LINE ITEMS

  • In other primary news Tuesday, Ed FitzGerald secured his spot as the Democratic nominee for governor in Ohio, setting up a general election contest against Republican Gov. John Kasich in November.

  • President Obama heads to Arkansas Wednesday to view damage caused by recent tornadoes. Later he travels to Los Angeles to raise money for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

  • House Democratic leaders warned Speaker Boehner Tuesday about the partisan makeup of the select committee to investigate the September 2012 terrorist attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya.

  • Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway announced Tuesday that he will run for governor next year.

  • The Environmental Protection Agency’s assistant inspector general for investigations, Patrick Sullivan, is set to testify Wednesday at a congressional hearing about the actions of the agency’s Office of Homeland Security. The AP reports the EPA’s inspector general’s office has accused the department of “impeding its independent investigations into employee misconduct, computer security and external threats, including compelling employees involved in cases to sign non-disclosure agreements.”

  • Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., called Tuesday for the resignation of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki amid reports that as many as 40 veterans in Arizona may have died due to delays in treatment.

  • The Washington Post’s Ben Terris tags along with Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., on his unconventional listening tour.

  • The Daily Beast takes note of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s more confrontational approach and what it might mean for a potential 2016 presidential bid.

  • The Des Moines Register’s Jennifer Jacobs reports Jeb Bush will host a fundraiser for Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad in Coral Gables, Fla., later this month.

  • Bill Clinton will help New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen raise some money next month for her re-election bid this fall.

  • The Upshot’s Derek Willis investigates the activities of a mysterious GOP committee in the Virgin Islands.

  • In the first witness testimony before the New Jersey legislative committee investigating the George Washington Bridge lane closures, Christina Genovese Renna, a former deputy to Gov. Chris Christie’s former deputy chief of staff Bridget Anne Kelly, said it was unlikely Kelly was the architect of the plan to close the lanes.

  • During a radio interview Tuesday, New York GOP Rep. Michael Grimm, who is currently facing 20 federal criminal charges, told Geraldo Rivera, “I am one of the most — it is strange and it might sound bizarre — but I really am one of the luckiest members of Congress. And I say that because I have … salt of the earth people in my district.”

  • The White House is increasingly concerned about where their perspective shows up in Google searches. For the top hits on Benghazi, Obama senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer told the Washington Post, “Is it five things from Free Beacon and Breitbart? Or is it something from the New York Times or is it from the New Republic?”

  • Former ambassador to China and Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman says he’s “open” to another presidential run. He also calls the GOP’s stance on climate change “obtuse” in a New York Times op-ed, adding that the party isn’t “inspiring much confidence, especially among millennials.”

  • Keep an eye on the Rundown blog for breaking news throughout the day, our home page for show segments, and follow @NewsHour for the latest.

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Questions or comments? Email Domenico Montanaro at dmontanaro-at-newshour-dot-org or Terence Burlij at tburlij-at-newshour-dot-org.

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