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Morning Memo: Hagan gets opponent; Records show deeper DHHS troubles

KAY HAGAN GETS A FEISTY CHALLENGER: All the attention is focused on the Republicans vying to replace Democrat Kay Hagan in the U.S. Senate. But Hagan, too, will face a primary challenger. The Fayetteville Observer reports that Fred Westphal, a retired educator from outside Fayetteville, plans to make a bid. And he’s mighty sure of his chances. "She doesn’t have a chance against me," Westphal, 76, told The Fayetteville Observer. "She won’t get the party nomination."

INTERNAL EMAILS SHED MORE LIGHT ON DHHS TROUBLES: The state agency overseeing the new computer system that sends money to health professionals treating poor patients downplayed problems with the software even as complaints rolled in to Gov. Pat McCrory’s office from doctors, dentists and medical equipment companies.

Correspondence obtained by The News & Observer from McCrory’s office show that complaints were flowing in from frustrated health care providers, with some appealing directly to his chief of staff and his lawyer, by the end of July. Those complaints were passed on to the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the system. On Aug. 5, DHHS sent out the news release "NCTracks is on Track."

***Read more from the DHHS records and get a full political news roundup below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

Marlowe Foster seeks runoff in Democratic labor commissioner race

The second-place finisher in the Democratic labor commissioner primary is asking for a runoff election.

With the formal request, Marlowe Foster will challenge John C. Brooks, the top vote-getter who is seeking a re-election to his former post. Brooks served from 1977 to 1993 as the state's labor commissioner. The three-way May primary didn't allow a candidate to receive more than 40 percent and win outright.

Amendment drives voters for the North Carolina polls

A much-debated constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage and civil unions kept a steady flow of voters streaming into polling places across North Carolina on Tuesday.

The referendum – which polls show is expected to easily pass – helped boost a low-profile primary election and set an early voting record with more than 500,000 votes cast before the polls opened at 6:30 a.m.

Click here for a continually updated election day story talking to voters at the polls.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate, 90, makes last-minute push

Dr. Bruce Blackmon, 90, is a Democratic candidate for governor -- and he doesn't want you to forget.

In one of the first signs of life from his campaign, he is running advertising on The News & Observer website -- often appearing on this political blog in a rotation (see right side of screen). The ad links to Blackmon's big plan: the creation of a state endowment using lottery money that he envisions would help reduce taxes. (Read to the end of this story to see why the plan likely wouldn't work.)

Weekend Roundup: Huge rural county early vote pushes marriage amendment

The amendment banning civil unions and same-sex marriage has spurred grass-roots action throughout the state and has helped drive early voters to the polls in record numbers. It has also revealed generational and urban-rural divisions.

Turnout for early voting is high in places such as Mitchell and Alexander counties, which have large Republican majorities and where the amendment is expected to win easily, and in Durham and Orange counties, heavily Democratic counties with a high concentration of younger voters, where it is expected to lose. Read more here -- and get a list of top 10 early vote counties and an age breakdown of voters.

More political headlines:

--Long after the controversy over President Obama’s birthplace seemed settled, some Republican congressional candidates in North Carolina have brought new attention to the issue as they seek advantages in hard-fought primary races.

Richard Hudson told a Tea Party group in Rowan County recently that “there’s no question President Obama is hiding something on his citizenship.” And Hudson, former campaign manager to GOP gubernatorial candidate Pat McCrory, isn't the only one.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill Faison in fender bender

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill Faison was in a minor automobile accident Friday night in Wake County, according to campaign manager Jeanne Miliken Bonds.

Neither Faison nor Bonds were hurt, in what Bonds called a “fender bender” that occurred on Highway 264 near Hodge Road.. She said they were returning from a campaign event in Greenville and had stopped by a relative's house in Knightdale to pick up campaign material.

He was issued a moving violation.

Notebook: A money and polling breakdown of the May 8 primary contests

UPDATED: With Tuesday's primary election days away, here's a horse-race primer breaking down the first-quarter contributions and recent survey results from Public Policy Polling, a liberal-leaning firm, and the Civitas Institute, a conservative group. (See full list by clicking Read More.)

First, a few observations: Public Policy Polling and Civitas reach pretty similar polling results, despite different political leanings, at least on horse-race surveys. The exceptions: the Democratic labor commissioner race and the Republican lieutenant governor's race.

The money leader in the each contest is winning except in the Democratic lieutenant governor's race (caveat, SEANC is essentially funding Linda Coleman's campaign) and the GOP primaries for state treasurer and secretary of state. And the down ballot races include huge (50 percent in most cases) portions of undecided voters. Expect runoffs in many of these races with crowded fields.

How Faison made his half million personal loan disappear

When state Rep. Bill Faison, a wealthy trial lawyer, was trying to get people to take his campaign seriously back in January, he told reporters that he had loaned his campaign $500,000.

But what he didn't say is that the campaign had repaid nearly all of the loans two days later,  according to a campaign finance report he filed this week.

On January 4th when Faison was mulling a Democratic primary challenge to Gov. Bev Perdue, Faison said he had loaned his campaign a half million dollars. At the time, Faison said the money would go to support Democrats but he refused to provide specifics.

Behind in the polls, Mansfield launches TV ad campaign

Democratic State Sen. Eric Mansfield launched a TV ad to boost his bid for lieutenant governor a week ahead of the May 8 primary. The kicker: "Help me change North Carolina."

A new Public Policy Polling survey shows Mansfield trailing his rival Linda Coleman with 43 percent of Democrats undecided. Coleman's support sits at 39 percent to Mansfield's 18 percent.

Walter Dalton continues surge, opens 10-point lead in Democratic governor's race

Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton opened a double-digit lead against rival Bob Etheridge in the Democratic primary for governor, according to the latest Public Policy Polling survey released Monday.

Dalton's 36 percent to Etheridge's 26 percent represents a huge surge in April. At the start of the month, Etheridge held a 10-point lead with many voters undecided. His advantage began to evaporate by mid-month as Dalton spent about $400,000 on a TV advertising campaign and appeared to win many of those uncommitted Democrats.

A week ago, polls showed Dalton and Etheridge in a dead heat (26 percent to 25 percent, respectively).

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