Raleigh, N.C. — Pat McCrory easily captured the governor's race Tuesday night, becoming the first Republican to hold North Carolina's highest office in 20 years.
According to unofficial results, the former Charlotte mayor was ahead of Democratic Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton 54 to 44 percent, with 32 percent of precincts reporting.
"It's time for a Carolina comeback, and it starts tonight," McCrory told a cheering throng of supporters in Charlotte.
His victory ends 20 years of a Democrat in the Governor's Office. Former Gov. Jim Martin, who served from 1985 to 1993, the last last Republican to lead North Carolina. With GOP control of the legislature as well, the party is poised to win passage of an agenda that was sometimes blocked by Gov. Beverly Perdue in the past two years.
For McCrory, the victory caps a four-year fight to capture the office he narrowly lost to Perdue in 2008. Since then, he has quietly raised money and kept himself in front of groups statewide, which gave him a huge lead in campaign funding and name recognition over potential opponents when Perdue unexpectedly ended her re-election bid in January.
"Our goal was not just to become governor and get elected," McCrory said in his victory speech. "Our goal was to be governor and to lead – to lead."
Dalton emerged from a primary fight with former Congressman Bob Etheridge and state Rep. Bill Faison in May but was already well behind McCrory in the polls. Despite intense campaigning across the state in recent months and a series of televised debates last month in which he tried to paint himself as the better candidate for schools, business and the middle class, he was never able to close the gap.
"We knew it was tough when we got into this race, and we did the best we could with limited resources," Dalton told his supporters in Raleigh. "We have not lost because we have been on the side of opportunity and progress for this state."
McCrory thanked Dalton and Perdue for their service to the state, and he said he knew what Dalton was going through – having given a similar concession speech four years ago.
During the campaign, McCrory focused on his business background and his ability to work with Democrats on the Charlotte City Council, which he said would help him revive North Carolina's sputtering economy and forge bipartisan coalitions in Raleigh to cut state spending and build toward the future.
He expressed pride Tuesday night that he was able to keep his campaign on a positive note, saying he won the election "the right way."
"Running for elected office can be honorable, and you don't have to tear down another person to make that happen," he said.
Dalton repeatedly tried to portray McCrory as being too business-friendly at the expense of workers, students and senior citizens. He also maintained that McCrory would rubber-stamp legislation backed by the Republican-controlled General Assembly, regardless of how out of step any particular bill is with the general public.
Well-wishers crowded around McCrory after his victory speech, and he told some he liked the moniker "Mayor Pat."
"I'm going to bring a mayor's attitude to the Governor's Office," he said. "People are looking for good leadership, and we're going to start that tomorrow."
Perdue congratulated McCrory on his victory and said her office would work with his staff on the transition to his administration.
"I ask all North Carolinians to come together, put the acrimony behind us, and work with Gov.-elect McCrory to move North Carolina forward," she said in a statement.