Dispatches from the campaign trail, March 21, 2014

• A coalition of left-wing environmental groups is running ads in the Triangle and Fayetteville markets targeting three state lawmakers representing the areas — Republican Sens. Chad Barefoot, Wesley Meredith, and Ronald Rabin — who support energy production through hydraulic fracturing, aka fracking. The ad is below.

• Successful campaigns need more than big media buys; yard signs, door hangers, and phone banks remain essential, as this Politico story on the N.C. Senate campaign details. There’s an intense ground game underway between liberal groups supporting incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan and conservative groups who are working to defeat Hagan.

• The state Republican Party launches a website titled “Hagan Madness,” an NCAA hoops-like bracket listing votes by the incumbent senator that lets players decide which one “will ultimately cost Kay Hagan her last chance to dance in Washington.”

• A fresh WRAL/Survey USA poll shows, for the first time, former House Speaker Thom Tillis moving ahead in the GOP primary race to face Hagan in November. In the survey of likely GOP voters, Tillis gets 28 percent of the vote, followed by Dr. Greg Brannon with 15 percent and Wilkesboro nurse Heather Grant with 11 percent. Charlotte Baptist Mark Harris, who’s run a visible and aggressive campaign, came in with only 6 percent in the eight-candidate race.

• You can identify the presumed front-runners in any primary contest, as they’re the ones who take shots from opponents. The left-leaning Talking Points Memo website tried to make a big deal of online profiles released by Tillis campaign stating that the Mecklenburg County Republican received his college degree from the University of Maryland at College Park. Instead, Tillis’ degree is from the University of Maryland University College, an online institution that was but is no longer part of the University of Maryland system. Campaign spokesman Jordan Shaw said staffers filled out the wrong information on the profiles. Meantime, former state Rep. John Rhodes — whom Tillis defeated in a hotly contested 2006 GOP primary — will hold a press conference this morning at 11 in Cornelius. Rhodes, who was vocal and active in the move to oust Democratic House Speaker Jim Black during a corruption investigation, said in a release “the questionable activities surrounding the Republican Speaker’s office appear to be worse and more egregious than when the other party was in charge.” Stay tuned.

• In a congressional primary race that has been dominated by candidates citing endorsements from big names who live in their regions, state Sen. Malcolm Graham, D-Mecklenburg, moves outside his neighborhood and wins the support of long-serving Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines for the nomination to succeed Mel Watt in the 12th Congressional District.

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