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More news from the campaign trail: Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton joins Sen. Kay Hagan in Charlotte on Saturday at an early voting event. Next week brings former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney to North Carolina stumping for House Speaker Thom Tillis.  Then there’s word of the American Future Fund, a political group backed by the Koch bothers, spending $225,000 this week to steer votes to Libertarian candidate Sean Haugh.

Will the high-profile endorsements or the flurry of new ads for the third-party candidate sway voters in the final days of North Carolina’s hotly contested U.S. Senate race?

Tom Jensen with Public Policy Polling joins NC Policy Watch’s News & Views this weekend to discuss what could be the most expensive Senate race in our history and what trends he’s seeing for the legislative races down ballot.

For a preview of Jensen’s radio interview with Chris Fitzsimon, click below:

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As expected health care played a major role in the first debate between Sen. Hagan and Speaker Tillis.

Tillis took two major lines of attack against Sen. Hagan on health care: he chastised Hagan for saying that people could keep the insurance plan they like, and he criticized the policy of setting minimum standards for insurance plans. He also mentioned at the end of the debate that people will pay 11 percent more for insurance next year but that was a strange sidebar claim with no evidence to support it. Insurance policies are not yet posted and have not even completed regulatory review.

On the first point Tillis chose his words carefully. Koch brother groups in North Carolina keep claiming that thousands of people in the state lost their insurance. The Tillis camp apparently realizes that this is a ridiculous assertion. So Tillis said that thousands of people received cancellation notices from their insurance company. This thrust was parried by Hagan when she pointed out that the plans were continued when she and other members of Congress pressured the Obama Administration to keep the policies in place. She also noted that insurers continued selling non-compliant insurance plans to consumers after the Affordable Care Act was signed without adequately explaining that the policies would have to change after 2014.

On the second point Tillis argued that people should be able to purchase any insurance plan they want without regulations on what is covered. The Affordable Care Act imposes some standards on insurance policies. Hagan didn’t spent much time responding to this charge, although she could have noted that his push for mandating that insurance cover Autism treatments directly contradicts his criticism of health reform. The problem with deregulating insurance is twofold. Read More

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House Speaker Thom Tillis may have more name recognition than many of the other candidates in Republican U.S. Senate primary, but that has not translated into more support among voters.

New numbers released this week by Public Policy Polling find that Tillis leads the GOP field for the upcoming May 6th primary with 18% of the support among potential voters. That compares with 15% for Greg Brannon, 11% for Mark Harris, 7% for Heather Grant, 6% for Ted Alexander, 5% for Alex Bradshaw, 2% for Jim Snyder, and 1% for Edward Kryn.

And while 34% of voters remain undecided, PPP suggests Tillis would need to win most of them to reach the 40% mark and avoid a summer runoff.

Dr. Andy Taylor, a political science professor at N.C. State University, says Tillis has failed to breakaway from his Republican challengers, struggling to portray himself as the best candidate to unseat incumbent Democratic Sen. Hagan in November.

Taylor joins us this weekend on News & Views with Chris Fitzsimon to handicap the Senate race and discuss the role of big money in the political process.
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For those wanting to hear more from the candidates, Time Warner Cable News will broadcast an  hour-long debate April 22 at Davidson College featuring  all eight of the Republican challengers hoping for a chance to unseat Sen. Hagan.

Early voting for the May primary begins April 24th.