Raleigh, N.C. — In the governor's race four years ago, Democrat Beverly Perdue held a big advantage over Republican Pat McCrory in both the polls and campaign funding. This year, the situation has flipped.
Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton jumped into the campaign late when Perdue announced in January that she wouldn't seek a second term, and McCrory has held a consistent lead in both polling and money in recent months.
The most recent campaign finance reports from July showed McCrory with $4.36 million cash on hand versus Dalton's $714,000.
"The Democratic Party finds itself in a very unusual time in its history where they don't have the power (and) they don't have the money," political analyst John Davis said Friday.
The only time in the past century when a Republican candidate for North Carolina governor had the financial advantage was 1988, when Gov. Jim Martin won re-election.
Former North Carolina Republican Party Chairman Tom Fetzer noted that Martin and former Gov. Jim Holshouser, the state's first Republican governor of the 20th century, both enjoyed the coattails of landslide Republican presidential victories. Holshouser was elected in 1972, when President Richard Nixon won re-election, while Martin was on the ballot with President Ronald Reagan in 1984 and President George H.W. Bush four years later.
Coattails will likely be short this year, with President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney engaged in a tight race in North Carolina.
"If Pat McCrory gets elected, it looks like it's going to be on his own steam, and it looks like that's going to happen," Fetzer said.
Democratic consultant Andrew Whalen predicted that outside money from groups related to the Democratic Governors Association and educators will help shore up Dalton's financial disadvantage.
The McCrory campaign has already reserved more than $6 million in television ads across the state in the coming weeks, and groups linked to the Republican Governors Association are expected to spend close to that. It's still unclear how much Democratic groups will spend for Dalton.
Whalen said the Democratic Party also is counting on Obama's grassroots, get-out-the-vote network to boost Dalton.
"The turnout that it will have here nationally to vote for the president, to vote for Walter Dalton, to vote for the Democratic ticket, it's going to be vital," he said.
Independent voters also could be key in the gubernatorial race. But a poll recently released by the conservative Civitas Institute gives McCrory a 46 to 29 percent edge over Dalton when it comes to voters not tied to a party.
"Clearly, the signal for Walter Dalton is that he's got a lot of work to do with unaffiliated, independent voters in this state," Democratic consultant Brad Crone said.
"The only way for Dalton to win is for McCrory to mess up real bad," Davis said.
Democrats counter that there's still time for that and time for Dalton to make a move.
"When you look at Pat McCrory, you've got a guy who's been running for governor for almost five straight years now and can't seem to get above 46, 47 percent in the polls," Whalen said.