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Weekend Roundup: Huge rural county early vote pushes marriage amendment

The amendment banning civil unions and same-sex marriage has spurred grass-roots action throughout the state and has helped drive early voters to the polls in record numbers. It has also revealed generational and urban-rural divisions.

Turnout for early voting is high in places such as Mitchell and Alexander counties, which have large Republican majorities and where the amendment is expected to win easily, and in Durham and Orange counties, heavily Democratic counties with a high concentration of younger voters, where it is expected to lose. Read more here -- and get a list of top 10 early vote counties and an age breakdown of voters.

More political headlines:

--Long after the controversy over President Obama’s birthplace seemed settled, some Republican congressional candidates in North Carolina have brought new attention to the issue as they seek advantages in hard-fought primary races.

Richard Hudson told a Tea Party group in Rowan County recently that “there’s no question President Obama is hiding something on his citizenship.” And Hudson, former campaign manager to GOP gubernatorial candidate Pat McCrory, isn't the only one.

Morning Roundup: Democrats turn up heat in debate, party controversy

The Democratic gubernatorial candidates sharpened their criticisms Tuesday night, drawing more pointed contrasts with each other’s records in the second in a series of televised debates. 

Former U.S. Rep. Bob Etheridge heard his congressional record on trade and his tenure as superintendent of public instruction come under fire. Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton found himself defending his attendance record and his advocacy of Democratic causes in the legislature. Read the story here. And get the pundits' take on the debate.

Other headlines:

-- The calls for Democratic Party chairman David Parker to resign snowballed Tuesday, leaving his tenure short on days. Gov. Bev Perdue, Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton and former Congressman Bob Etheridge all reversed course to call for his ouster after trying to avoid the controversy for days.

The Charlotte Observer is calling it the "April Surprise" and the paper's cartoonist gets in his take on the candidates' reactions to scandal.

Dalton launches his first TV ad in Democratic governor's campaign

Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton hit the airwaves Tuesday with his first television advertisement in the Democratic race for governor.

The campaign bought time to run ads on broadcast TV through May 7, totally about $400,000, according to Republican operatives. The ad will appear the most in Wilmington and Greensboro, two nontraditional markets, and then Charlotte and Raleigh.

The spot is a riff on Dalton's infamous ad from his lieutenant governor campaign that repeated his name 11 times in 30 seconds -- a ploy to drive up his name recognition, which is electoral gold. The ad goes on to hit Dalton's top two themes: education and jobs with the slogan: "great jobs grow from great schools."

His main rival, former Congressman Bob Etheridge is expected to begin airing ads Monday through the primary election May 8, a $173,000 buy on broadcast TV, GOP operatives say.

Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton's secret inspiration

On the campaign trail, Democratic Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton often uses a quote in his stump speech that speaks to his vision for North Carolina and why he is running for governor in a troubling economic time : "Be led by your dreams, not pushed by your problems."

Dalton attributes the quote to "a North Carolina author."

The author is actually Roy Williams, the UNC basketball coach. So why not use Williams' name? Dalton told Dome he didn't want to upset his N.C. State supporters.

It's worth noting that Dalton's loyalties are not so secret. He graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 1971 and returned a few years later to get a law degree. Also, he took great pride in honoring the Tar Heel team that won the 2009 national title.

Oh no, he didn't! Democratic challenger revives Etheridge video scuffle

Gary Dunn is a longshot for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. But that doesn't mean the 58-year-old Matthews resident won't cause problems for the top tier candidates. On Thursday he became the first candidate to revive an issue Democrats don't like to discuss -- particularly Bob Etheridge: the chokehold.

Dunn sent an email Thursday morning -- a regular item he calls a "virtual press conference" -- highlighting an infamous video in which Etheridge grabs a "college kid" (acting as a Republican operative) by the arm and then the neck on a Washington sidewalk.

Dunn said Etheridge was the "target of a focused and dishonest attack" but suggests Etheridge's baggage will only hurt the party's chances in the November election.

Democratic candidate for governor asks other candidates to drop out

An unknown candidate for governor is asking all the other candidates to drop out of the race and save their time.

"I think that I'm better qualified," said Gary Dunn, a Matthews resident and 58-year-old UNC-Charlotte student. "I didn't think it would be a fair fight so I asked them to drop out. It may be bold  but that's how I feel."

Gary Dunn launches his campaign for governor with fundraiser appearance

UPDATED: Gary Dunn -- a largely unknown Democratic candidate for governor -- will get his five minutes in the spotlight Saturday.

The Matthews resident is scheduled to speak at the N.C. Democratic Party's fundraiser in Charlotte on St. Patrick's Day, an event featuring retiring Gov. Bev Perdue. Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton and state Rep. Bill Faison will also appear and give remarks after they paid to attend the event, as did Dunn. (Former Congressman Bob Etheridge is not expected at the fundraiser.)

It's the first campaign event for Dunn, who ran for governor in 1992 as a Republican. See this WECT-TV interview with Dunn to learn more about him, or check out his Facebook page, where the photo above first appeared.

'Gang of Five' lawmaker launches first TV ad

State Rep. Jim Crawford, a Democratic member of the so-called "Gang of Five" that bucked the party on the state budget, is hitting television screens with an early advertising campaign.

The narrator in the ad -- titled "Stand" -- says Crawford "fights for what's right even when it means standing alone" -- an obvious reference to the lawmaker's votes to override Gov. Bev Perdue's vetoes of the state budget and a controversial teacher dues bill.

The 30-second TV spot is airing on cable in Granville and Person counties. Crawford faces two Democratic challengers, including Rep. Winkie Wilkins of Roxboro, who was doubled-bunked in the redistricting process.

Personnel file: Faison names campaign team for governor's race

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill Faison recently announced his campaign team.

The campaign is being led by chief strategist Jeanne Milliken Bonds, the former Knightdale mayor who helped elect state Supreme Court Justice Burley Mitchell. She is managing her first campaign for governor.

Neil Kammerman, a veteran Democratic operative with Wild Bunch Media, is the campaign's media consultant. Scott Dworkin is the finance director. His previous experience includes Democratic Congressman Larry Kissell's 2010 campaign. The fundraising team includes Brad Kennedy, Rob Sherwood and Tess Williams. The firm NGP VAN (created by the 2010 merger of NGP Software and Voter Activation Network) is leading the campaign's online and new media strategy.

“Our campaign team is taking shape and I am proud to have their expertise with me in my run for governor,” said Faison, an Orange County state lawmaker, in a statement.

More campaign staffers are expected to be named in coming days. For more details about the team and to see the campaign logo, click here for the formal announcement.

Bill Faison for Governor team.pdf

Poll gives McCrory solid margins over Democratic challengers

Two polls put the early governor's race in context. The left-leaning Public Policy Polling took a look at the primary races (read more below on Dome). But the conservative Civitas Institute is looking ahead to November.

In numbers released Friday, Civitas found Republican Pat McCrory holds a clear lead on his lesser known Democratic challengers. The closest contest is McCrory vs. Bob Etheridge, a former congressman and superintendent of education. In a hypothetical matchup, McCrory takes 46 percent compared to 32 percent for Etheridge.

If McCrory faces Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton in an election held today, his margin of victory is greater: 49 percent compared to 30 percent for Dalton. State Rep. Bill Faison of Orange County trails by 21 points, the poll shows.

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