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Morning Memo: National Republicans launch billboards targeting Hagan

REPUBLICANS LAUNCH BILLBOARDS HITTING KAY HAGAN: The National Republican Senatorial Committee is debuting seven billboards across the state targeting U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan's support for the federal health care law. Republicans are trying to make the case that Hagan, a Democrat facing re-election in 2014, accomplished nothing besides supporting Obamacare in the first five years of her term. (See a copy of the billboard here.)

"Kay Hagan promised North Carolinians that she would govern as a centrist, but instead has been a Democratic partisan, supporting the President's signature initiatives lock, stock and barrel," said Brook Hougesen, a NRSC spokeswoman.

The effort is designed to put the one-term incumbent -- who polls show is vulnerable -- on the defensive while the GOP struggles to find a dominant candidate. House Speaker Thom Tillis is the most prominent name in the race but other major Republicans are still considering whether to run. Cary physician Greg Brannon, a tea party candidate, is also making a bid. The billboards are located in Greensboro, Charlotte, Winston-Salem and the Raleigh-Durham area.

***More North Carolina political news -- including U.S. Senate campaign updates -- below in the Dome Morning Memo.***

Governor throws ball, catches controversy

Gov. Pat McCrory decided Monday to throw the baseball around with one of his security guards, and even that became grist for controversy.

A Democratic group, called Progress NC, delivered 16,000 petitions to the governor's office on Monday criticizing the proposed cuts to education. The delegation, led by former Congressman Bob Etheridge and including a group of children, was told by an aide that he was busy in a meeting until 5 p.m.

But a short time after, one of the group took a picture of McCrory throwing the baseball around as his chief of staff, Thomas Stith looked on. The group said the photo was taken about 4:42 pm. The group soon distributed the picture with the headline:” Pat McCrory Throws Kids A Spit Ball. Governor Ducks Out of Capitol Office for A Game of Catch To Avoid Facing Children Petitioning Their Government.''

Morning Memo: Is the Senate's tax plan a tax hike for many?

TAX PLAN COULD MEAN TAX HIKE IN LONG TERM: The majority of taxpayers likely would see a tax increase after the plan is fully implemented, according to early long-term projections from legislative fiscal researchers who analyzed the potential legislation – not a tax break as Senate Republican leaders suggested when announcing the plan this week.

A taxpayer with a federal adjusted gross income below $51,000 could pay an average $100 to $200 more in the 2017 tax year. Based on current tax brackets, 2.3 million taxpayers would fit that category, according to the analysis, while 1.8 million taxpayers could expect an average $300 to $3,000 tax cut that year. In announcing the plan Tuesday, Senate leader Phil Berger, an Eden Republican, emphasized that the legislation was not yet finalized, but said the “vast majority,” or roughly two-thirds of taxpayers, would initially get a tax cut as a result of the legislation. (More below.)

***This is the Dome Morning Memo -- the source for North Carolina political news and analysis. Send tips to dome@newsobserver.com. And read more new details about the tax plan below.***

Dalton outraising Etheridge by more than 4-1 margin

Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton has out raised former Congressman Bob Etheridge by more than a 4-1 margin in the Democratic primary for governor.

Dalton has reported raising nearly $1.4 million with $670,000 on hand as of April 21, the campaign reported. That compares to Etheridge who raised $310,000 and reported having $110,000 on hand at the close of the campaign reporting period.

The disparity has allowed Dalton to advertise much more heavily on television and has contributed to his movement in the polls in recent weeks. Both badly trail Republican Pat McCrory who has raised $3 million. McCrory has a fund raiser set for tonight at the Angus Barn featuring former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

Minor candidates put emphasis on campaign signs this election season

The visible signs of the campaign season are beginning to bloom, albeit a bit late given the hot political climate.

Red and blue and white campaign signs are appearing along major roadways as lesser known candidates try to get their names in front of voters before the May 8 primary. 

By comparison, most major candidates, such as Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton and former Congressman Bob Etheridge, two Democratic candidates for governor, haven't put an emphasis on campaign signs, likely pinching pennies to save for a TV ad campaign later this month.

The one candidate planting more signs than others: Paul Wright, a former Superior Court judge, who is challenging GOP golden boy Pat McCrory, the presumptive party nominee for governor.

Morning Roundup: Democrats focus on McCrory, not each other

Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton, former U.S. Rep. Bob Etheridge and state Rep. Bill Faison spoke to nearly 200 members of the Young Democrats of North Carolina at their state convention at the Blake Hotel. They did little to differentiate themselves but kept the focus on the likely Republican nominee instead. Read full story here

In other news:

--Tens of thousands of North Carolina businesses are putting their employees at risk by failing to buy workers’ compensation insurance, a violation of the law that’s driving some injured workers to destitution and businesses into bankruptcy.

Though the state has the power to crack down on these businesses, it doesn’t act until a worker is hurt and left without a paycheck and with mounting medical bills. The state Industrial Commission rarely enforces penalties, and efforts to collect money for health care can drag on for years. Read the full investigation here.

-In his column, Rob Christensen recounts Charles Brantley Aycock roles in North Carolina politics. Read here

Morning Roundup: Democratic hopefuls vie on education platform

The Democratic hopefuls for governor spent yesterday debating education -- though none of them landed a major punch against each other. Republican Pat McCrory took a few jabs, but a N.C. Association of School Administrators forum was largely polite. Read the full article here.

In other May 8 primary news, the constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and civil unions remains largely misunderstood. Heck, 7 percent in a recent Public Policy Polling survey think it legalizes gay marriage. Read more about the confusion and what it means for the referendum here.

And the division is no surprise if you read about a forum on the so-called marriage amendment from Charlotte. Observer reporter Michael Gordon has the story.

In other news, one of the many Republicans running for Congresswoman Sue Myrick's seat left the race, leaving 10 standing. More here.

Morning Roundup: Controversial issues give way to education-themed day

A trio of controversial issues dominated the discussion Wednesday -- fracking, immigration and gay marriage -- but education is today's topic.

The N.C. Association of School Administrators will hold its annual conference in Raleigh today. Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue will speak at 9 a.m., continuing her push for better education funding. And the Democratic candidates who want to replace her -- Bob Etheridge, Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton and Rep. Bill Faison -- will speak at a 5 p.m. forum, along with those seeking the state superintendent post.

Republican Pat McCrory released his education plan Wednesday, getting a day -- and a story -- all to himself on the topic. He outlined a series of proposals including merit pay for teachers, more accountability, faster expansion of charter schools and more e-learning.

For other headlines, see below.

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.

Morning Roundup: Democratic governor's race is short and sweet

The Democratic primary for governor may closely resemble a traditional British election - a brief campaign season, relatively austere electioneering budgets, and stingy television advertising. The only thing missing will be tea.

With only 69 days until the May 8 primary, the three major Democratic candidates, Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton of Rutherfordton, former U.S. Rep. Bob Etheridge of Lillington, and state Rep. Bill Faison of Orange County, will have little time to get their message before the voters. Read Rob Christensen's analysis of the race here.

For a primer on the best races to watch in 2012 -- an all-important election year in North Carolina -- check out this guide.

And read more about Etheridge releasing his tax returns, forcing a discussion of candidates' financial disclosure in the governor's race.

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