kirk rossby Kirk Ross

Brace yourselves. Because sometime around Labor Day we’ll all be up to our hip-waders in malarky. The ads are coming, a bitter ominous wave of disinformation and distortion.

We’ve seen but a trickle so far compared to what’s in store. Over the past couple of weeks, the campaigns and what are politely called “outside groups” have reserved tens of millions of dollars in ad time for the final stretch.

At least we’ve already seen how the race at the top of the ticket — Tillis vs. Hagan — is going to play out. The negative narratives for both campaigns involve tying the candidates to unpopular figures in North Carolina.

For the Tillis campaign, it’s all about linking Hagan to the president. For the Hagan campaign, it’s about tying Thom Tillis to Thom Tillis.

That job got a little easier last week as Tillis returned to town to speak on all kinds of issues while presiding over an end-of-session Charlie-Foxtrot that has a lot of us wondering if one-party rule can get any more divided.

The folks gathering clips in the opposition-research department couldn’t have found a richer mountain of muck to mine than that produced in the waning days of a legislative session. Even adjournment itself was contentious and the General Assembly remains in a confusing limbo owing to fact that each chamber adjourned in a slightly different way.

It was anything but a clean break in a lot of ways. Both sides did agree on the budget, but it was ugly down to the wire and the hurry-up ending left a lot undone. Like 2011, legislative leaders hedged their bets and set up a couple of mini sessions.[pullquote]For the Tillis campaign, it’s all about linking Hagan to the president. For the Hagan campaign, it’s about tying Thom Tillis to Thom Tillis.[/pullquote]

They scheduled a brief return in two weeks to address something or other. (My guess is Ebola.) They’re also coming back after the November election to deal with things that can’t possibly be done before voters casts their ballots, like Medicaid and leaking coal-ash ponds.

Meanwhile, the governor is still reading the budget, going over it at last report “line by line.” (Note: the governor of North Carolina does not have a line-item veto.) He said Tuesday morning that in addition to reading the budget, he intends to sign it.

Like the rest of us, Pat McCrory is no doubt finding all kinds of surprises in those 259 pages of riveting legalese.

If you guessed “election-year pay raises and gifts to big constituencies” in the Predict the Budget contest you can pick up your chicken dinner at the judges table.

Whether the teacher raises are what they say they are or not and whether school spending is adequate is a huge deal for Tillis. Thanks to incumbency and gerrymandering the legislature is fairly safe from blowback. Tillis, running statewide, is not.

The speaker will need his base to turn out. But if those raises don’t prove to be as spectacular as advertised and if K-12 education takes a hit he may find himself the proxy for an unpopular yet untouchable legislature.

The governor is probably keeping a close eye on how things pan out for the speaker because he’s next in line as proxy for the legislature.

Both men are faced with the same conundrum. They know that to win statewide they have to draw in independents and moderates while rallying their base. That’s going to take some serious finesse.

Judging from the last couple of weeks on Jones Street, it’s a quality that appears to be in short supply.

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