State News

Already talking debates, Perdue, McCrory look to November

Posted May 7, 2008 2:42 a.m. EDT
Updated May 7, 2008 1:24 p.m. EDT

— Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue and Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory both ran what they called positive campaigns during their primary races for governor.

But after McCrory and Perdue won their parties' primaries Tuesday, it's unclear whether they'll stick to their upbeat messages over the six months as they head toward the general election.

"You know, that's a good question," Perdue said Tuesday night after beating State Treasurer Richard Moore in the Democratic primary. "But tonight, I'm thinking about this victory. I do know that we're going to stay focused on the issues that matter to the people of North Carolina - those middle-class folks out there who are working hard."

McCrory, who won a five-man race for the GOP nomination, said his message - one of changing the culture of state government - also would remain the same.

"We need to debate the culture of the old status quo - the old politics of North Carolina," said McCrory, a seven-term mayor of the state's largest city.

The general election campaign will begin immediately. McCrory wasted no time in calling for debates with Perdue, who sounded willing in an interview to participate in at least two.

A longtime lawmaker and the state's lieutenant governor for the past seven years, Perdue won 56 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary. Moore was second with 40 percent, with 99 percent of precincts reporting unofficial results.

In the Republican primary, McCrory earned 46 percent of the vote, well above the more than 40 percent needed to avoid a runoff with state Sen. Fred Smith of Johnston County, who finished second with 37 percent.

The Republican Party held a news conference Wednesday on the old Capitol grounds, with Smith and fellow candidate Robert Orr, a former state Supreme Court justice, appearing at McCrory's side to announce a unified GOP front for the general election.

Gov. Mike Easley, who is barred by law from seeking a third consecutive term, appeared with Perdue at state Democratic Party headquarters Wednesday to announce his support for her.

"If I had to say there was one thing that separates these candidates apart from anybody else running, it is education for the people of North Carolina," Easley said. "Education is our way out of the woods. Education is our way into the global economy."

Moore didn't attend the event, but Democratic Party leaders insisted the party would come together before the fall campaign.

The GOP last won a governor's election in 1988, but McCrory bragged Tuesday he hasn't lost an election since running for student body president at Catawba College. "Now we've got to win the big one," he said.

Thad Beyle, a political science professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said McCrory is coming out of a longtime Republican stronghold in Charlotte, also the home to the last GOP governor, Jim Martin.

McCrory may have trouble in what may become a Democratic year. But he may try to link Perdue to Easley, whose has suffered from a run of bad publicity in recent months as the failing of the state's mental health reform were exposed and allegations made that his administration destroyed public records.

"Wrapping Easley's foibles around her neck could be a problem," Beyle said.

Rob Christensen, a political columnist with The News & Observer newspaper in Raleigh, predicted a competitive race that would feature both regional and gender issues. McCrory would have to overcome the so-called "Charlotte curse" that has doomed statewide campaigns of several Queen City politicians, while Perdue is trying to become North Carolina's first woman governor.

"A lot of women who might be independent and could go either way will look closely at Beverly Perdue," Christensen said.

Moore and Perdue ran a hard-fought campaign for the Democratic nomination. It was a race at least three years in the making, and one that cost the pair of state government veterans more than $16 million. Perdue stopped running negative ads against Moore in the final month of the campaign in favor of more positive ads, including one featuring television icon Andy Griffith.

McCrory entered the race in mid-January - late in the game compared to Smith and two other candidates who had been on the campaign trail for close to a year.

"It's kind of overwhelming," McCrory said. "We started this 13 weeks ago."