By Mike Hixenbaugh
Published November 1, 2008
RALEIGH — The contest to replace Gov. Mike Easley has at times been reduced to a verbal battle of regions in its final weeks, with each candidate drawing lines in the dirt between rural and urban North Carolina and pointing to the other for blame.
Republican Pat McCrory, a big-city mayor from the west, says he wants to break up the “good ole boy network of power elites” in Raleigh.
Democrat Bev Perdue, a small-town politician from the east, says her 20 years of experience in the state capital make her the most qualified candidate to lead North Carolina.
Both candidates agree the economy is the top issue this election cycle, but the race seems to have veered off topic.
“Bev Perdue is trying to divide this state,” McCrory, the Charlotte mayor said this week, accusing his opponent of offering different messages in varying parts of the state. “She’s always been involved in that type of politics. This is no change.”
Perdue has charged during Rocky Mount campaign stops and in other towns that McCrory supports dumping out-of-state garbage in rural Eastern North Carolina and that he doesn’t think all rural roads should be paved.
The Perdue campaign said those accusations are based on statements McCrory has made. But there is no record of McCrory directly saying he wants to dump garbage or stop paving rural roads. McCrory has argued city road projects are underfunded, but he said he has never advocated for dumping garbage here.
“She is lying,” McCrory said, his voice growing louder with each word. “This is the culture of lying and corruption that we have grown used to; that the leaders in Raleigh are willing to say anything to stay in power.”
Lt. Gov. Perdue fired back, saying it is McCrory who has worked to create a rift between rural and urban parts of the state.
“I don’t know how someone who says some towns should have dirt roads, how that’s not about dividing North Carolina,” Perdue said, suggesting her opponent should “quit whining” about his own statements. “My whole reason for running for governor was to build a new North Carolina, from Murphy to Manteo. There are 100 counties in North Carolina, and we’re only as good as our poorest or most depressed county. I would never be part of trying to play one side of the state against the other.”
McCrory has attempted to run as an outsider on a mission to fix a corrupt state government. In turn, his campaign and state Republicans have labeled Perdue as “Status Quo Bev,” saying she has done little over the last eight years to make positive change.
But as lieutenant governor, a position stripped more than 20 years ago of most of its power and responsibility, Perdue chaired the Health and Wellness Trust Fund Commission, sat on committees related to economic development and education, and led the drive to keep the federal military base-closing commission from shutting down North Carolina facilities.
On the issues, Perdue and McCrory agree that building a healthy economy hinges on creating a skilled work force through improving education. McCrory wants to allow more charter schools and increase vocational training in high schools. Perdue, however, is an advocate for increasing funding to public schools, offering higher teacher salaries and relying on the state’s expansive community college system to grow workers.
The two have spared over drilling for oil off North Carolina’s coast – McCrory is for it, Perdue seems to be against it – and on embryonic stem cell research. McCrory drew Perdue’s ire after he said he would sign a bill that banned such research.
McCrory wants state government to spend less money and offer better tax incentives for companies moving to the state. He said he would have vetoed each of the budgets Easley signed into law.
Perdue wants to expand early childhood education programs and offer more childcare subsidies to single working parents. She has also been a forceful advocate of investing in renewable energy to create a “green economy.”
In a year when Democrats with similar agendas are dominating statewide polls, Perdue has struggled to break away from McCrory. Heading into the final weekend, conflicting polls showed no clear advantage for either candidate.
Tom Jensen, an analyst with the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling, said Perdue has been hindered by weak debate performances and by what he called a somewhat sloppy campaign.
“This race is close because of those factors,” Jensen said. “This has been hers to lose.”
Both Perdue and McCrory pledged to run positive campaigns heading into the general election, but when asked if they could think of a single complement for their opponent, each stumbled over their words before passing on the question. Neither candidate admitted to running a single negative advertisement.
“What happened to positive Bev?” McCrory said, referring to a promise Perdue made to “never again” run a negative ad. “She’s doing to me what she did to Richard Moore. She lies and runs negative attacks, then in the last week she puts on Andy Griffith and talks about her positive campaign. That’s not leadership. That’s a puppet.”
Perdue defended her ads, saying she has only attempted to compare her record against her opponent. She asks why McCrory hasn’t repudiated ads run by the Republican Governors Association that link her with legislators who have been charged with ethics violations in recent years.
“Nevertheless, I am very, very used to negative Republican attack ads,” said Perdue, adding her main problem with the TV ads is the bad hairdo sported by the actor playing her. “What’s the No. 1 chapter in their playbook? Negative attacks. I have not ever whined about them.
“I think people are just getting so much of this junk, they don’t pay attention anymore.”