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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.***

McCrory's elections chief urges county officials to operate professionally

Josh Howard, the new Republican chairman of the State Board of Elections, has emerged as a calming influence, as the GOP has moved to take over county boards of election.

Addressing 500 local county board members in Cary on Wednesday, Howard counseled the Republicans to work with Democrats on the board and keep partisan politics out of it.

"The real theme of the conference needs to be 'let's not have any more of our meetings show up on YouTube,'',' Howard said according to the Associated Press.

He was referring to a unwieldy meeting held by the Watauga County Board of Elections last week in which the polling place was moved off the campus of Appalachian State University. It was viewed by 28,000 people.

"We've had some rough meetings over the over the transition period of the last few months,'' Howard said. "That's fine. That'll happen. That's part of change. But he said "you are not partisan rivals. You're colleagues. And if you do your job might even become friends.''

The state and county board of elections are changing from Democratic to Republican control with election of GOP Gov. Pat McCrory. Howard, a Raleigh attorney, is a former federal prosecutor, who was appointed by McCrory.

A 'steady hand on the rudder' of county election boards

Despite a 50 percent turnover rate in county board of elections members, with many Democratic seats given to Republicans, there won’t be much partisan change in the way things are run, the state’s new head of the board of elections said on Wednesday.

Josh Howard, the State Board of Elections chairman, spoke during a training conference at the Embassy Suites in Cary for board of elections officials from almost all 100 counties.

County board members “rely very heavily on the professional judgment of those nonpartisan career staffers,” he said in an interview. “Because the board majority changed partisan affiliations you won’t see a dramatic change in the guidance we get from our nonpartisan staff.

“It very much tempers the drama of any change. It may disappoint a lot of folks that there’s still a steady hand on the rudder.”

Strach in, Bartlett out at elections board

The Republican-controlled State Board of Elections Wednesday chose Kim Strach, a veteran campaign investigator, to be the elections board director.

The board chose Strach to replace Gary Bartlett who had been elections director for the past 20 years.

The vote was 3-2 along party-lines, with the Democrats saying they had not time to examine Strach's credentials and thought there should be a longer transition for Bartlett, who was appointed by Democrats. The move came just several days after Republican Gov. Pat McCrory named a new elections board, a move that typically occurs when there is a change in political parties.

Strach had worked for the state elections campaign staff the past 13 where she was heavily involved in a wide-range of investigations of such political figures as former House Speaker Jim Black, former Agriculture Commissioner Meg Scott Phipps, former state Reps. Thomas Wright and Michael Decker and former Governors Mike Easley and Bev Perdue. All but Decker are Democrats.

Pat McCrory's campaign cleared in elections complaint

Pat McCrory's campaign did not violate campaign finance laws when it came to disclosing trips to the state by big GOP luminaries, a state investigation found.

Democrat Walter Dalton's campaign alleged that a flight taken by S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley to a McCrory campaign event was not a corporate contribution. Donors Ralph and Linda Huff reimbursed the plan's owner for the flight, the State Board of Elections reported Thursday.

GOP campaign finance complaint against Dalton, Perdue dismissed

State officials dismissed a Republican campaign finance complaint filed days before the November election that alleged illegal collusion between Democrats Walter Dalton and Bev Perdue.

The state Republican Party said it identified 65 donors who received refunds from Perdue's campaign committee who later made contributions to Dalton, the Democratic candidate for governor. But in a letter dated Tuesday, the State Board of Elections said all 65 donations identified as suspect were legitimate.

"Our office found no campaign finance violations ... for these contributions and as such this matter is considered resolved," the letter states.

Lt. Gov. race on hold until Nov. 16

The race for lieutenant governor is frozen until Nov. 16, when local boards of election roll in provisional votes to those already counted and come up with final tallies.

Democratic candidate Linda Coleman trails Republican Dan Forest in the unofficial tally by about 11,000 votes. She'll wait until the counties add up all the votes before she decides whether to ask for a recount, said her campaign spokesman Micah Beasley. "We anticipate at the very least the margin will be cut significantly," he said.

The State Board of Elections asked the counties to forward all the vote totals to Raleigh by Monday, Nov. 19.

Forget 2012, Hagan readies for big 2014 U.S. Senate bid

Election Day 2012 isn’t even here yet, but some U.S. senators are already out planning fundraisers to pay for their 2014 re-election campaigns. Including North Carolina’s Kay Hagan.

The Washington Post reported last week that Democrat Hagan is having a “Holiday Reception in support of her re-election” on Dec. 11 at Fiola on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington. Political action committees can attend by ponying up $5,000, according to the Post.

Americans for Prosperity rejects inquiry regarding its advertisements

An attorney for Americans for Prosperity is asking the State Board of Elections to dismiss outright a request for information regarding its recent television advertisements, calling it harassment.

Bob Hall with Democracy North Carolina, a liberal advocacy group, asked the state's election agency to clarify whether the ads count as electioneering communications because they mention Gov. Bev Perdue, who still has an open campaign account. If they count, AFP would need to disclose donors. (More background here.)

In a letter to the state elections agency, Steven Long, AFP's attorney, wrote that "frivolous and baseless complaints motivated by the desire to harass, such as the one presented by Mr. Hall, amount to an abuse of process and should be rejected summarily by the state board to send a signal that more authority than one man's unfounded conjecture is required to merit the state board's time and attention."

Read the full letter below. Gary Bartlett, the election agency executive director, said he expects to respond to Hall's request early this week.

letter to G. Bartlett.pdf

Would-be-candidate's tardiness appeal rescheduled

The State Board of Elections has rescheduled to next week the appeal of a potential congressional candidate who was told he arrived too late to file.

Republican Nathan Tabor of Forsyth County came to Raleigh on the last day of the filing period to put his name in for the 6th Congressional District. He was told he missed the noon deadline. 

Tabor says he was in the building on time, and should be declared a candidate. 

The elections board was scheduled to hear his appeal yesterday, but postponed the hearing to March 15. Tabor wants to join three others in the GOP primary, including incumbent Rep. Howard Coble. 

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