Gov. Bev Perdue shocked some political observers Thursday by announcing that she will not seek re-election in a swing state crucial to Democrats’ political fortunes.
Perdue’s announcement came just two weeks before the filing period begins and could lead to a scramble for Democratic candidates to quickly assemble a campaign organization and raise funds. Republican Pat McCrory, the former Charlotte mayor who narrowly lost to Perdue in 2008, will officially kick off his gubernatorial campaign Tuesday.
The Democratic governor has clashed repeatedly with the N.C. General Assembly’s first Republican majority since 1898, issuing a record 16 vetoes and publicly sparring about the extension of a temporary sales tax and cuts to education spending.
“The thing I care about most right now is making sure that our schools and schoolchildren do not continue to be the victims of shortsighted legislative actions and severe budget cuts inflicted by a legislative majority with the wrong priorities,” Perdue said in a statement.
A poll released by Public Policy Polling, a Democratic firm based in Raleigh, earlier this month found McCrory leading Perdue by a 52 to 41 percent margin.
Ferrel Guillory, a UNC journalism professor and expert on Southern politics, said the economy has loomed large in voters’ assessment of Perdue’s performance. The state’s unemployment rate — currently 9.9 percent — has remained in double digits for much of Perdue’s tenure.
“The sour economy and the clash over priorities with the legislature sapped her of the ability to win public support by a list of accomplishments,” Guillory said.
Former members of Perdue’s campaign staff were also indicted on charges of violating election laws recently, including false campaign finance reports.
Perdue’s campaign reported having $1.34 million cash on hand as of mid-2011, compared to about $940,000 for McCrory’s campaign. Campaign finance reports for the second half of 2011 are due today.
Rep. Bill Faison, D-Orange, has hinted at a possible run to replace Perdue. He said he will make an announcement soon and isn’t concerned about McCrory’s early fundraising advantage.
“I agree that we’ll have to run hard to build up the war chest to go deal with McCrory, but that election isn’t until November,” he said. “I would predict for you a victory in the fall — if we should decide to get in.”
Lt Gov. Walter Dalton announced Thursday he would seek the Democratic nomination to succeed Perdue. Other Democratic political figures linked to a potential gubernatorial run include former UNC-system President Erskine Bowles, Attorney General Roy Cooper and Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx.
But Greg Steele, chairman of the UNC College Republicans, said any of the potential Democratic candidates would have a tough time competing with McCrory.
“If nothing else, he’ll have the upper hand of already having his name out there, he said. “I think this is a real blow to the North Carolina Democratic party.”
The prospect of a gubernatorial primary might also complicate Democrats’ plans for a unified message before Charlotte hosts the Democratic National Convention in September.
But Rick Ingram, secretary for Young Democrats of North Carolina, said a contested primary could actually improve Democrats’ chances.
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a primary battle that goes into May,” he said. “I think your strongest candidate usually emerges out of that system.”
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