McCrory Benefits From Prep For 2nd NC Gov's Race
GREENVILLE, N.C. (AP) -- Pat McCrory likes to tell voters about the challenging jobs he had early in his working life - getting chased by dogs while removing electric meters at scofflaws' homes, being booed while refereeing basketball games and paving tennis courts under the eastern North Carolina sun.
Meter work taught him about Duke Power, the company where he ultimately worked for nearly 30 years. Being a referee, he said, taught him how to take criticism and make tough calls. McCrory, the Republican nominee for governor, told a Pitt County Republican Party crowd how paving work 80 hours a week in Greenville during summer vacation had its own curative powers.
"I'll tell you what I did that year in college. My grade point average went up tremendously," McCrory told more than 200 supporters before a pork barbecue and chicken dinner at a Masonic lodge dining hall in Greenville. "It taught me to study a little bit harder."
McCrory also learned something from the job he didn't get - the former Charlotte mayor lost to Democrat Beverly Perdue in the 2008 race for governor, part of a nationwide Democratic sweep that year led by President Barack Obama. After completing his 14th and final year as mayor and getting encouragement to run again, McCrory became resolved to work harder for a repeat bid.
That extra work seems to be reaping rewards entering the final weeks of his second gubernatorial campaign. The public's familiarity with McCrory has given him the feel of an incumbent who is benefiting politically from the unpopular Perdue, who decided not to run for re-election.
McCrory and GOP supporters have sought to link Perdue with the Democratic nominee, Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton, who acknowledged late last week he was behind in the race. Libertarian Barbara Howe is also running.
McCrory "looks a lot better than he did in 2008 but I think that it does have as much to do with Bev Perdue as Pat McCrory," Western Carolina University associate political science professor Chris Cooper said. But he's also "running a better campaign. I think he is a better politician that he was four years ago."
McCrory left little to chance approaching this year by traveling early and often from the mountains to the coast to local Republican Party events to discourage a substantial opponent in the primary. Four years ago, he had three of them. And while his campaign was low on cash late in 2008 and unable to counter Perdue's ads, McCrory's 2012 campaign has raised more than $9.5 million and created a well-organized team of veterans from previous state and national campaigns.
McCrory, who turns 56 this month, has largely stuck to his 2008 campaign themes that North Carolina has been run for too long by the same Democratic political establishment. The last four years, he says, are proof it's failed to fix a broken economy, too.
"We cannot accept the status quo of leadership in North Carolina. It is going to take an outsider, an outsider to break up this good ol' boy, good ol' girl system that has been in control for far too long within our state government," McCrory told the Greenville crowd, sitting around folded tables with red and blue tablecloths and bunting.
His repeated appearances before groups outside Piedmont communities have helped the big-city McCrory and mountain and Down East audiences feel more comfortable with each other. McCrory suggests the outcome in eastern North Carolina counties that have historically voted Democratic in state elections will improve for him compared to 2008.
"A lot of people have come up to me in the east and said, `I'm sorry the way I voted the last time. I admit to you I voted for Beverly, but I won't make that mistake a second time,'" McCrory said.
At the Pitt County GOP event, McCrory got lots of affirmative head nods and "Amens" as he spoke about his upbringing - born in Ohio but left in 1966 in a green Dodge station wagon for Guilford County - and linking it to the state's unemployment rate of 9.7 percent, one of the nation's highest.
"I agree with everything he said," said Lebern Rouse, 65, of Greenville, after McCrory's speech, adding "I just generally agree with his philosophy of private business."
Registered Democrat Sanford Silverburg, a retired political science professor who taught McCrory at Catawba College in Salisbury, calls his former student a "smooth politician" in a positive sense - someone who understands how to speak based on the political or geographic composition of his audience.
McCrory's sister, Linda Sebastian, said in this campaign her brother is "more polished. He's wiser. I think he learned so much from the last campaign about what to do, about what not to do."
McCrory has left some openings for Dalton and other Democrats to raise doubts about him. They accuse him of failing to provide enough details about his tax plans and failing to oppose the Republican-led Legislature of the past two years. McCrory didn't oppose the GOP-penned budgets and has declined to give specifics about his tax-reform plan except that he wants to cut income tax rates and make other changes with bipartisan support.
That's allowed Dalton to fill in the blanks, accusing McCrory of hatching plans to raise taxes on the middle class. McCrory counters that Dalton's the only one who has supported raising the sales tax, although Dalton has now backed off that idea.
McCrory appeared ruffled during a televised debate last week when Dalton accused him of offending black citizens for a television ad featuring an eastern North Carolina sheriff who two years ago made what was considered racially insensitive remarks. And McCrory's resolve to neither release his tax returns nor discuss in detail his work at a Charlotte law firm may raise suspicions that he's got something to hide.
"That gets tied to the idea that he doesn't play by the same rules as the rest of us," Cooper said.
McCrory can't control how well Obama's re-election campaign performs in North Carolina. McCrory told the Greenville crowd the work wasn't over.
As Election Day approached, McCrory vowed to take a high-minded approach should his extra work pay off and he becomes victorious the second time around.
"My goal is to not just get the title `governor.' It's a respectful goal, I'm honored by it," he said. "My real goal is to govern and to lead."
Pat McCrory for Governor: http://www.patmccrory.com