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Pat McCrory strikes defiant tone against federal lawsuit, hires outside legal firm

UPDATED: Gov. Pat McCrory on Monday called the U.S. Justice Department's lawsuit against North Carolina’s voting law “overreach and without merit.”

“I firmly believe we’ve done the right thing. I believe this is good law. And I strongly disagree with the action that the attorney general has taken,” McCrory told reporters.

The governor, dressed more casually than normal after his visit to the N.C. Zoo earlier in the day, struck a defiant tone in his remarks. He cast the legal battle as a matter of state’s rights, saying he would “defend our right to have common sense laws right here in North Carolina.”

High Point University poll shows McCrory's approval falling 10 points

Gov. Pat McCrory's approval rating declined 10 points in six months, according to the latest High Point University poll released Monday.

The HPU poll found North Carolina resident put the Republican's approval rating at 39 percent -- equal to President Barack Obama. Another 42 percent disapprove of McCrory's handling of his job -- a 17 percent increase from six months ago -- with 19 percent unsure, HPU found. The poll, which has an approval rating of plus-or-minus 5 percent -- did not screen for registered voters or likely voters.

Morning Memo: What Pat McCrory and Bev Perdue have in common

SENATE OVERRIDE VOTE EXPECTED: The state House on Tuesday took little more than half an hour to override the governor’s vetoes of two bills, on immigration and drug-testing welfare recipients. The resurrected legislation now passes to the Senate, which will vote Wednesday morning and is expected to easily override. Gov. Pat McCrory lobbied House members to sustain the vetoes to little success -- but he didn't try a similiar effort with lawmakers in the Senate, a chamber that he has been at odds with for most of the legislative session.

HOW PAT McCRORY AND BEV PERDUE ARE ALIKE: From Catawba College political expert Michael Bitzer: "What appears to be constant between the two governors is the distaste by independent voters. While (former Gov. Bev) Perdue faired worse earlier than (Gov. Pat) McCrory has, they both have reached a similar point of nearly 50 percent disapproval among independent voters. While the Perdue-McCrory gap is pretty noticeable among independents expressing their disapproval, the convergence in August, after the dust of the legislative sessions had settled, is pretty striking." See his analysis of polling results and the one chart that tells the McCrory story.

***Read more on the override votes in the House and where the N.C. delegation stands on Syria below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

Morning Memo: Three strikes for HHS secretary; NC unemployment now nation's 3rd worst

THREE STRIKES FOR SECRETARY WOS: The controversy about high salaries for two inexperienced aides at the Department of Health and Human Services is only the latest trouble for Secretary Aldona Wos. (See more on the story below.) It's the third major controversy at the agency in the eight months since Wos, a major Republican donor and former physcian, took the helm. In February, Wos hired a director for the agency's childrens division who never took the job amid a firestorm of criticism. And in May, Wos blamed the state's decision not to expand Medicaid on the state's Democratic insurance commissioner -- not the Republican legislature and her boss, Gov. Pat McCrory. The distractions for the McCrory administration are related to communications and policy -- the two areas the high-paid staffers are charged with managing.

THE BIG STORY -- N.C. UNEMPLOYMENT NOW 3rd WORST IN THE NATION: The unemployment rate in North Carolina inched higher in July, the first uptick in the closely watched economic indicator since January. The state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate rose one-tenth of a percentage point to 8.9 percent last month, according to data released Monday by the state Department of Commerce’s Labor and Economic Analysis Division.

Although the jobless rate was seven-tenths of a percentage point lower than it was a year ago, North Carolina’s unemployment rate is tied with Rhode Island for the third-worst in the nation. Only Illinois, at 9.2 percent, and Nevada, where the unemployment rate is 9.5 percent, have higher unemployment rates. It represents a fall from fifth worst just a month ago.

***More on the state's unemployment rate and the latest DHHS controversy below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

McCrory's camp releases internal poll showing governor's approval at 48%

UPDATED: Pat McCrory's camp released internal poll numbers Wednesday showing his job approval rating at 48 percent -- a move designed to counter a different poll that shows the governor's stock declining.

The poll commissioned by Renew North Carolina Foundation, a private nonprofit extended from McCrory's 2012 campaign, gives the Republican governor a 26-point positive approval margin, with just 22 percent disapproving. His favorability rating is essentially the same at 49 favorable to 22 percent unfavorable, according to a portion of the poll released first to Dome. Another 29 percent were unsure. The margin of error for the poll is plus-or-minus 3.5 percent.

Earlier Wednesday, a new survey from Public Policy Polling showed McCrory's job approval rating at 39 percent with 51 percent disapproving -- his lowest numbers of his term and part of a sustained decline since he took office at the start of the year. The margin of error is 4 percent.

The poll asked the same question but the different numbers are likely attributed to methodology.

Morning Memo: Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer to attend Wake fundraiser

JAN BREWER TO ATTEND WAKE GOP FUNDRAISER: The Wake County Republican Party announced Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer will attend a Sept. 14 fundraiser in Raleigh for the local party's fall candidates. The announcement email includes the now infamous photo of Brewer, a Republican, wagging her finger upon meeting President Barack Obama at an airport tarmac. The top ticket for the fundraiser is a $5,000 VIP package and a single ticket is $75. The party expects the event to sell out.

THE MUMMIES RETURN: From columnist Rob Christensen-- "We have seen this before in North Carolina – the reign of the green-eyeshaded men who thought low taxes trumped all, and if there were any coins left in the till at the end of the day they would throw it into the education pot.

"It was called the 1800s. And Walter Hines Page had a name for them. He called North Carolina’s leaders “the mummies” as in very old, well-wrapped, very dead Egyptians because of their complacent conservatism." Read his full column here.

***Get more North Carolina political news below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

Morning Memo: Tillis dodges shutdown questions; McHenry pressed on Obamacare

TILLIS DODGES GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN QUESTION: Republican Thom Tillis is emphasizing his opposition to the federal health care law in his campaign for the U.S. Senate but at the same time he's avoiding answering some questions on the issue. A Democratic Party operative recently asked the Republican House speaker about whether he agrees with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and others who suggested shutting down government to defund the federal health care law.

While walking to a recent D.C. fundraiser, Tillis didn't offer a direct answer -- even though if elected he may face similar circumstance. "It's not my decision to make but anything we could do to slow down or eliminate Obamacare would be good for the nation," he said in a video posted online. (Watch above.)

Does Tillis agree with North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr that a shutdown is the "dumbest idea" ever? Again no answer. "I'm going to leave that to the duly elected senators but i think we can do to stop Sen. Hagan and President Obama from creating all the uncertainty and cost that comes with Obamacare it would be a good thing," he said. Expect both questions to return soon.

***See the Tillis video below in the Dome Morning Memo, along with another video from Republicans punking people at the "Moral Monday" rally.

Morning Memo: Abortion bill back on agenda; McCrory's misfire at Obama

ABORTION BILL IS 'CHRISTMAS IN JULY': The abortion bill resurfaces for discussion in the House on Tuesday after a vocal protest against it a day earlier. (More on Monday's demonstrations below.) So we know what critics say about the abortion bill, but what about supporters? Christian Action League's Rev. Mark Creech is asking proponents to "pray for Christmas in July." On the group's website, he writes: "In all my days, I have never seen a bill so full of good content. I have shared with my friends that the legislation is a veritable Christmas tree of beautiful lights and ornaments representing life, justice and other righteous principles. The only thing missing is the crowning star of final passage and the governor’s signature. For those of us who believe in faith, family, and freedom, this bill is Christmas in July."

McCRORY'S MISFIRE AT OBAMA: Gov. Pat McCrory sought to deflect blame for North Carolina's decision to curtail jobless benefits by pointing the finger Monday at President Barack Obama's administration. The problem is he pointed in the wrong direction. (Read more below.)

***Click below for details about the controversial abortion bill and more North Carolina political news and analysis in the Dome Morning Memo.***

Morning Memo: Abortion bill stirs opposition, puts McCrory, Tillis in tough spot

A TEXAS SHOW AT THE NC STATEHOUSE? The Senate's blind-sided rush to push a far-reaching measure to limit access to abortions Tuesday evening is stirring opposition groups. NARAL posted an alert on its Facebook page, telling its supporters to come to the Legislative Building on Wednesday morning “to let them know we are watching.” Within a few hours, more than 150 people had posted that they’d be traveling to the legislature Wednesday morning. Action NC also sent emails calling on supporters to pack the Senate gallery this morning. It's not likely to draw the 5,000-some who flooded the Texas legislature earlier this week to support Wendy Davis, but expect vocal opposition.

THE POLITICS OF THE ABORTION BILL: Beyond the policy, the politics of the abortion bill are fascinating. The Senate is doing a better job than Democrats putting House Speaker Thom Tillis and Gov. Pat McCrory in a tight spot on tough issues. McCrory said he doesn't support further limits to abortion. And Tillis is simultaneously attempting to prevent a serious challenge from his right in the GOP primary for U.S. Senate in 2014 while also setting sights on Democratic Kay Hagan. Even more than McCrory, what Tillis does with this legislation when it comes to his chamber is the key to watch. But right now it's like someone is trying to make it difficult on him.

***The House is vacationing but the Senate is making big headlines. Read more N.C. political news and analysis below in today's Dome Morning Memo.***

Morning Memo: From voting rights to marriage, N.C. eyes turn to SCOTUS

TODAY AT THE STATEHOUSE: The legislative pot is beginning to boil. A busy week with a lot of moving parts continues Wednesday. A House panel will consider a bill to allow nonprofits to have casino gambling events for fundraisers while a Senate committee considers changes to the state health plan that are being closely watched by the State Employees Association. Another House committee will debate a bill -- S638 -- that the Sierra Club warns would “declassify almost half North Carolina's wetlands overnight.”

Democratic lawmakers will hold a press conference at 10 a.m. to highlight the end of federal extended unemployment benefits July 1, a move prompted by a Republican-crafted bill to curtail benefits and lower the state's debt for paid claims. The N.C. NAACP will also press Gov. Pat McCrory's office this afternoon on a variety of issues as part of its continued effort to blunt the GOP legislative agenda.

The Senate calendar is full later in the day and the House will consider a massive overhaul of the state’s commerce agency with a bill that would privatize some job recruiting efforts and debate a bill about abortion education. Gov. Pat McCrory will hold an event this morning to sign the transportation funding bill, one of his early policy victories.

SCOTUS RULING PUSHES VOTER ID FORWARD: The U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the Voting Rights Act could have far-reaching effects in North Carolina – affecting everything from voting districts to voter ID legislation. The court effectively struck down a key part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Though it left intact Section 5, which gives the Justice Department special oversight over voting laws in some states, it nullified the formula on which that oversight is based. The ruling’s most immediate impact could be felt in the expected passage of a new voter ID requirement in North Carolina. “(It) should speed things along greatly,” Sen. Tom Apodaca said.

***More on the voter ID measure in a lengthy rundown of the action at the #NCGA below in the Dome Morning Memo. Send news and tips to dome@newsobserver.com.***

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