RALEIGH, N.C. — The North Carolina NAACP is taking a page from Clint Eastwood to stage a gubernatorial debate at its three-day annual convention in Raleigh.
Republican candidate Pat McCrory declined to attend the convention, meaning he can't debate Democratic candidate Walter Dalton on Saturday before the convention closes.
Rev. William Barber, state NAACP president, said his organization will put an empty chair on stage with McCrory's name on it.
"We don't talk to the chair. We just sit it out there so that people know the invitation was given," Barber said.
At the Republican National Convention in August, Eastwood drew mixed reviews for talking to an empty chair and implying that he was having a conversation with President Barack Obama.
Barber said the NAACP is nonpartisan, and members wanted to hear from McCrory on issues like education, poverty and voting rights.
He said he's disappointed by what seems to be McCrory's second snub of the state's largest civil rights group. The former Charlotte mayor also declined to attend the NAACP state convention in 2008, when he ran against Gov. Beverly Perdue.
"I don't know what his motivation was, but I know, if he's running to be governor, he ought to run to be governor for all the people, not some of the people," Barber said. "He should be here to talk about these hard issues – the heart issues – the real issues that really matter in this election."
McCrory campaign spokesman Brian Nick said a schedule conflict prevented the candidate from attending the convention.
"We have had to turn down dozens and dozens of event requests during this campaign because Pat can't be everywhere at once," Nick said in an email to WRAL News. "I'm sure Mr. Dalton hasn't been able to attend every single invitation he's received either."
Race recently became an issue in the campaign when Dalton supporters accused McCrory of failing to understand African-Americans. McCrory called that a dirty campaign tactic.
The convention theme is "If We Ever Needed to Vote ... We Sure Do Need to Vote Now!" The meeting will focus on voter education, voter protection and voter mobilization.
Barber will give the annual "State of Civil Rights in N.C." address, followed by a news conference about several subjects, including the NAACP's coalition with lawyers to fight voter intimidation and suppression.
Watchdog groups against voter fraud have said they'll send observers to the polls this year to challenge any suspicious voters. Barber said he thinks minority voters will be targeted, and the NAACP is training members on what to do in case of an unfair challenge.
"Only after we have this massive broad and diverse electorate in 2008 is all this suggestion about fraud, all this suggestion about something's wrong," he said. "(It's) as though people can't handle the results of 2008."
An awards banquet Saturday features national NAACP President Ben Jealous.