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Morning Memo: Cooper's unofficial debut; peek inside GOP voters' minds

ROY COOPER'S DEBUT: Attorney General Roy Cooper is the featured speaker Saturday morning at the N.C. Democratic Party's Western Gala. The speech at the women's breakfast will serve as his unofficial debut in the 2016 governor's race. In recent weeks, Cooper has made his intentions to run clear and the event will give him a platform to begin gathering Democratic support as other party challengers emerge. Later in the evening, U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan and R.T. Rybak, the vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee, will speak at the party fundraiser.

***A must-read analysis of Republicans and its potential impact on the N.C. Senate race below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

Morning Memo: Harris stakes his ground; GOP lawmaker presses McCrory

HARRIS DECLARES HE'S THE SOCIAL CONSERVATIVE IN THE RACE: The Rev. Mark Harris, a leading social conservative, entered the North Carolina Senate race Wednesday, setting up a potential insider/outsider GOP primary showdown next May with House Speaker Thom Tillis.

Harris, the outgoing president of the state Baptist Convention, said he would campaign as a staunch advocate for lowering taxes, reducing government, ending Obamacare and protecting gun rights, that he would back measures that he believes would improve “traditional moral values.” Read more here.

GOP SENATOR SAYS McCRORY ADMINISTRATION IS BREAKING THE LAW: A high-ranking Republican state senator said Wednesday that Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration is flouting the law. Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, complained that McCrory hasn’t named an independent Unemployment Review Board to review decisions on unemployment benefits made by the state Division of Employment Security. Rucho’s remarks came during a legislative committee meeting where lawmakers were questioning Dale Folwell, the agency’s head. Read more here.

***Read more on the Harris announcement and a North Carolina political roundup below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

DC pundit: Tillis 'should be a formidable general-election candidate'

A leading Washington political prognosticator is saying Republican Thom Tillis "should be a formidable general-election candidate." Stuart Rothenberg took a look at the N.C. House speaker's candidacy in the context of interview three other Senate candidates recently.

He writes: At the other end of the spectrum (from the tea party) is Thom Tillis, the speaker of the North Carolina House and the early favorite for the GOP Senate nomination against Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan.

Morning Memo: Rove to raise money for Tillis; Harris plans statewide tour

GOP strategist Karl Rove will headline a series of fundraising events for U.S. Senate candidate Thom Tillis in mid-November, an aide to the former Bush administration official confirmed to Dome. The details are still being finalized but Rove and Tillis are likely to hit events across the state, Tillis allies said.

Next week, Tillis will attend a reception hosted by Rove’s political action committee, Crossroads GPS, which spent big money in the 2012 election. Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan used Rove as a foil in one of her recent fundraising pitches -- showing Rove’s close link to Tillis may help both sides.

As Tillis focuses on raising money his latest rival Mark Harris begins a high-flying announcement tour for next week. Read about it and more North Carolina political news below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

Morning Memo: GOP Senate hopefuls take hard line on defunding Obamacare

North Carolina’s Republican U.S. Senate candidates are taking a hard line on federal budget negotiations – a position that puts them at odds with the state’s lone GOP senator, Richard Burr.

Four Republican candidates said Monday they support efforts to defund the federal health care act, apparently even if those efforts lead to a government shutdown. Their comments came the same day state Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger announced he won’t join those running for the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Kay Hagan.

***Read more from the GOP candidates -- reaction to Berger's decision -- below in today's Dome Morning Memo.***

Phil Berger won't run for U.S. Senate

UPDATED: State Senate leader Phil Berger will not seek the Republican Party nomination for U.S. Senate. His decision leaves House Speaker Thom Tillis as the most prominent Republican candidate seeking to challenge Kay Hagan.

State Senate leader Phil Berger said Monday that will not make a bid for U.S. Senate, ending weeks of speculation about his political intentions that threatened to scramble the North Carolina political picture.

“In the final analysis, the decision I made was now is just not the right time,” Berger said in an interview. “I feel like we've initiated a number of things at the state level that I want to see further along before I move on to something else.”

Duncan begins exploratory effort for primary challenge to Ellmers

Jim Duncan, the chairman of the Chatham County Republican Party, said Wednesday that he is beginning an exploratory effort to possibly challenge 2nd District Republican Rep. Renee Ellmers next year.

Duncan, a retired computer industry leasing executive, didn't offer any direct criticism of Ellmers, but he said there was "a craving for leadership.''

He said he would send the next month talking to people across the district about a possible congressional bid before deciding to run.

"Many of representatives are building a career and look upon it as changing their station in life,'' Duncan said. "That as a citizen is a concern. I think we got it backwards. I wouldn't speak to any specifics concerning Renee. But I have a concern about how our representatives across the board are doing at this point.''

Morning Memo: Protests at mansion draw 200, GOP senator says 'Let 'em yell'

'MORAL MONDAY' RALLY DRAWS ABOUT 200: Nearly 200 demonstrators were part of the procession that moved slowly from the First Baptist Church on Wilmington Street in downtown Raleigh to the Executive Mansion. The event, touted as the 18th “Moral Monday,” was led by Youth and College NAACP groups from across North Carolina.

Gov. Pat McCrory was attending a Republic Governors Association meeting in Charleston, S.C., his staff told the media, and not at the Blount Street mansion while the young and old walked the perimeter of the property. “We’re going to make one circle around the governor’s mansion to let him know we plan to go all around this state,” the Rev. William Barber II, head of the state NAACP, told the demonstrators,

On Monday, it was the youth doing most of the rallying, though. “Just because the governor is gone doesn’t mean the issue is gone,” said Isaiah Daniels, a Shaw University student at the event. Read more here.

***Read a firebrand GOP response to the Democrats and get more North Carolina political news below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

Morning Memo: Protests return to Raleigh; DHHS faces more bad headlines

UPDATED: 'MORAL MONDAY' PROTESTS RETURN TO RALEIGH: The weekly protests that came to define the 2013 legislative session return to Raleigh on Monday. The focus is voting rights and public education and the demonstrations will be led by a coalition of youth organizers. The 4:30 p.m. protest will take place at the Executive Mansion -- not the Legislative Building as during the session. A similar event will take place in Rockingham.

Gov. Pat McCrory won't be home for the Raleigh event. He's in Charleston, S.C., today attending a Republican Governors Association Corporate Policy Summit, where he is moderating a panel on tax reform at a conference that draws lobbyist and donors.

MORE BAD HEADLINES: The bad headlines surrounding the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services are reverberating onto the opinion pages of the state's newspapers. Three publications across the state featured editorials or op-eds about the controversy at the department and Gov. Pat McCrory's actions. The headlines: "Youthful Republican brain trust helps governor miss the boat on Medicaid expansion;" "How a bad relationship between DHHS and the press can harm the public;" and "McCrory's shameless cronyism"

***Read the pieces and more N.C. political news below in today's Dome Morning Memo.***

Ellmers may face serious primary challenge from right next year

Republican Rep. Renee Ellmers of Dunn may have a serious primary challenge from the right next spring.

Jim Duncan, the chairman of the Chatham County Republican Party and co-founder of the grassroots organization, The Coalition for American Principles, is contemplating a challenge to Ellmers. Duncan spent his career as an executive with Comdisco Inc., a high tech equipment leasing company. Duncan grew up where his father -- a South Carolina native -- was a New York city police detective. He has been active in a number of civic activities including the Upper Room Academy in Raleigh and the Durham Boys and Girls Club.

Ellmers was elected to Congress in 2010 as part of the Tea Party movement and as an outspoken critic of Obamacare. But she has received some criticism from the party's right that she has been too close to House Speaker John Boehner and has been insufficiently aggressive in fighting implementation of Obamacare.

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