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Morning Memo: Hagan hires campaign manager, GOP '14 field unsettled

HAGAN HIRES FORMER REID AIDE AS CAMPAIGN MANAGER: The 2014 U.S. Senate race is taking shape with Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan hiring Preston Elliott as her campaign manager. Elliott most recently served in the same role to help U.S. Sen. Jon Tester win re-election in Montana, one of the closely watched races of the 2012 campaign cycle. In 2010, Elliott worked as coordinated campaign director for U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in his re-election effort, another high profile race. The big hire signals that Hagan expects a big fight in 2014. "He has a proven track record of success, and with his help and the help of North Carolinians of all walks of life, I expect to cross the finish line with a victory in November 2014," Hagan said in a statement.

WHO WILL HAGAN FACE?: A new Public Policy Polling survey -- set for release later Tuesday and obtained exclusively by Dome -- shows its a wide open race among Republican primary voters. Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest leads the field with 18 percent, according ot the Democratic polling firm. PPP added Forest's name to the potential field for the first time this month and he still managed to outpace Congresswoman Virginia Foxx (13 percent) and Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry (12 percent). The only announced candidate, tea partier Greg Brannon, gets 4 percent and at least a quarter of voters weren't decided on any of the nine names PPP tested. (More from the poll below.)

***Thanks for reading the Dome Morning Memo -- the source for North Carolina political news and analysis. Send news and tips to dome@newsobserver.com. Much more Memo below.***

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: The voter ID public hearing will take center stage today. The 4 p.m hearing is expected to run for hours -- likely until 9 p.m. It's all a venting session though -- because no bill has been presented yet. The House convenes at 1p.m. and a final vote is expected on a bill to curtail building inspection rules on homes. It is sponsored by Rep. Mike Hager, a Republican home builder. The N.C. Senate is According to The Hill, Senate Democrats pledged Monday to use the budget against Republicans in the mid-term elections. "The Ryan budget will be a gift that gives throughout the 2014 cycle for Democrats," pollster Geoff Garin said on a Monday call hosted by the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, according to The Hill.

BERGER FAVORABILITY UNDER WATER: Behind Berry, Congresswoman Renee Ellmers is the favorite among 10 percent of voters polled, the PPP survey showed. (Both are exploring running for the office.) But Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger's numbers are also interesting. The Eden Republican gets 8 percent but more Republican primary voters view him unfavorably than favorably. But compared to House Speaker Thom Tillis -- who is at 2 percent support -- Berger is ahead.

HAGAN'S TOUGH ROAD AHEAD: Of all the Republican opponents, Forest and Congressman Patrick McHenry present the toughest challenge at this point. In hypothetical head-to-head match ups, Hagan bests all Republicans, but those two sit the closest at 10 percent. Hagan's favorabilty is 42 percent, just above her 39 percent unfavorable rating. Another 19 percent remain uncertain, the PPP poll showed.

ELLIOTT ON THE RACE: The new campaign manager on taking the race: “North Carolina is a dynamic state, and Kay is using her moderate, commonsense approach to stand up every single day for North Carolina values in Washington,” Elliott said in a statement (before seeing the poll results). “Kay has never been afraid to do the difficult work of bridging the partisan divide when North Carolina’s best interests are on the line. I am excited to join her team as Campaign Manager, and I look forward to working with people across the state to talk about Kay’s strong record of getting results for North Carolina.”

WHAT ISSUE WILL DEMOCRATS USE IN 2014? Paul Ryan's plan to balance the budget in 10 years -- which is expected to be released today. Much like the 2012 presidential race, Ryan's ideas on how to curtail entitlement spending will get much attention. According to The Hill, Senate Democrats pledged Monday to use the budget against Republicans in the mid-term elections. "The Ryan budget will be a gift that gives throughout the 2014 cycle for Democrats," pollster Geoff Garin said on a Monday call hosted by the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, according to The Hill.

METLIFE FALLOUT IN CHARLOTTE: Saying they are not being given enough time and advance information to properly consider requests from companies seeking county incentives, some members of the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners are calling for changes to the process. Last week, in a closed-door session, commissioners were presented with a request for incentives to bring 1,300 MetLife jobs to Charlotte. Although commissioners gave preliminary approval to $1.9 million in incentives – a final vote could come in an open session April 2 – some commissioners lament that they first learned about the MetLife project on the night they voted. Full story here.

ICYMI: State GOP Chairman Robin Hayes won't seek another term. He told top Republicans the news in a conference call Monday.

The man and the sea: Gov. Pat McCrory and Transportation Secretary Tony Tata are tackling the issue of N.C. 12 on the coast. It's not an easy problem to fix.

BILL STARTS HOSPITAL FIGHT:Hospitals could face significantly more competition for routine surgeries under a bill that proponents say could save N.C. patients and taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. N.C. House Bill 177, sponsored by three Republicans, would make it easier for physicians to open same-day surgery centers, offices that typically charge far less than hospitals for outpatient procedures. ... The state employees association and the hospital association have turned to Twitter to debate the bill’s merits. “When the state employees union backs a GOP bill, there’s a problem. #defeat177,” tweeted Cody Hand, the hospital association’s deputy general counsel. “Your client/hospitals are trying to protect their price gouging of the taxpayers and patients,” responded Dana Cope, the employees association’s executive director.

150 CAMPAIGN REPORTS NOT FILED: The State Board of Elections is sending more than 150 letters to candidate, party, PAC and other committees that haven’t filed required fourth-quarter or year-end campaign finance reports for 2012, according to a report from Patrick Gannon of The Insider. Gannon said Kim Strach, the board’s deputy director for campaign reporting, couldn’t immediately provide names of the committees receiving the letters, but said at least one sitting General Assembly member’s committee is among them. Those who don’t file will be fined or risk being unable to receive contributions or spend money until the issues are addressed. More in today's Dome column.

OBAMA APPROVAL RATING HITS A LOW: If President Barack Obama had piled up political capital with his impressive re-election, it’s largely gone. His approval rating has dropped to the lowest level in more than a year, with more voters nationwide now turning thumbs down on his performance than thumbs up, according to a new McClatchy-Marist poll. The measure of how much people like him also has dropped.

He’s still vastly more popular than Congress, particularly congressional Republicans. But in the biggest political clash of the year – over the federal budget and how to curb deficits – voters split 44 percent to 42 percent between preferring Congress or Obama. At least some of the president’s fall to Earth lies in the fact that voters no longer see him in the context of an election. He has to stand alone in the eyes of voters again and doesn’t benefit from the comparison with Republican rival Mitt Romney.


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