McCrory rallies GOP faithful despite quarrels with lawmakers
Posted June 6, 2015
Updated June 7, 2015
Raleigh, N.C. — Gov. Pat McCrory knows he's not everyone's cup of tea, even within his own party.
"Even as Republicans in this room, we don't always agree on everything," McCrory said as the North Carolina GOP held its annual convention in downtown Raleigh Saturday afternoon. "But there's a very important distinction between us and the liberals. We're not afraid to have debates about the best way to move North Carolina forward. The liberals, they march in lock step down the path of higher taxes, more spending and big government."
McCrory didn't mention the issues where he has been tangling with the more conservative legislature, such as his veto of a bill that would allow magistrates opt out of performing marriages that is favored by those opposed to same-sex marriages, or where he has bucked hardcore Republican constituencies, such as his opposition to a bill that would eliminate pistol purchase permits in North Carolina.
Instead, the governor trumpeted Republican accomplishments on the economy and took shots at those who antagonize Republicans, no matter their faction. Liberals, the state's newspapers and the "liberal media," President Barack Obama, "deep-pocketed" Democratic allies and the anti-war protestors of the Vietnam era all came in for ridicule during McCrory's speech.
"We need to continue to support voter ID right here in North Carolina and not be ashamed of it," McCrory said, adding over a rising tide of applause, "You hear that Hillary?"
That last aside was a reference to former U.S. secretary of state and current Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton criticizing laws that require voters to show photo identification at the polls.
In large measure, it was the speech you might expect from a Republican governor talking to the party faithful in the year before an election, and it's a message that political observers say will help propel him through next year's GOP primary, likely without facing a credible challenge.
"We look for the divisions, because that's what's interesting. But the truth is, the vast number of bills that come before him, he does sign," North Carolina State University professor Steve Greene said.
Whatever the governor's differences with Republican lawmakers or social conservatives in his party, Greene said, virtually all Republicans would prefer him to a Democrat.
While there have been persistent rumblings that McCrory could face a primary challenge from his political right, Greene said most in the GOP realize defeating an incumbent governor would be a brutal internecine fight that would all but hand the executive mansion to the Democrats.
McCrory is walking a path that other Republicans in the state would be wise to follow, said U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, who is less than a year removed from serving as state House speaker. The GOP, he said, needs to be careful how it calibrates the mix of social and niche issues it takes up against the economic issues most voters care about.
"The reason I became a speaker of the House (after the 2010 election) is the liberal social agenda went too far," Tillis said, saying most voters wanted to see policymakers working on the economy. "We should learn a lesson from 2010."
If there was dissension in the ranks toward McCrory personally on Saturday, it wasn't on display. While delegates chewed over who would be the party chairman, Carol Phelps of Creswell in Washington County expressed a sentiment common to many.
"I like a lot of the things that he's done, especially coming up with a surplus budget," Phelps said.
A state Department of Transportation employee who is the superintendent of his church's Sunday school, Phelps said he is for marriage being defined as between one man and one woman. But, he said, McCrory's veto of the magistrates bill didn't really matter to him or sway his support.
"We're not all always going to agree on everything, but we all like positive," Phelps said.
Ultimately, Hassan Harnett of Cabarrus County won Saturday's vote of Republican activists over Craig Collins of Gastonia. No vote was announced. The roll call showed Harnett receiving 700 votes to 562 for Collins before Collins called on the convention to elect Harnett.
If McCrory has a philosophical tightrope to walk, he is not the first.
Gov. Jim Martin, a Republican governor who served in the 1980s and early 1990s, tangled with the conservative wing his party led by the Congressional Club, an organization that backed U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms, said John Hood, a conservative commentator and author of a book about Martin.
Few would argue, Hood said, that McCrory has brought North Carolina government to the right of center. At the same time, Hood said, the saliency of issues such as gay marriage are fading.
"Lots of people who are socially conservative are down in the dumps about marriage," he said. "Their expectations of prevailing on the issue have declined."
He pointed out that McCrory recently signed a bill expanding the waiting period for abortion, giving a nod to social conservatives on a issue that may energize more voters come 2016 and beyond.
Greene noted that McCrory isn't betraying any promises he made to the party faithful.
"He never ran for office saying that's what he was about at all," Greene said. "He's never been a culture warrior."
McCrory got his biggest applause lines on Saturday praising members of the military and touting the fact he signed onto a lawsuit seeking have declared unconstitutional certain actions by Obama granting immigrants in the U.S. illegally relief from deportation. He wound up his speech by calling on Republicans of all stripes to band together next year.
"Let me warn you, they (Democrats) have deep-pocketed allies in Washington, California and even overseas, and they're all working to stop the Carolina Comeback," he said.