Raleigh, N.C. — Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue is officially in the race to be North Carolina's next governor.
Perdue announced her candidacy Monday evening in her hometown of New Bern, the coastal city she represented in the state Legislature for six years.
If elected, she would be North Carolina's first female chief executive. To make history, however, she'll have to first beat out State Treasurer Richard Moore in what's expected to become a bruising Democratic primary campaign in which both candidate will spend millions of dollars.
"Democrats are very worried that this race could get very ugly," said Rob Christensen, a political columnist for The News & Observer newspaper in Raleigh.
The winner will likely emerge from the May 6 primary election as the favorite to replace Gov. Mike Easley in a state where Republicans haven't won a gubernatorial race since 1988. Easley is barred by law from running for a third consecutive term.
But analysts note that the state's last two Republican governors – Jim Holshouser in 1972 and Jim Martin in 1984 – won after bloody and divisive Democratic primaries.
"There's always a concern out there when you have two very strong candidates running against each other in the primary that they hurt each other before they move forward in the fall," Democratic political consultant Morgan Jackson said.
Perdue, 60, has focused on eventually moving into the Executive Mansion since she was elected the state's first female lieutenant governor in 2000.
Having raised at least $4 million for her campaign since 2005, Perdue hired consultants and used opportunities granted to the state's No. 2 executive to expand on her General Assembly record. She has led a fund that receives tobacco settlement money to fight teen smoking and shepherded North Carolina's lobbying effort during the most recent round of military base-closings.
Her 13-year career in the General Assembly, half spent as one of the Senate's chief budget-writers, covered almost every aspect of spending within state government. As presiding officer of the Senate as lieutenant governor, she even cast the tie-breaking vote in 2005 that helped create the state lottery.
But her insider history in state government will give Moore, who trailed Perdue by 8 percentage points in an Elon University poll released Friday – 38 percent of likely Democratic voters remain undecided – plenty of material with which to question her voting record.
Moore's campaign has targeted her views on education and abortion, suggesting Perdue has finessed her record over the years to please constituents. Perdue and her campaign have largely dismissed the accusations and called Moore's aggressive stance a sign of early desperation.
"Obviously, some of their issues they've dealt with in the background are similar. You see sometimes the personality distinctions come out early on," Jackson said.
As a former geriatric services director at Craven Regional Medical Center, Perdue is expected to make health care one of her leading issues. Also a former schoolteacher, she received the endorsement of the North Carolina Association of Educators, which historically is a major player in state Democratic politics.
Although lieutenant governor is viewed as a stepping stone to governor, only two of the previous seven lieutenant governors have won the higher office. The education association's endorsement of Lt. Gov. Dennis Wicker in 2000 did not help as then-attorney general Easley trounced Wicker in the primary by 23 percentage points.
On the other side, poll numbers show support among Republicans is split among three gubernatorial candidates – Salisbury attorney Bill Graham, former Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr and state Sen. Fred Smith.