N.C. Governor's Race Likely a Referendum
Associated Press Writer
For the first time since 1992, when he won his first term as state attorney general, a presidential election year will pass in 2008 without Gov. Mike Easley running for statewide office.
But the race to replace Easley, one of 11 gubernatorial showdowns next year, figures to focus on his record in the Executive Mansion.
"It's largely a referendum on how people view how North Carolina is doing, and certainly Gov. Easley's term is part of that," said Chris Fitzsimon, executive director of NC Policy Watch, a liberal political watchdog group.
Both Democratic candidates are part of Easley's executive branch. The three announced Republican candidates say Easley, who is barred by law from seeking a third consecutive term, failed on several fronts during his eight years as governor, from signing bloated budgets to failing to lower the state's high school dropout rate.
"Probably the single greatest failure has been a lack of vision," said Bob Orr, a former Supreme Court justice, who wants Easley's job.
Fred Smith, a Johnston County state senator and candidate, has said state government and the public education system should be run more like a business. And Bill Graham, a Salisbury attorney, pledges to shake up the establishment in Raleigh if elected.
"The question is, are we going to keep doing the same old thing or are we going to move off in a new direction with new leadership?" Graham asked.
Whoever emerges from the May primary as the GOP nominee is likely be an underdog against either Democratic candidate, Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue or State Treasurer Richard Moore. Democrats will have held the Executive Mansion for 16 years when Easley leaves office in 2009, and only two Republicans have been elected governor in the past century.
There's also a wild card in seven-term Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, a popular Republican who's considering leaping into the crowded GOP field.
The only announced Libertarian candidate is Duke University professor Mike Munger.
History suggests that for any of the GOP candidates to win, they'll need to focus on pocketbook issues, raise enough money to be heard on the airwaves and get a boost from a strong presidential candidate above them on the ballot.
"They've got to focus on kitchen table issues and not ideological issues," longtime Republican consultant Paul Shumaker said. "They just can't say (state government) is broke, they've got to say how they're going to fix it."
With their policy positions largely similar, Moore and Perdue spent much of the fall sniping at each other's history.
"I want the buck to stop on my desk," Moore said recently when criticizing a Perdue budget reform proposal that called for lawmakers to vote up or down on the recommendations of a study commission. "Clearly, she does not want to do that. She wants to pass the buck. I think that is a vital difference in our campaigns."
Perdue's camp, meanwhile, detailed Moore's role leading a state government panel that approved public funding to build a music theater that struggled to succeed. "I think the differences are huge between the treasurer and me," Perdue said.
Held in a presidential year, the governor's race could turn on the national election. Should New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton win the Democratic nomination, for example, her polarizing history could turn off some conservative Democratic voters. But she might also top a Democratic slate led by three women, if Perdue and state Sen. Kay Hagan, who is running for U.S. Senate, win their primaries.
On the other side of the ballot, the GOP could suffer if the Iraq war further wears on President Bush's approval ratings and creates a Democratic surge similar to that seen in 2006, when the party regained control of Congress.
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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