RALEIGH, N.C. — Republican Pat McCrory confirmed Monday what's been the least-disguised decision in North Carolina politics for months – the former Charlotte mayor is running for governor again.
In an interview with The Associated Press, the GOP's 2008 gubernatorial nominee said he's "100 percent committed" to seek the Republican nomination in May. He expects to make a formal announcement early next year.
McCrory lost to Democrat Beverly Perdue in 2008 in the closest general election for the job in 36 years. A rematch seems to be the most likely outcome in 2012.
"I am convinced that now is the time to run for governor and bring the changes to a broken government and hopefully generate an environment that allows our economy to grow in North Carolina," McCrory said, adding "I just think it's important for me before the holiday season to let (the public) know I'm 100 percent committed to this effort."
There was little doubt, however, that McCrory was going to enter the race. The 55-year-old McCrory, a record seven-term mayor of Charlotte, began speaking at local Republican and tea party-style events within months of losing to Perdue by 3 percentage points.
"After the 2008 election, I was ready to return back to the private sector permanently, but the call to action from people throughout the state has been overwhelming and very humbling," he said in an interview with WBTV of Charlotte.
Veteran Republican consultant Jack Hawke will help lead the McCrory camp again, and he said it will be better funded and more competitive.
"I think he's a much better candidate, and I think he'll make a much better governor. He understands the state better," Hawke said.
McCrory has been slowly assembling a campaign team and raising money with assistance this fall from Govs. Chris Christie of New Jersey and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana. His political committee was competitive with Perdue's campaign on fundraising through the first half of 2011.
Perdue has been struggling throughout her three years in office to overcome a poor national economy and uncertain state government fiscal picture.
McCrory, who works at his brother's consulting company and a Charlotte law firm, said Monday he'd give more details at his official announcement about why he should get a second chance to move to the Executive Mansion but pointed to his personal and government experiences and leadership skills.
"We'll make clear distinctions between me and any candidate running against me," said McCrory, who doesn't appear to have other well-connected or experienced Republicans competing with him now for the party's nomination.
State Democratic Party spokesman Walton Robinson alleges McCrory has been able to avoid disclosing many political activities with state record filings because he hasn't officially called himself a candidate and is failing to follow the spirit of campaign finance laws.
"The reality is that candidate-for-life Pat McCrory has been running for governor since he lost in 2008," Robinson said in a prepared statement.
Meanwhile, Republican Party spokesman Rob Lockwood said North Carolina needs a counterpoint to Perdue.
"The people of North Carolina overwhelmingly favor someone with a successful governing record like Pat McCrory against the failures of Gov. Perdue," Lockwood said in a statement.
Democratic consultant Scott Falmlen said checks and balances with the Republican-led legislature will play a huge role in the governor's race.
"(McCrory) will have to start taking a stand. We know where Governor Perdue stands. She's let her veto pen do the talking," Falmlen said. "I think it's going to be a tough race."
Most polls give McCrory a big lead over Perdue. Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling has him up by a 50-40 margin, while the latest survey from conservative Civitas gives him a 9-point advantage.
The gubernatorial race is expected to be expensive and, at times, negative.
"When you're as unpopular as (Perdue) is, you usually try to make your opponent equally as unpopular. So, I don't think it's going to be a fun campaign," Hawke said.
Turnout for the 2012 presidential election should again be a factor in the race for governor, as it was in 2008, when Perdue benefited from a big push for Democrat Barack Obama.
Perdue and her cranked-up campaign staff has said she's definitely running, dismissing predictions by a state House member that she ultimately won't register as a candidate during the filing period set to begin in mid-February.
Four people, including two former campaign workers, have been indicted this year as a result of an investigation into dozens of campaign flights leading to the 2008 election that weren't immediately accounted for in Perdue campaign finance reports. A judge sentenced Perdue's former campaign finance director to unsupervised probation and a fine last week.
The State Board of Elections is supposed to consider Thursday two campaign finance complaints filed in 2010 by the former state Democratic Party executive director against McCrory's 2008 campaign. McCrory declined to comment about the cases Monday because they are ongoing, but his campaign consultant predicted earlier this month the board wouldn't find anything improper.