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Republicans Use Black As Battle Cry, But Is It Enough?

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RALEIGH, N.C. — State Sen. Andrew Brock doesn't even serve in the same chamber of the General Assembly as embattled House Speaker Jim Black. But that hasn't stopped the Davie County Republican from spending his entire 2006 campaign account on a statewide, 30-second TV spot denouncing Black's "dirty corruption scandal."

"We need to spread this message from Murphy to Manteo -- from Boone to Wilmington," Brock said. "This is something we have to do to clean up our government. It's not business as usual in Raleigh -- it's corruption is usual."

Even as Brock and other Republicans hope to capitalize in the speaker's political and legal troubles in the November elections that will determine the makeup of the Legislature in 2007-08, some experts question whether the approach will swing many votes.

"Perceived corruption is a point against the Democrats and point for the Republicans. But just saying there are corruption problems may not help very much," said Charles Prysby, a political scientist specializing in elections at UNC-Greensboro. "It can be a component of a campaign -- but there's got to be something more."

From New Bern to Asheville, Republican candidates are using Black's name to tar the entire Democratic party. While Democrats are in firm control of the Senate, a swing of just three House seats would give the GOP control of the lower chamber.

"It's a very attainable goal," said Eric Gorny, a Buncombe County Republican challenging Rep. Bruce Goforth, D-Buncombe,who has been a major beneficiary of Black's bulging campaign coffers. "There's a bought-and-paid-for culture in Raleigh. And with a three-seat swing, we can address that culture and bring back some integrity."

Black has suffered a round of legal troubles since the beginning of August. Last week, he lost an appeal in Wake County Superior Court and will have to surrender $6,800 in illegal campaign contributions he received from optometrists.

Just days prior, former state Rep. Michael Decker, whose sudden switch from the Republicans to the Democrats helped Black win election as House Speaker in 2003, pleaded guilty earlier this month to accepting $50,000 to jump parties. Black has denied being part of any deal with Decker.

On Friday, Black's former political aide, Meredith Norris, was found guilty of breaking the state's lobbying laws. Meanwhile, the man Black appointed to the state lottery commission has been indicted on five counts of mail fraud and four counts of wire fraud for failing to disclose his questionable relationship with a lottery business.

Those woes didn't stop Black from denouncing Brock's advertisement.

"It is absolutely unfortunate that some Republicans continue to sling mud and make up lies about me and other Democrats, but it's not surprising given their abysmal record on the issues that people really care about," like education, health care and the economy, Black said in a statement.

"When you vote against everything in the Legislature, like Sen. Brock has done, ... then you're forced to run nasty, negative campaigns to divert attention from yourself -- and that's exactly the game that these Republicans are playing," Black said.

Of all the issues available to Republicans to run on, the questions about Black's ethics are the most obvious. Twenty-six GOP lawmakers joined Democrats in approving this year's budget, undercutting the complaints of some Republican candidates that Democrats didn't set aside enough of the state's $2 billion surplus.

The budget also cut some taxes and boosted spending on education programs. And lawmakers spent considerable time this session debating two other issues being cited by Republicans as areas of Democratic inaction -- eminent domain and illegal immigration.

"Republicans can't run on their record, so they're going to make this entire election about Jim Black," North Carolina Democratic Party chairman Jerry Meek said.

Which isn't to say the Black battle cry won't help. Veteran GOP consultant Ballard Everett said the tactic could make for interesting races in some closely contested district, though he doesn't expect it to swing control of the House to the Republicans.

"It's one of the issues that needs to come up," said Everett, who has helped elect several Republicans to statewide office. "It can be an issue we'll bring up throughout the state -- that there's a party running rampant with renegades out there doing anything that they think they can get away with."

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