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Morning Memo: Harris to enter Senate race; Black Caucus wants DHHS inquiry

MARK HARRIS TO MAKE U.S. SENATE BID OFFICIAL: Rev. Mark Harris plans to tell supporters Thursday that he’s decided to enter the race for Republican U.S. Senate nomination early next month, party sources told the Charlotte Observer. Harris, pastor of Charlotte’s First Baptist Church and president of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, has been on a "listening tour" around the state.

He’s expected to announce Oct. 2. Harris would join a list of GOP candidates that include House Speaker Thom Tillis of Cornelius and Dr. Greg Brannon of Cary. The winner would face Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan.

WHERE CONGRESS STANDS ON SYRIA: An interactive graphic makes it easy to see where North Carolina’s congressional delegation -- and those in other states -- stand on the Syria question. Take a look here.

***Below in the Dome Morning Memo -- the latest on the DHHS salary controversy and state elections inquiry of a lawmaker’s campaign spending.***

Nate Silver rates McCrory as one of nation's most conservative guvs

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory is among the nation's more conservative Republican governors, according to Nate Silver, the political blogger and prognosticator for The New York Times.

In an article about the nation's 30 Republican governors, Silver attempts to measure them on their conservatism – no easy task since they don't have a voting record like members of Congress do. But Silver measures them based on public statements, the identity of their donors, and where applicable, their congressional voting record.

He rates McCrory as the ninth most conservative Republican. He is more conservative than Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Ohio Gov John Kasich, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, among others.

To McCrory's right are Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, and Idaho Gov. Butch Otter.

Silver is considered a numbers whiz. He correctly predicted the winner of all 50 states in last year's presidential race, and the winner in 31 of 33 Senate race. (He incorrectly predicted Republican victories in North Dakota and Montana that went Democratic.)

Morning Memo: Florida GOP governor takes N.C. Democrats approach

FLORIDA GOP GOV -- AN OBAMACARE HATER -- TAKES THE REP. INSKO APPROACH: That's right. Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican who first entered politics to fight the federal health care law, is proposing to take the money for Medicaid expansion for the first three years when Washington will pay the full cost. State Rep. Verla Insko, a Chapel Hill Democrat, proposed the same thing in North Carolina, but Republican lawmakers shot it down repeatedly. "That's just completely nonsensical and doesn't work," Republican Rep. Nelson Dollar said of Inkso's idea.

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: The House is taking it easy today. A skeletal session with no recorded votes -- none until Tuesday, in fact. The Senate will convene for action at noon. But most the action will take place in the Commerce Committee where the bill to speed up and incentivize fracking with get a hearing. Gov. Pat McCrory lists no public events on his schedule. He leaves this evening for Washington to attend the National Governors Association and Republican Governors Association winter meetings. Wonder if McCrory will talk to Scott and Ohio Gov. John Kasich about how their recent decisions to expand Medicaid?

***Good morning. Thanks for reading the Dome Morning Memo -- more N.C. political news below.***

One thing Nate Silver got wrong: Wake County

One thing Nate Silver got wrong on election night: Wake County.

"Almost all of Mr. Romney’s advantage can be explained by one county, Wake County, in North Carolina’s Research Triangle," wrote Nate Silver, the New York Times' superstar statistician, at 9:59 p.m. Tuesday.

The problem: Silver apparently didn't notice that the Wake County Board of Elections still hadn't posted early voting results hours after the polls closed. 

More presidential polls

American Research Group released a poll showing Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney leading President Barack Obama in North Carolina by 4 percentage points, 50 percent to 46 percent.

The poll of 600 likely voters was taken from Sept. 28-30 and has a 4 percentage point margin of error.

Meanwhile, statistician and New York Times blogger Nate Silver has moved the race in North Carolina back to "lean Romney" status. Silver briefly had the state favoring Obama.

NYT puts NC in the Obama camp for first time

New York Times political blogger and polling aggregator Nate Silver puts North Carolina as favoring President Barack Obama for the first time this year, based on what he calls a streak of stronger polling for the president here.

Still, Silver expects the numbers to shift by election day, and forecasts that Mitt Romney will edge him out in NC in November.

Silver's blog, FiveThirtyEight, gives Obama a 52.5 percent to 46.5 percent lead in the total U.S. popular vote, based on current measures. He forecasts the final vote at 51.5 percent versus 47.4 percent, giving Obama 319.3 electoral votes and Romney 218.7.

Should the Obama camp pull out of North Carolina?

Despite the presidential visits and big ad spending, FiveThirtyEight blogger Nate Silver at The New York Times makes the case that "North Carolina just isn't that important to the electoral math."

His statistical models suggest Obama has just a one in three chance of winning the state in November. Silver suggests Democrats and Republicans are making "an analytical error" in focusing so keenly on North Carolina, which he rates the 13th most important state in this year's election.

"The most important states in the electoral math are not those that are closest in an absolute sense, but rather those that are closest to the national average," he writes.

Silver uses his data to make the case that Democrats and Republicans will likely abandon North Carolina later in the campaign season: "We aren’t likely to see either campaign pull out of the state before the Democratic convention in early September — but unless the polls in North Carolina begin to show leads for Mr. Obama on a more consistent basis, it will probably be among the first on the chopping block." 

Blog sees Burr seat seen as vulnerable

The FiveThirtyEight blog ranks Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Burr's seat as the 11th most likely to change parties in next year's Senate elections.

The blog, which analyzes polling data, reports that Republicans are now more likely to gain seats than lose seats in next year's elections. Burr's seat ranks 11 of 15 on the blog's August ranking in likelihood that it would change party. That's an improvement for Burr, whose seat was listed by the blog as seventh most likely to change parties in May. 

Citing analysis by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling, FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver says that Burr's low-name recognition and low approval numbers suggest that his chances will depend on whether the election is an anti-incumbent year. 

That may be especially true since the Democrats are still scrambling to find a credible challenger to Burr. Rob Christensen reports that Democrats are "going through an awkward dance to find a candidate to go toe-to-toe with Burr in 2010."

"There is a vacuum," said Gary Pearce, a veteran Democratic strategist in Raleigh. "Nobody has really stepped in to fill it, nobody with the name or the money or the backing to put an end to all of this."

So the list of potential Democratic candidates continues to grow. There are little-known figures such as former state Sen. Cal Cunningham of Lexington, Durham lawyer Kenneth Lewis and Chapel Hill Mayor Kevin Foy who seem eager to jump into the race.

And there are potential candidates who are better known, but seem less sure. They include U.S. Rep. Bob Etheridge of Lillington, former Lt. Gov. Dennis Wicker of Sanford, and Secretary of State Elaine Marshall of Lillington.

Quick Hits

* Former U.S. Sen. John Edwards' troubles had a silver lining: Book pre-sales for wife Elizabeth shot up on Amazon.

* Capitol Monitor starts its own Web site on state stimulus money, including this handy chart tracking spending and potential conflicts.

* Liberal polling guru Nate Silver says Sen. Richard Burr's seat is seventh most likely to flip in the 2010 elections.

* A different kind of sexting: North Carolina teen-agers send text messages to Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Campaign, get answers.

Quick Hits

* Democratic number-cruncher Nate Silver ranks first-term Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Burr's seat eighth most likely to change parties in 2010.

* Greensboro News-Record columnist Doug Clark says that he's not sympathetic to a bill for four-year terms for legislators, given their gerrymandered districts.

* N&O columnist Ruth Sheehan makes schools Superintendent June Atkinson cry, learns she didn't know about power grab until it was a fait accompli.

* U.S. Rep. Heath Shuler dings Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill for not getting bipartisan agreement on stimulus package; praises President Obama for listening.

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