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Primary Guide: What to watch in North Carolina today

April 16, 2014: Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., listens during an appearance in Durham, N.C.

April 16, 2014: Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., listens during an appearance in Durham, N.C.  (AP)

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Buzz Cut:
• Primary Guide: What to watch in North Carolina today
• Libya in chaos
• Baier Tracks: Keystone on hold, but ‘green’ line goes
• Grody, dude! Senate ad touts taking out son’s stitches to save cash
• Make sure you check the glove box

Probably the easiest place for Republicans to unseat a Democratic Senate incumbent this year is in North Carolina. Sen. Kay Hagan won on long-vanished Obama coattails in 2008 and her state party has been on a downward trend for all of her six years in office. But what looks like a lay-down hand for Republicans will depend on the primary vote today. If no candidate gets above 40 percent, the GOP primary field will shrink to today’s top two finishers and rage on until July 15. The race has already been ugly and the runoff, which would be aimed at an even smaller, more conservative electorate, would offer hope to Hagan. What the candidates would have to say, spend and do to win with the base of the GOP base would provide ample fodder for Democrats to use to turn off more moderate suburban voters who are the key to victory in November. Look at it this way: If the GOP primary ends today, national Democrats will begin to write off Hagan, starving her of money and resources. If the GOP fight continues, the billionaire Democratic donor corps and the biggest political action committees on the left will be enticed to keep funding the pro-Hagan effort. So what should you be looking for as the election unfolds?

[North Carolina polling places close at 7:30 p.m. ET. For the latest updates, check WWW.FOXNEWS.COM and for local coverage, check out WRAL]

The players - There hasn’t been much reliable polling in the race, but establishment favorite State House Speaker Thom Tillis was the frontrunner going into the vote. He’s a former businessman who has the support of the state’s Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and national party leaders, including 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney. The sketchy polling picture in the race shows Tillis hovering just at the 40 percent threshold, setting up a nail-biter finish tonight. His chief rival is obstetrician Greg Brannon, who proudly embraces the Tea Party banner and got a last-minute campaign boost from Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who campaigned for him in Charlotte on Monday. The other main contender seems to be Rev. Mark Harris, a social conservative who has trumpeted the backing of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. The goal for Brannon and Harris today isn’t to win outright so much as force a runoff in which the second place finisher can inflict deeper damage on Tillis.

[Good read - Sean Trende looks at the record and realities of the Tea Party movement inside the Republican Party.]

Queen City blues - In the state house, Tillis represents suburban Charlotte portions of Mecklenburg County. Mecklenburg is the largest, most densely populated county in North Carolina. But it is also not particularly Republican. To win, Tillis will have to get the Republican minority of Charlotte mobilized today, with more moderate suburban voters doing for him what they did for Romney two years ago: ratify the frontrunner’s status. Tillis needs to score big with his constituents and those in surrounding districts. One advantage here is that independent voters may cast ballots in the Republican primary, allowing Tillis to broaden his appeal beyond die-hard GOPers.

[WRAL: “At a rally in Charlotte, [Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.,] said [Greg Brannon] was the best candidate in Tuesday’s crowded GOP field. Paul urged the 250 people in the crowd to send another true conservative to the Senate. He called Brannon a dragon slayer, someone who would shake up the status quo in Washington.”]

Wake up to a different race? - Brannon’s home county of Wake has far fewer residents than metro Charlotte, but had nearly 20,000 more Republican primary voters than Mecklenburg two years ago. This is the GOP heartland of the state. The Raleigh area is home to many of the die-hard conservatives that Brannon needs. If Brannon can convince enough voters here to take a chance on getting a more conservative candidate even if it makes the seat harder to flip in the fall, he will be able to force a runoff. But if Tillis has convinced suburbanites of the increasingly affluent region, especially in the leafy lanes of North Raleigh, to keep their eyes on beating Hagan the primary will end today.

High Pointing to a runoff? - Keep your eyes on Randolph County in the center of the state as the results come in. Third-place Harris is from nearby Winston-Salem, which is one county to the north. Randolph is home to part of the fast-growing community of High Point, which makes for some interesting political dynamics in the state. Previously a Bible-Belt kind of community, Yankee transplants drawn by booming education, technology and other high-end jobs are changing the character of the region. In the 2010 Republican gubernatorial primary between McCrory and then-state Sen. Fred Smith, McCrory won all the counties along the I-77 and I-85 corridor between Wake and Mecklenburg counties except for Randolph. If Harris has convinced folks here to stand with him, it could be enough to tip a close race between Tillis and Brannon into a runoff.

Hagan tries to help Brannon stop Tillis - WaPo: “The fliers landed in the mailboxes of Republican voters here last week with a warning likely to unnerve many conservatives. Thom Tillis, the Republican front-runner for a U.S. Senate seat, once called President Obama’s health-care law ‘a great idea,’ the mailer said. The assertion echoed recent radio ads...But the warnings didn’t come from any of the seven opponents Tillis will face in Tuesday’s GOP primary, where he has been regularly attacked as not conservative enough. Instead, they were paid for by Sen. Kay Hagan, a Democrat who will face the eventual GOP nominee in November. Hagan supports the health-care law but she is taking the unusual step of spending money on advertisements designed to appeal to Republican voters who are skeptical of the measure. The maneuver is apparently intended to undermine enthusiasm in the GOP base for the Republican who is considered her strongest potential challenger in November.”

WaPo points to the political and military disintegration of Libya, now on its sixth prime minister since former dictator Maummar Gaddafi was overthrown in 2011, as strong case of botched administration policy. “The Obama administration and its NATO allies bear responsibility for this mess because, having intervened to help rebels overthrow Gaddafi, they then swiftly exited without making a serious effort to help Libyans establish security and build a new political order. Congress might usefully probe why the administration allowed a country in which it initiated military operations to slide into chaos.”

“…I’ll decide whether or not the appropriate questions were asked in the past.” – Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., the newly named chairman of a special House committee assigned to investigate the 2012 attack by Islamist militants on a U.S. outpost Benghazi, Libya on “On the Record with Greta Van Susteren

[Washington Post’s Dana Milbank questions “How the White House helped Republicans on Benghazi”]

Team Hillary looks to punish CBS reporter - Huffington Post: “Media Matters chairman David Brock is urging top CBS News executives to reopen the network's internal investigation over its discredited ‘60 Minutes’ report on the Benghazi attack. Lara Logan, the network's chief foreign correspondent, and Max McClellan, her producer, went on leave following the network's internal review and have not returned…”

The House will take another procedural step today to advance formal contempt charges against former IRS official Lois Lerner, who has refused to testify about her part in or knowledge of the agency’s harassment of the president’s political foes. (Democrats are pushing a party-line vote). The real action, though, may come in the debate over whether to seek a special counsel to investigate wrongdoing at the agency.

Las Vegas Review-Journal: “Local business owners might be hoping the Affordable Care Act’s insurance mandates cover sticker shock. The law’s employer coverage mandate doesn’t take effect until 2015, but early plan renewals are starting to roll in. And for some businesses, the premium jumps are positively painful. Local insurance brokers are reporting spikes ranging from 35 percent to 120 percent on policies that renew from July to December…The changes put as many as 90,000 policies across Nevada at risk of cancellation or nonrenewal this fall, said Las Vegas insurance broker William Wright, president of Chamber Insurance and Benefits.”

WaPo: “The government’s newest national assessment of climate change, released early [today], declares what a wide majority of scientists say is clear: Americans are already feeling the effects of global warming… ‘The report affirms a number of things we have known,’ said Katharine Hayhoe, a Texas Tech University professor and lead co-author of the changing climate chapter of the assessment. ‘But there are new aspects…For a long time we have perceived climate change as an issue that’s distant, affecting just polar bears or something that matters to our kids. This shows it’s not just in the future; it matters today. Many people are feeling the effects.’”

[Roll Call: “Senate Democrats are offering Republicans a vote on approving the Keystone XL pipeline, but are demanding an energy efficiency bill pass in return.”]

Oil industry targets five states for pro-Keystone ads - Washington Times: “The American Petroleum Institute has launched a five-state media blitz aimed at boosting support for the Keystone XL pipeline in advance of a possible Senate vote.  Television, radio and online ads began running last weekend targeting seven Democratic senators in five states: Colorado, Delaware, Minnesota, New Mexico and South Dakota. The ads tout a Harris Poll showing 78 percent support for the pipeline along with the backing of labor, business and Republican and Democratic political leaders.  President Obama has delayed deciding on whether to allow the pipeline for five years. The State Department tacked on another delay April 18, citing a dispute over the route now before the Nebraska Supreme Court, which could push a decision past the November election.”

Baier Tracks: Keystone on hold, but ‘green’ line goes… - “As the battle over the administration-stalled Keystone XL pipeline heats up, with even top Democrats calling for Senate action to move it forward, there is another project that is moving full steam ahead despite significant pushback. Conservative economist Steve Moore writes about a 500-mile green energy power line to connect windmills to the power grid. That project is moving forward despite going right through an Army testing ground at New Mexico’s White Sands Missile Range. Unlike Keystone, where the Obama State Department hasn’t found a reason not to move forward with the project, the Defense Department says the power line may pose ‘an unacceptable risk to national security.’  It goes through a ‘restricted zone’ where missiles are tested. The company that funds the line, SunZia, says it would be too costly to reroute. (Tell that to the Keystone Pipeline folks.)

From Moore’s piece: ‘The power line could obstruct vital operations at White Sands, which is the Pentagon’s largest testing station for long-range weapons. DOD has already vetoed the project twice, but the greens in the administration keep agitating for it.’

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has failed to even bring Keystone up for a vote, but this project – despite significant pushback – seems to be on a fast track. Welcome to Washington.” – Bret Baier

This week marks the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the end of the Civil War with the Battle of The Wilderness, a bloody campaign through the heart of Virginia. Gen. Ulysses Grant showed for the first time the Union’s willingness to fight a war of attrition and, as he instructed the leader of the U.S. Army fighting in Virginia about the great Confederate tactician and leader Gen. Robert E. Lee: “Wherever Lee goes, there you will go also.” (Here’s the contemporary drawing of Grant writing the telegram to President Abraham Lincoln with the news that the Army of the Potomac had finally crossed the Rapidan River, across which the two armies had warily eyed each other for months.) Today is the anniversary of the nearly mortal wounding of Gen. James Longstreet. He was felled by friendly fire only four miles from where the revered Gen. Stonewall Jackson had been killed on May 10 the year before in a similar battle at Chancellorsville. This time, Longstreet would recover, but the Confederate Army would not. Grant’s willingness to pursue Lee and use the North’s massive numerical advantage to crush the smaller, albeit superior, fighting force under Lee’s command changed the nature of the war, helped deliver re-election to Lincoln, deterred scheming Europeans hoping to preserve a divided, weakened America through a peace treaty and marked the end of legal human bondage in Western Civilization.

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Real Clear Politics Averages

Obama Job Approval: Approve –  43.8 percent//Disapprove – 51.9 percent
Direction of Country: Right Direction – 28.1 percent//Wrong Track – 61.3 percent
Generic Congressional Ballot:  Democrats – 43.6 percent// Republicans 43 percent

Maryland gets a visit today from 2016 Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton who will make a campaign appearance at the National Council for Behavioral Health today. The speech will offer Clinton a chance to continue her gradual effort to differentiate herself from President Obama’s troubled heath initiatives. Maryland is also the home state of Gov. Martin O’Malley, who is trying to be taken seriously as a 2016 contender. He is not doing very well at it.

[Sheriff Joe makes another early primary state visit - The State: “Vice President Joe Biden will hold a fundraiser for the S.C. Democratic Party before he addresses University of South Carolina's commencement on Friday…”]

Hillary makes first campaign stop for a 2014 candidate - AP: “Hillary Rodham Clinton will appear at her first political event of 2014, raising money for a Pennsylvania congressional candidate with close ties to the Clinton family. According to an invitation obtained by The Associated Press, the potential 2016 presidential candidate will headline a May 15 fundraiser for Marjorie Margolies in New York. Margolies is the mother-in-law of Chelsea Clinton, the daughter of the former secretary of state and former President Bill Clinton. The fundraiser will be at the New York City home of Lynn Forester de Rothschild. Tickets cost $1,000 to $5,000 per person. Margolies served one term in Congress in the 1990s and is running in a Democratic primary for a House seat representing the Philadelphia suburbs.”

Bubba stumps - Former President Bill Clinton will travel to the Sunshine state today to rally beside former Gov. Charlie Crist, D-Fla., at a Democratic Governors Association fundraiser. An April 30 Quinnipiac poll shows Crist leading Gov. Rick Scott, R-Fla., by 10 points.

They’re ready to stop Hillary – National Journal: “The Stop Hillary PAC brought in more than half a million dollars and signed up 250,000 supporters since it started last summer, according to its spokesperson. ‘In leading the stop-Hilary effort, we are actively investing in identifying, recruiting, and signing up supporters to stop Hillary. To stop Hillary in 2016 we will be active this midterm election helping to defeat candidates she endorses and shadow her wherever she goes,’ said Stop Hillary PAC's Garrett Marquis.”

The Supreme Court’s passing on a decision on the second amendment right, a case that put highly restrictive gun rights in New Jersey into question, allowed Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J., to avoid a political fight among party members. Writing for Fox News Opinion, Betsy McCaughey looks at the case and how it could affect Christie’s future: “One thing for sure, Monday’s decision allows New Jersey’s restrictive law to stand for now and helps Christie, who’s considered a contender for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016,  to avoid a shooting match with pro-gun voters in his own party.”

Miami Herald: “Sen. Marco Rubio, a potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate, Monday jumped into the Iowa U.S. Senate race, endorsing State Sen. Joni Ernst in the Republican primary. ‘Joni is running for United States Senate in Iowa and is the type of tough, no nonsense conservative that we need in Washington’ said Rubio, R-Fla. Ernst is locked in a tight race with businessman Mark Jacobs for the GOP nomination. The winner is expected to face Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley. Ernst has also been backed by 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney and 2008 vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin.”

[Rubio continues to burnish his foreign policy credentials with a WSJ OpEd calling for “a lifeline” for Ukraine in the form of shoring up the failing state’s currency.]

AP: “Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell faces a primary challenger in just a few weeks. To watch the television ad his campaign will begin running [today], voters would never know it. McConnell's campaign said Monday it was spending more than $100,000 on a new TV ad set to begin airing statewide [today]. Gone is the anxiety that political newcomer Matt Bevin could deny McConnell a spot on November’s ballot. Now the most powerful Republican in the Senate has turned his eyes toward improving his chances against his likely Democratic contender, Alison Lundergan Grimes. ‘He’s been called a hero for saving Kentucky jobs,’ the female narrator says in McConnell’s ad. The ad ticks off examples of how McConnell's team says he fought foreign trade to save jobs at a Louisville aluminum plant, protected military families at the Bluegrass Army Depot by securing funding for a chemical weapons disposal program and turning back government regulations that would have prevented fishing along the Cumberland River and its tributaries that are among the state’s top tourist destinations….The ad ignores Bevin, a businessman who has pumped $600,000 of his own cash into the campaign, and Grimes, who has more than $4.8 million banked for her races against McConnell. Instead, the ad feels like one that could easily air just weeks before November’s elections.”

[The Weekly Standard’s Mark Hemmingway levels new allegations that Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is wading into the Nebraska’s Senate three-man primary as PAC funds with strong ties to McConnell run new ads attacking Midland University President Ben Sasse.]

Democratic Georgia Senate hopeful Michelle Nunn touts Christian faith and grandmother’s influence in a new ad. “I remember as a child going to church with my ma every Sunday in Perry and learning how we learn our faith by helping others,” says Nunn. She goes on to say how her grandmother helped her to have faith in the “power of others” causing her to “know that things really can be better in than what is going on in Washington.” Nunn will face one of the seven GOP primary candidates in the November election to succeed retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss.

Tea Party Express backs Handel - Former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel has picked up the endorsement of the Tea Party Express in the crowded field of GOP candidates.  The group pointed to Handel’s fiscal conservatism on both the state and county levels. “With $17 Trillion of debt, it’s time for America to get her fiscal house in order. It starts with electing strong, fiscal conservatives that know how to manage complex budgets,” Tea Party Express’s Taylor Budowich said, “That’s why Tea Party Express is proudly endorsing Karen Handel for the United States Senate.” Georgia’s primary is two weeks away.

Perdue’s business record takes a hit - The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “In his bid for the U.S. Senate, David Perdue portrays himself as a Fortune 500 CEO who helped grow some of America's most recognizable companies. But the Republican's track record as a corporate turnaround wizard has hit a few rough patches. A review of court and investor records by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution shows one company Perdue led went under soon after he departed. Another paid out $42 million to settle lawsuits alleging Perdue lined his own pockets as part of a leveraged buyout deal, shortchanging shareholders.”

In his second TV ad, Republican Minnesota Senate candidate Mike McFadden touts budget skills and promises to end ObamaCare. The ad features wealthy businessman McFadden’s son, Conor, who calls his dad “cheap,” but McFadden quips, “With six kids, it’s called a budget.” Conor then recounts a childhood story. “When I was 10 and had to get stiches out after a hockey injury, the nurse said it would cost 100 bucks. Dad was so horrified, he grabbed the scissors and took them out himself,” Conor said. “Trust me nothing will stop dad from taking out ObamaCare.” At the end of the ad McFadden asks for voters, “Send me to Washington and get me some scissors.” McFadden faces state Sen. Julianne Ortman in an Aug. 12 primary for the chance to face incumbent Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., in November.

Which six Democrat-held Senate seats present the most likely path for the GOP to win control of the upper chamber? The current consensus among Fox News First readers: Arkansas, Montana, Louisiana, South Dakota, North Carolina and West Virginia.

Share your top six picks. Email them – just your top six, please – to FOXNEWSFIRST@FOXNEWS.COM or tweet @cstirewalt.

For Sale: vintage 1972 Ferrari Dino 246GT, driven just 25,000 miles, no minimum price at auction, original owner: Keith Richards…that’s right the Hall of Fame rocker who “enjoys playing the guitar with his friends in a little band called the Rolling Stones.” Interested? The BBC has a heart-stopping pic of the car and all the details. Richards bought the car new in California in 1972, the same year that “Exile on Main St.” debuted. Richards sold it to a collector in Japan in 1986. Now the roadster, which boasts one of the most beautiful bodies ever conjured by Ferrari, has re-emerged. There’s no reserve price, but don’t go looking for any bargains when the auction starts Friday in Monaco. But you can imagine for free what it would be like to roar up the Pacific Coast Highway, Ray Bans on to the chords of “Tumbling Dice.” You got to roll me…

Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News. Want FOX News First in your inbox every day? Sign up here.

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C. Additionally, he authors the daily Fox News Halftime Report political news note and co-hosts the hit podcast, Perino & Stirewalt: I'll Tell You What. He also is the host of Power Play, a feature video series on Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on network programs, including America’s Newsroom, Special Report with Bret Baier and Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace. He also provides expert political analysis for FNC’s coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.