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Morning Memo: Senate race takes shape, mass arrests continue

SENATE RACE TAKING SHAPE: A U.S. Senate race with national stakes is taking shape in North Carolina, with one Republican jumping in, one bowing out and a handful of others waiting in the wings. They’re aiming at Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, one of the GOP’s top targets in 2014. She’s one of seven Democratic senators in states carried last year by GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Republicans call them the “Red State 7.” “If it’s not the Number One race, it’s top three for sure,” says Kevin McLaughlin, senior advisor to the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “North Carolina is very, very ripe for the picking.” This weekend several announced and would-be candidates are expected to attend the state GOP convention, which begins Friday at the Charlotte Convention Center.

MORAL MONDAYS CONTINUE: A larger-than-ever crowd is expected at the statehouse Monday evening for the latest in the wave of civil disobedience protests leading to arrests at the legislature. James Protzman, a Democratic activist who says he will run against Gov. Pat McCrory in 2016, announced he will be among those arrested. Are they working? Read Rob Christensen's column below the jump.

***It's the second week of June and adjournment is not in sight. Get a legislative roundup and more North Carolina political news below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

Weekend Roundup: Can Pat McCrory keep his word? And more takeaways

Like all political candidates, Pat McCrory made many promises in his campaign. Now comes the hard part. Can his keep his promises? Read more here and check out a feasibility study for his top goals.

More political headlines:

--Read Rob Christensen's six takeaways from Tuesday's election. See a huge graphic breakdown of the vote. And geek out on a precinct-level analysis.

Christensen to give talk on Tar Heel political commercials on Sunday

On Sunday at 2 p.m, The N&O's Rob Christensen will give a talk at the N.C. Museum of History, "Tar Heel Political Commericals: Hide the Children.'' The free talk will take a look at the history of political commericals in North Carolina and will show ads dating back to 1984.

Getting a fix on N.C's election: A forum tonight at the N.C. Museum of History

Is Mitt Romney staging a comeback with his debate performance last night? Did Walter Dalton draw any blood in his debate? What are the prospects in the 7th district race between Mike McIntyre and David Rouzer? Will Debra Goldman be the next state auditor?

Those questions and more will be discussed tonight in a free panel discussion -- “North Carolina: Battleground State” at the N.C. Museum of History at 7 p.m.

Morning Roundup: Dalton, McCrory tax plans define governor's race

A defining question in the governor’s race will affect the pocketbooks of every North Carolina resident: Who should pay taxes and how much?

Democrat Walter Dalton and Republican Pat McCrory are traveling the state touting wildly different tax plans as part of their pitch to revive the state’s economy and remedy the persistently high jobless rate. Dalton offers modest tweaks to the tax code with a combination of incentives and tax breaks, while McCrory is pushing for a complete overhaul that could shift the state’s tax burden by billions of dollars.

Read the full story here and get a breakdown of the candidates tax plans. Also read about how McCrory and Dalton have a record of supporting tax hikes.

More political headlines:

--Rob Christensen: Last week vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan of Wisconsin was briefly in the state. On Tuesday, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker will be in North Carolina. The Wisconsin-North Carolina connection is not an obvious one. But the states are more alike than one might imagine at first blush.

Morning Roundup: Complete coverage of John Edwards' rise and fall

The scandal of John Edwards hiding his pregnant mistress while running for president brought a common refrain of “What was he thinking?” And on Thursday, the trial that grew out of that tawdry scenario ended with a jury largely unable to agree on an answer. The jurors announced after nine days of deliberations that they were hopelessly divided on five of the six charges against Edwards, but in unanimous agreement that he was not guilty on one count.

Get full coverage here: columnist Rob Christensen describes the parable of John Edwards; how the Edwards case may affect campaign finance law; courtroom observers say prosecution's case was doomed from the start; in his statement after the trial Edwards says "I don't think God's through with me"; a timeline of Edwards' rise and fall; more reaction from political sphere; and a photo gallery from outside the courtroom. Also: three jurors tell NBC's Today show they thought Edwards was guilty.

Many more political headlines -- including General Assembly action -- below.

Morning Roundup: The Jesse Helms primary

In his column this week, Rob Christensen has a new title for the 13th Congressional District Republican contest: the Jesse Helms primary.

The two major candidates Paul Coble and George Holding, are running as sort of the 21st-century heirs to the former U.S. senator and conservative icon. Coble could literally be Helms’ heir, since he is Helms’ nephew. If Coble has Helms’ genes, Holding owes his career to Helms. He worked as an aide to Helms, who got Holding his job as U.S. attorney. Read more here.

Morning Roundup: Rob Christensen pens 1,000th political column

In Sunday's paper, Rob Christensen penned his 1,000th political column -- and yes, he keeps track. Ahead of the 2012 campaign season, read about how he approaches political coverage.

In other news:

--Don't call it a campaign event, but the White House sent a platoon of officials to Durham on Saturday to listen to the concerns of the Hispanic community.

--At a Democratic rally in Charlotte, Gov. Bev Perdue made an unequivocal declaration: "North Carolina is coming out of the recession; you can take it to the bank." She also said she'd campaign aggressively against the constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and civil unions, reports Jim Morrill.

Morning Roundup: Pension perks benefit retiring state lawmakers

--A cadre of veteran state lawmakers will retire at the end of the year - and special perks in state law allow them to land with a financial parachute. Take former House Speaker Joe Hackney: the 66-year-old attorney with 32 years in the legislature can expect to receive a $41,000 annual pension for the rest of his life.

A North Carolina law that allows the state's part-time lawmakers to add an expense stipend to their base salary when calculating retirement benefits boosts their pensions by more than 30 percent, according to a News & Observer analysis. The percentage of salary lawmakers receive as an annual payout also is more than double the rate afforded most state workers. Read more and see the $10K Club here.

--A group that plans to mount a novel third-party presidential campaign is poised to get on the North Carolina ballot, a move that could change the electoral dynamics in a key battleground state. A state elections official says Americans Elect appears to have the required signatures to get on the November ballot alongside President Barack Obama and the Republican and Libertarian nominees. The state could certify them in early March. Read more here.

Christensen: Democratic convention sneak peek

Some 500 journalists gathered Wednesday at the Time-Warner Cable Arena, some from news outlets as far away as Japan and Qatar, to get a look at the site of the Democratic National Convention that will be held in 232 days.

These were not the media stars Brian Williams or the George Wills. These were mainly the technical geeks who will handle the production and the logistical end.

The arena still looks like a place where bad basketball and minor league hockey is played, rather than the venue for the convention that will re-nominate President Barack Obama. Read the full column here.

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