RALEIGH, N.C. — The state association representing more than 50,000 state workers and retirees is breaking with tradition and endorsing a Republican candidate for governor.
On Tuesday, GOP gubernatorial candidate Patrick Ballantine received the endorsement of the State Employees Association of North Carolina -- a group he believes could change the face of his campaign.
"I'm honored to be here. I'm ecstatic and excited about this historic moment," Ballantine said.
"Patrick has a bold, energetic and hopeful leadership this state hasn't seen in a long time," said Dana Cope, president of the State Employees Association.
Four years ago, the group endorsed Ballantine's opponent, Gov. Mike Easley. Political analyst David McLennan said he cannot remember the last time the association in North Carolina endorsed a Republican.
"To get a major association of state employees to back you when, historically, teachers and other state employees back Democratic candidates, it is something worth talking about," he said.
Cope said the association's political arm spent three-months making its decision. State employees blame Easley for lost pay raises and benefit cutbacks -- things Ballantine pledges to change.
"We're going to make that a top priority. My budget will include a 5-percent pay raise for state employees," Ballantine said.
Easley said he is not worried about losing the endorsement.
"I can't make promises that I know are outrageous and outlandish just for the sake of getting endorsements and they're not fooled by that," he said.
Ballantine said he hopes state employees will be more likely to get involved in his campaign and vote. The North Carolina Association of Educators sent out a press release Tuesday reaffirming its support for Easley.