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Political Notebook: Bitzer expects most ‘Trump-like’ candidate to be favorite in state’s Senate race

SALISBURY — Following news last week that former Republican Gov. Pat McCrory is “all in” for the 2022 U.S. Senate race, Catawba College politics professor Michael Bitzer says he expects the most Trump-like candidate to be the popular choice among voters.

McCrory now joins former U.S. Rep. Mark Walker as a top-tier Republican in the race to replace Sen. Richard Burr’s seat, who has served since 2005 and says he will not run for another term. U.S. Rep. Ted Budd, who represents North Carolina’s 13th Congressional District, is considering a run but has not yet announced a final decision.

McCrory served one term as governor before Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, defeated him in 2016. Prior to McCrory’s term, he served as Charlotte’s mayor from 1995-2009.

Bitzer expects the U.S. Senate race in North Carolina to be among the top three most-watched races across the nation, behind Ohio and Pennsylvania. Democrats, he said, will view this race as an opportunity to build on the current majority, while Republicans will need the seat to reach a majority. The Senate is currently split 50-50 among Republicans and Democrats, with Vice President Kamala Harris serving as a tie-breaking Democrat vote.

Bitzer said a pending decision from Trump’s daughter-in-law and North Carolina native Lara Trump could shake things up as the base of the Republican party is “very much still behind Trump.”

“The question is which candidate will appeal to that base,” Bitzer said. “It is the strategy since Trump won this state.”

Additionally, an endorsement from the 45th U.S. president could hold some weight in the race, Bitzer said.

The key advantage for McCrory at this time is his statewide name recognition, which is often “a critical point of candidacy,” Bitzer said.

In the final year of his term as governor, McCrory faced backlash from numerous organizations and negative economic consequences due to the fight over House Bill 2, a “bathroom bill” known primarily for prohibiting local authorities from expanding their own nondiscrimination ordinances. McCrory credits himself and Republican lawmakers during his term with cutting income taxes, raising school teacher pay, creating budget surpluses and passing a $2 billion “Connect N.C.” bond to pay for repairs and expansions across the state, the News & Observer reported.

Bitzer said whether the H.B. 2 controversy will haunt him during the campaign will “come down to how much social conservatism is in the Republican base during the primary election.” Though, it’s still very much a key component to GOP voters, he added.

The traditional pattern for such races has been that the party in control of the White House tends to lose seats during midterm elections. But it remains to be seen if that same pattern will be followed as “the dynamics get cloudier since there’s no incumbent” in the U.S. Senate seat.

According to polling done for McCrory’s campaign this month, McCrory has 89% name identification among likely Republican primary voters in the state compared to 32% for Walker and Budd.

The Cook Political Report has predicted the race to be a toss-up as of April 13.

Bill update for Rowan County lawmakers 

RALEIGH — A number of bills sponsored by lawmakers representing Rowan County in the state House and Senate have made their way to the other chamber. Those bills are as follows.

Rep. Harry Warren, R-76

• House Bill 2, establishing the bottlenose dolphin as the state’s marine mammal, passed the House unanimously on April 1.
• H.B. 10, authorizing the Greater Asheville Regional Airport authority to regulate and allow others the right to operate golf courses on airport premises, passed the House on April 14.
• H.B. 11, regulating the levels of alcohol in consumables such as candy, passed the House with on “no” vote on April 1. The vote against comes from Rep. Mark Pless, R-118.
• H.B. 23, authorizing the town of Spencer to regulate the operation of utility vehicles on any public street or road, passed the House on March 17.
• H.B. 32 passed the House 69-49 along party lines on April 13. This bill makes changes to eligibility for the Opportunity Scholarships for K-12 students — which allow students to use vouchers and attend private schools — authorizes the use of a nonprofit for family outreach and adjusts funds allocated to the State Education Assistance Authority. It also authorizes counties to appropriate supplemental funds for local students receiving such scholarships.
• H.B. 46, strengthening whistleblower protections in the state’s Human Resources Act passed the House 117-2 on March 31. The two “no” votes come from Reps. Linda Cooper-Suggs, D-24, and Carolyn Logan, D-101.
• H.B. 62, requiring counties and municipalities to comply with immigration laws, passed the House 67-51 along party lines on March 10.
• H.B. 70, establishing tax credits for the repurposing of historic school buildings, passed the House 114-3 on March 24. All three “no” votes came from Republicans.
• H.B. 84, which adds those convicted of sexual exploitation of a minor to the list of sex offenders with location restrictions, passed the House unanimously on March 17.
• H.B. 184, clarifying that the inclusion of real property in a comprehensive transportation plan doesn’t need to be disclosed in a real estate transaction, passed the House 98-18 on March 10.
• H.B. 194, allowing federal judges and federal prosecutors with a valid conceal carry permit to carry a handgun with them inside state courts, passed the House 96-22 on April 14. All “no” votes came from Democrats.
• H.B. 264, which limits the governor’s powers during statewide declared disasters, passed the House 69-50 along party lines on March 31.
• H.B. 289, requiring the Department of Information Technology to prepare and maintain statewide broadband maps and appropriate money for broadband expansion projects, passed the House unanimously on April 1.
• H.B. 296, prohibiting the parking of non-electric vehicles in spaces designated for electric vehicle charging, passed the House 115-4 on March 31.

Additionally, two bills supported by Warren have successfully passed both chambers and subsequently signed into law by Gov. Roy Cooper. Those include H.B. 4, which extends the ABC permit renewal fee deferral, and H.B. 82, which provides a summer learning choice for North Carolina families and H.B. 196. Two bills in which he was a primary sponsor include H.B. 48 and H.B. 49, which allows EMS personnel to carry on them a pistol for defense during dangerous situations that involve the use of SWAT teams. H.B. 49 allows for a conceal carry permit lapse extension under certain circumstances.

Rep. Wayne Sasser, R-67

In addition to the number of bills Sasser supported alongside Warren, including H.B. 264, the following have also made it to the Senate chamber:

• H.B. 19, exempting the town of Norwood in Stanly County from the 10% cap on satellite annexation, passed the House 117-1 on March 9.
• H.B. 36, which increases the punishment for firing or attempting to fire at or into an unoccupied emergency vehicle as well as pointing a laser device at law enforcement officers or emergency personnel, passed the House unanimously on March 25.
• H.B. 91, establishing a licensure process for out-of-state behavior analysts, passed the House unanimously on March 17.
• H.B. 95, allowing organ donors to maintain their status until otherwise revoked, passed the House unanimously on March 9.
• H.B. 141, making changes to lumber regulation in the state’s residential code for one- and two-family dwellings, passed the House unanimously on April 14.
• H.B. 161 granting statutory authority for the removal of abandoned and derelict vessels from state waters or public and private land passed the House unanimously on March 24.
• H.B. 224, which adds the state to the Occupational Therapy Interstate Compact and allows occupational therapists to operate remotely across state lines, passed the House unanimously on March 24.
• H.B. 341, which creates the crime and civil cause of action for online impersonations, passed the House unanimously on April 14.

Additionally, the Second Amendment Protection Act, sponsored by both Warren and Sasser, passed the House 72-44 along party lines on March 11. That bill allows the conceal carry of a handgun on educational property associated with a place of religious worship, a conceal carry permit lapse, concealed carry for EMS personnel and certain law enforcement facility employees.

Rep. Julia Howard, R-77

• H.B. 76, expanding prohibition and subsequent civil remedies of debt adjusting and debt settlement, passed the House unanimously on March 3. Both Warren and Sasser also signed on to sponsor the bill.
• H.B. 136, which requires 100% muscadine grape juice to be made available in state schools, community colleges and branches of UNC, passed the House 91-22 on March 23.
• H.B. 320, authorizing certain entities to conduct meetings remotely and nonprofits to conduct all business electronically, passed the House unanimously on March 25.

Sen. Carl Ford, R-33

• Senate Bill 43, allowing for conceal carry of a handgun on educational property associated with a religious meeting place, passed the Senate 31-18 along party lines on March 1.
• S.B. 101, which requires the U.S. Immigration Customs Enforcement to be queried when a non-citizen is charged with certain offenses and creates a reporting system for ICE queries, passed the Senate 27-20 on March 11 along party lines.
• S.B. 323 authorizes funds deposited in certain decommissioning funds related to Catawba Nuclear Stations established by the state’s Municipal Power Agency Number 1 to be invested through the state treasurer’s Ancillary Governmental Participant Investment program.

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