Custom Search

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Pat McCrory's Strengths: He's Not Racist! He's Not Partisan! Risk Taker! Decision 2012

GOP activists say no one wants to take on McCrory

After Pat McCrory lost his campaign for governor in 2008, he had to find a new job. He also got a second chance to impress conservative Republicans and make deeper statewide political connections.

McCrory got the new job, working for a major law firm. And he worked the rubber-chicken circuit tirelessly, building up political IOUs during the 2010 mid-term elections.

As a result, he's the first Republican since Lt. Gov. Jim Gardner in 1992 to have a clear path to the GOP gubernatorial nomination. McCrory, the former Charlotte mayor, will announce his candidacy Tuesday night in Guilford County.

Normally, the governor's race produces a spirited Republican primary. The race was seen as particularly attractive to Republicans this year because polls suggested that Democratic incumbent Bev Perdue was politically vulnerable before her decision last week not to seek re-election.

McCrory, 55, lost to Perdue in 2008 by a 50-47 percent margin in the closest governor's race in the country that year.

In the past, Republicans who have lost races have not been successful in trying to come back the next election. But McCrory was given some slack by many GOP activists because 2008 was a strong Democratic year. Republican Sen. Elizabeth Dole lost, and Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama carried the state.

"He ran a very close race in a very big Democratic year and I suspect everyone said he would be virtually impossible to beat in a primary," said Bob Orr, who lost to McCrory in a GOP primary in 2008. "As a result, folks who would have considered running for governor opted not to."

When he lost in 2008, McCrory said politics was not foremost in his mind. He had a year left to serve in his part-time job as Charlotte mayor, where he served for a record 14 years. Because he had resigned his long-time job at Duke Energy to run for governor, McCrory had to find another way to make a living.

"I am trying to work that fine balance between making a living and public service, as I have done most of my life, because I am not independently wealthy," McCrory said in a recent interview. "I can't borrow money to run for elective office. The last time I ran for office, most people don't realize, but I quit my job and lived off savings."

McCrory said last week that his campaign anticipated that Perdue might not run. He declined to comment on the possibility of facing any other Democrat, including Charlotte's Anthony Foxx, his successor as mayor.

He said Perdue's decision doesn't change his plan, which had always been to cast himself as the outsider.

"It doesn't change our focus," McCrory said. "We're going to let the Democratic Party work through their primary, and we look forward to debating the issues. Gov. Perdue would have been a very, very strong opponent, especially given the power of incumbency and the resources that come with it. The fact is, she was polling better against me than other Democratic leaders."

McCrory, who is not a lawyer, works for the law firm of Moore and Van Allen doing what he calls policy development work, advising clients on issues such as energy, land use, transportation and the environment.

He also does some consulting, including strategic planning for a Pennsylvania software company. He gives talks across the nation on infrastructure. He was recently in Amsterdam, where he gave a talk to European engineers on 3-D engineering software.

He says he does no lobbying.

Wooing Conservatives

After leaving the mayor's office, McCrory began moving around the state, becoming a regular on the GOP speaking circuit. He had not been able to do enough of that sort of grass-roots politicking during the 2008 Republican primary because he entered the race late. Still, his high visibility in the Charlotte media market allowed him to defeat state Sen. Fred Smith of Clayton and Orr, a former state Supreme Court justice.

McCrory was very visible during the 2010 elections, which were swept by Republicans. By the summer of that year, he had set up his own political action committee. During the Wake County school board elections last fall, he recorded calls for Republican candidate Heather Losurdo.

He also courted Republican conservatives. It was the group where he showed the most weakness during the 2008 primary; some were skeptical of his support for a sales tax hike to help finance a rapid light rail system in Charlotte.

"In my view, McCrory has a enthusiasm gap with some conservatives, particularly in the east," said Marc Rotterman, a Republican media strategist based in Raleigh. "I think he needs to explain his tenure as mayor of Charlotte, especially when it comes to the sales tax, which was used to fund light rail. Having said that, on his worst day, he is far preferable than any of the Democrat pretenders, and, with Perdue's exit, the Democrats now find themselves playing catch-up."

At the state GOP convention in Winston-Salem in 2010, McCrory called for passage of an Arizona-type law against illegal immigrants.

In perhaps his biggest move, McCrory formed a close working relationship with the state chapter of Americans for Prosperity, a conservative advocacy group with ties to Raleigh businessman Art Pope.

With AFP, he toured the state working to defeat President Barack Obama's health care bill. He recorded phone calls to state lawmakers to defeat a bill to extend public financing of elections to some statewide offices, and to pass a voter ID bill. He signed the group's pledge to a Taxpayer's Bill of Rights that would limit spending to inflation and population growth.

McCrory says he's had a chance to step "outside the political bubble."

"There's no doubt I'm the outsider looking in to the people who have been running state government for well over a decade," he said.

Blocking out opponents

McCrory's wooing of the right has brought catcalls from liberal commentators, such as Chris Fitzsimon of N.C. Policy Watch. Fitzsimon has labeled him "Mitt McCrory" because as Charlotte mayor he pushed for tax increases, catered to environmentalists, supported massive incentive packages, advocated for mass transit and other actions "surely sending shivers through the tea party crowd."

That is not how some of his fellow Republicans see it.

"Pat is an inherently conservative person, tempered by a Chamber of Commerce, Charlotte experience," Orr said.

"One thing he hadn't done four years ago that he has done now is sort of touch base with all those folks," Orr said. "He has gone to all the Lincoln Day dinners and precinct rallies and district rallies and county events. ... He has spent four years doing that. Whatever rumblings there might have been have been reduced substantially."

Jack Hawke, McCrory's chief strategist, says his candidate has been involved in "a wooing process." But, he said, "as far as I know, he has not changed any position. He has not gone back on his record."

"There remains a small group of people who think Pat is maybe not quite conservative enough," Hawke said. "But as people have gotten to know Pat and questioned him about his philosophy, they may not agree with him about everything, but they see that he is a conservative Republican."

Having run for governor, having spent the last couple of years traveling the state, and living in the state's largest metro area, McCrory started the current election cycle with a large advantage over any other potential GOP candidates.

"For somebody to just come into the race and develop the level of support McCrory has, or just the level of being known, would cost $1 million or $2 million," said Carter Wrenn, a veteran Republican strategist. "That would be hard for anybody to raise. Politically, he is in such a strong position no one wants to tackle him."

The McCrory campaign has also moved to head off potential competitors, lining up critical support from Sen. Richard Burr and the rest of the GOP members of the congressional delegation.

There was serious talk last year of state Sen. Pete Brunstetter of Winston-Salem, the deputy Republican leader, entering the race. Other names that were circulated included Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler and Raleigh businessman Bob Luddy.

But McCrory, with the help of the Republican Governors' Association, brought in some big fundraising guns: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in November and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal in December.

There were a lot of Republicans willing to get on board the McCrory bandwagon because nearly all the polls of the past year showed him with a comfortable lead over Perdue. North Carolina Republicans are hungry for a victory; only two states in the country, Washington and Oregon, have had a longer run of Democratic governors than North Carolina.

It has been particularly frustrating for the Tar Heel GOP, because Republicans have increasingly dominated the South. Besides North Carolina, only Kentucky and Arkansas have Democratic governors.

"If you are a Republican activist and you have a year of polls showing Pat McCrory beating Bev Perdue," said Wrenn, "why would you look for someone else?"

McCrory as Charlotte's mayor

Pat McCrory was Charlotte's longest-serving mayor with 14 years in the office. During his tenure:

Charlotte built the state's first light rail system. McCrory championed the cause by pushing to increase the local sales tax by a half-cent to fund it. And in 2007, he helped defeat an attempt to repeal the tax.

After a voter referendum to build a new arena failed, he persuaded the NBA to promise an expansion franchise and used that promise to push through what is now Time Warner Cable Arena.

He successfully pushed for an increase in hotel taxes to pay for the city's NASCAR Hall of Fame.

View Larger Map

Sources:, McClatchy Newspapers, Youtube, Google Maps

No comments: