McCrory to run for governor
By Gary D. Robertson
WILMINGTON ó Former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, who arrived on the political stage in 1989 as a relatively unknown city council candidate, lamented to a crowd recently about how heís about to reach a milestone ó he turns 55 this month.
ěIím qualifying for discount movies,î McCrory quipped to about 125 women as he gave a luncheon talk at a riverfront Wilmington hotel. ěItís very disturbing ó very disturbing ó to me.î
Like his physical age, McCrory is no longer the newcomer to statewide North Carolina politics. Already tested in a bruising campaign against Democrat Beverly Perdue in 2008 that ended with her narrow victory, the Republican has remained in the political spotlight while preparing for whatís now an all-but-certain repeat bid for governor.
While Perdue is the well-known incumbent, McCrory is now a known statewide political commodity, too.
McCrory so far has cleared the field of experienced opponents for a Republican primary by boosting his credentials among rank-and-file activists and raising $1 million for his campaign. Heís had scores of GOP speaking engagements tucked into a busy business schedule. Heís partnered with a fiscal watchdog group thatís been his megaphone to speak out and brandish his credentials with those aligned with the tea party movement.
Critics contend McCrory is only trying to pander to Republicans who would vote in the May primary and started campaigning the day after he lost to Perdue.
But heís also laying the groundwork early to try to frame the 2012 election as a referendum on President Obamaís work on the economy and whether Perdue has followed through on campaign promises.
ěOne thing that Iíve seen in every part of our state is the need for leadership in the Governorís Office,î McCrory said in a video posted on his website last week in which he told supporters to expect an announcement early next year. ěWe have done better in the past and we can do better in the future. Quite frankly, I intend to be part of that better future.î
After losing by 3 percentage points to Perdue in November 2008, McCrory announced a month later his record seventh term as mayor of North Carolinaís largest city would be his last when it ended in late 2009.
ěI was ready to move on and move out of politics and say I had a great time,î McCrory said in a recent interview. ěBut to my surprise, a lot of people have encouraged me to get back into the process, and thatís what weíre doing.î
He became a favorite speaker on the chicken-dinner circuit in GOP circles and assembled a political action committee that gave about $21,000 to legislative candidates in 2010. Heís also agreed to work with the state chapter of Americans for Prosperity, first in 2009 by speaking at rallies in opposition to the federal health care law. Heís offered his voice to automated phone calls criticizing Perdue for vetoes and opposing a bill that would have expanded voluntary public financing of campaigns.
ěPat has been a big help to us on policy issues,î state chapter executive director Dallas Woodhouse said.
McCrory has recognized he could thrive even without the mayorís title, according to John Lassiter, a former city council member and close friend of McCroryís who tried unsuccessfully to succeed him at the job. McCrory, a former Duke Power Co. middle manager until he ran for governor in 2008, now works at his brotherís consulting company and a Charlotte law firm.
ěHe had to almost reinvent himself as a private citizen. I think that he has surprised himself that he is pretty good at it,î he said.
McCrory has become more deliberate during 2011 about a run for governor, holding fundraisers, assembling a small staff and speaking out more against Perdueís policies and activities.
Perdue campaign spokesman Marc Farinella said voters shouldnít be fooled about McCroryís style. McCrory supported education cuts by letting a temporary sales tax increase expire and backed GOP leaders in the Legislature on divisive issues, Farinella said.
ěWhile he has an ëawe-shucksí kind of way of making his positions sound moderate, the truth is that heís prepared to give the Republican Legislature and the tea party any changes to state laws and the budget they want in exchange for getting him elected,î Farinella said.
No longer a newcomer
In 2008, McCrory jumped into the GOP race relatively late with three other credible candidates already in the primary and no statewide political organization.
McCrory ended up winning a five-way primary with 46 percent of the vote, but essentially had no money at the start of the general election battle.
This time, ěhis strategy has been to make it quite clear to other Republicans that he intends to run again and keep the field clear so he doesnít have a tough and expensive primary to run,î said Eric Heberlig, an associate political science professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
Having the same-sex marriage question on the ballot the same time as the primary could open the door for a social conservative to enter the race because the electorate may favor a candidate with similar views. McCrory supports a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, but he doesnít speak fervently about social issues. Still, several county GOP activists interviewed said they were happy with McCrory.
With GOP voter registration comprising about one-third of the electorate, McCrory must rely on the formula for GOP success in statewide races by relying on unaffiliated voters and some Democrats.
It may include people usually disinterested in politics such as Lynn Gibson, 41, the owner of a day spa and salon who didnít vote in 2008. She went with a co-worker to the ěWomen for McCroryî event in Wilmington, where participants paid $35 apiece for lunch and meeting McCrory, who took audience questions.
Gibson said later sheís worried about payroll taxes and providing health insurance to her employees under the new federal health care law. But she wondered aloud how much of a difference McCrory alone could make.
ěI liked him. I hope that he can as one man get things done,î she said.
McCrory still must overcome perceived misgivings about Charlotte leaders and the perception they would care more about cities than rural areas. He still smarts from a Perdue campaign television ad in 2008 suggesting to eastern North Carolina that McCrory was ěnot for all of us.î
McCrory told the Wilmington crowd: ěIt doesnít matter where you come from. Itís what type of leader you are.î