The 2012 elections filing period closed just a few hours ago. But the three Democratic gubernatorial frontrunners are already working on ways to differentiate themselves.
It's not an easy task. Education and economic development are central to all three campaigns, with Etheridge more focused on education, Faison more focused on jobs, and Dalton right up the middle. So they're likely to turn to campaign narratives to sketch out their turf instead.
The beginnings of that effort were evident today.
Etheridge: The Fighter
"I know I can provide leadership and help save this state from the misguided policies of the past year," Etheridge said this morning at the State Board of Elections.
"I’m running for governor because I love this state too much to sit on the sidelines and see the great strides that this state has made be whittled away down to absolutely nothing," he said, referring to cuts to K-12 education.
"I cannot allow the people who are temporarily in charge of our state legislature, and those who support and applaud their actions, to put our children, our grandchildren, my grandchildren, and the future of this entire state at risk."
Watch his comments in full at right.
Dalton: The Innovator
Dalton is behind Etheridge is the most recent poll (Feb. 8th), which is was probably more about name recognition than support. He says that'll change when people get to know his record better.
According to Dalton, a bill he authored in the state Senate was the genesis of the state's Early College program, which has won kudos from national experts.
"Bobby Etheridge didn’t do that," Dalton. "Bill Faison didn’t do that."
Dalton also highlighted his role in the new STEM learning network and in economic development partnerships in northeastern North Carolina.
"When the people start listening to that, looking at that, and figuring out who’s going to be the leader that really will drive education in the future and jobs in the future, I think they’ll embrace my candidacy," he said.
Watch the unedited video at right.
Faison: The Outsider
Orange Co. Rep. Bill Faison is well behind Dalton and Etheridge in every poll published so far, despite a week's worth of statewide ads (since discontinued).
But he says two key factors will set him apart in the minds of voters.
"The other candidates are career politicians. I'm not," Faison said today. "My career's in other places. I am a part-time politician. And the other thing is, I'm the only candidate in either party with a jobs plan."
Faison cemented his outsider status today by refusing to release his tax returns - a position at odds with his party leaders, who've called on Republican frontrunner Pat McCrory to release his.
Dalton and Etheridge say they'll release their tax returns. Faison says that's appropriate, since they're paid with public money. And he says McCrory should release his returns, too, since he's worked for a corporation recently.
But Faison won't release his own records. As a private business owner, he says, there's no need to do so.
"I don't think that those things in any fashion play into or impact my role as governor," he said.
Faison also called on Lt. Gov Dalton to forfeit his state salary till the campaign is over.
Watch the full interview at right.