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McCrory, Perdue in close race for NC governor

By GARY D. ROBERTSON

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – No matter the result in Tuesday’s election, the race for governor in North Carolina is sure to make history.

The Democratic nominee, Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue, would become the state’s first female governor with a victory. GOP candidate and Charlotte mayor Pat McCrory would be the first from the state’s largest city to win the top job in Raleigh since 1920 and only the third Republican governor since 1901.

Polls in the campaign’s final weeks showed the race to succeed outgoing Gov. Mike Easley ó barred by term limits from seeking a third consecutive term ó too close to call.

Perdue, 61, is a longtime legislator from New Bern who was elected to the state’s No. 2 executive post in 2001. She called herself a steady hand and strong leader who would continue to improve education and attract jobs despite a state budget shortfall and uncertain economy.

“Everybody’s in a bad spot right now,” said Molly McRogers, 26, of Durham, who voted for Perdue. She said the economy was her top worry going into the voting booth.

McCrory, the seven-term mayor of Charlotte, said he would eliminate what he called a culture of corruption within state government ó several Democratic leaders have gone to prison this decade ó and make it more responsive to average residents.

Jim Parker, 63, of Charlotte, backed McCrory on Tuesday because of his record running North Carolina’s largest city.

“He was instrumental in the city’s growth. Charlotte is a thriving city ó a major financial center ó and McCrory played a role,” Parker said. “He would do the same for the state.”

Following a bitter Democratic primary with State Treasurer Richard Moore, Perdue appeared to be the front-runner in a year in which Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama made the presidential race competitive in North Carolina.

But McCrory, 52, made Easley part of the campaign. The mayor vowed to be more accessible, in contrast to the reclusive and low-key Easley, whom he blamed along with Democratic leaders in the Legislature for failures within the state’s mental health system and the Department of Transportation.

Perdue, who has harbored dreams of running for governor for a decade, at first struggled to respond. As she vowed to reform state government, two Board of Transportation members who raised money for her campaign resigned from the panel in the wake of ethics accusations.

But she distanced herself from Easley, saying she would have been more responsive to the mental health crisis. And McCrory’s longtime boosterism for Charlotte and the state’s other large cities provided Perdue’s campaign an opening to capitalize on a potential divide between urban and rural voters.

She took it, running television ads accusing McCrory of wanting to eliminate funding for country roads and opposing a 2007 landfill law that Perdue said would have brought trash from New York and New Jersey to the state. McCrory said the ads weren’t true and tried to get one off the air.

While Perdue had a fundraising advantage, McCrory benefited from more than $6 million in spending by an arm of the Republican Governors Association, which ran ads accusing Perdue of being “Status Quo Bev” and weak on illegal immigration. The Democratic Governors Association spent more than $3 million to criticize McCrory’s mayoral record.

Libertarian candidate Mike Munger, a Duke University political science professor, will have a successful election if he receives at least 2 percent of the vote. If so, his party would remain on the ballot through 2012 without having to accumulate signatures in costly petition drives.

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