RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK. N.C. — Democratic Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton remained in attack mode against Republican Pat McCrory on Tuesday as the two gubernatorial candidates debated taxes, state budgets, education and other issues.
The debate – the second of three televised debates this month – occurred two days before early voting begins across North Carolina.
Dalton has been on the offensive since the two men first squared off on Oct. 3 in an effort to erase the sizable lead McCrory has shown in most polls.
A recent WRAL News poll, for example, showed McCrory, a former Charlotte mayor, leading Dalton by a 51 to 39 percent margin. Libertarian candidate Barbara Howe had 3 percent support, and 7 percent of voters remain undecided.
Making "ka-ching" sounds like a cash register, Dalton hammered McCrory, as his campaign has done for weeks, about his lack of transparency regarding his work for a Charlotte law firm that represents large corporations.
"Why isn't he letting people see his tax returns?" Dalton asked, noting most major politicians have opened up their returns for public inspection. "What makes him so special?"
He also questioned why McCrory hasn't provided details of his budget plans, charging that the former Charlotte mayor will have to have to raise the sales tax to offset his proposal to slash personal income and corporate taxes.
"He has an $11 billion hole in his plan," Dalton said, adding that a nonpartisan analysis of McCrory's proposals show that 80 percent of North Carolina families would see a higher tax burden.
McCrory said reforming North Carolina's tax structure will make the state more attractive to business, and job creation and economic growth will generate enough revenue for the state to meet its expenses. He also noted that Dalton backed extending a temporary sales tax last spring during the Democratic primary and budget talks.
He said Dalton's attacks are typical of a campaign that has focused on negative campaigning. He cited one ad that shows his face in a sudsy washing machine and said it was almost enough to make him not vote for himself.
"With the money that I control – the Pat McCrory campaign – you will not see one negative ad," he said. "I don't think we need to (have negative campaigns) to win elections in North Carolina.
Dalton said McCrory was "disingenuous" by disavowing negative campaigning, saying that McCrory has tried to tie Dalton to a "culture of corruption" in Raleigh during campaign speeches. He also said his campaign ads are factual.
"Ads we have, we have the facts there," he said. "If any of them are perceived as negative, it may be the record we have shown is negative."
During the debate, McCrory painted Dalton as a failed leader who supports the status quo in state government, which he said won't move North Carolina forward.
"(I have) the private sector experience that we desperately need in the executive office," he said. "We've always had people coming from government working in the Governor's Office for the last 10 to 15 years. That hasn't worked too well. We need someone who understands business, who understands jobs and also has leadership experience in the public sector."