Perdue elected NC’s first female governor

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Associated Press Writer

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – Beverly Perdue was elected North Carolina’s first female governor Tuesday, the daughter of a Virginia coal miner who achieved a decade-old dream by rising through the ranks of the Legislature to the state’s top job.

Perdue is the two-term lieutenant governor from New Bern who become a powerful legislator by carrying the education mantle of her mentor, former Democratic Gov. Jim Hunt. She turned back a spirited challenge from Republican Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory and extended the Democrats’ 16-year hold on the Executive Mansion.

“Across North Carolina, many of you looked at me and you said, ‘Bev, will my vote matter? You asked me if one person can make a difference. You’ve answered tonight,'” Perdue told her supporters in Raleigh. “Yes, we matter and yes, we care about the future. We are going to make a fresh start in North Carolina.”

Perdue said her historic election ó 22 other states have had female governors ó wasn’t something she focused upon in her campaign.

“Just thinking about me being a woman is important,” Perdue said earlier Tuesday. “I haven’t run simply because I’m the first woman candidate running, but I hear it everywhere I go. Little girls and little boys, just say ‘Wow, is it possible.’ So, yeah, it’s exciting, mighty exciting.”

According to unofficial returns, with 92 percent of precincts reporting more than 3.9 million votes, Perdue had slightly less than 50 percent of the vote. McCrory had 47 percent.

Libertarian Mike Munger, a Duke University political science professor, had less than 3 percent. But the showing was a success for his party, which will remain on state ballots through 2012 because he received at least 2 percent of the vote.

McCrory, the popular seven-term mayor of the state’s largest city, conceded shortly before 11 p.m. in a short speech at a Charlotte hotel. He said later the strong showing of Barack Obama’s campaign for president in North Carolina made it difficult to win.

“I think we got caught up a tidal wave. We did extremely well. I don’t know what the final percentages are … it’s going to end up being pretty close,” he said. “I’m not going to drag this thing out. And I want to give the new governor the stage.”

Perdue, 61, moved to North Carolina in the 1970s and worked in the health care field. She was elected to the state House in 1986 and switched to the Senate in 1991. She will take the oath of office in January.

Perdue was elected to the state’s No. 2 executive post in 2001, and during her campaign for governor described herself as a steady hand and strong leader who would continue to improve education and attract jobs despite a state budget shortfall and uncertain economy.

She succeeded despite a strong message from McCrory, who said he would eliminate what he called a culture of corruption within state government and make it more responsive to average residents. Several Democratic leaders have gone to prison this decade.

But 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 of them 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.