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NC Democrats scrambling after Perdue's decision

By Gary D. Robertson

The Associated Press

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina's notable Democrats — and some less than notable — are seriously asking themselves a question that was moot just a few days ago: Can I become the next governor?

With Gov. Beverly Perdue's surprise announcement Thursday that she won't seek a second term, Democratic elected officials, former officials and ex-candidates are scrambling to crunch the numbers to see if they've got the money, name recognition and message to win a primary that's just about 100 days away. Decisions have to be lightning fast. Candidate filing begins Feb. 13.

"It's two weeks from the filing and people had no expectations that they would be looking for a candidate for governor," Dennis Wicker, the Democratic lieutenant governor from 1993 to 2001, said Friday. "I think it caught more people off guard."

North Carolina has never had an incumbent governor choose not to run since voters gave candidates the choice 35 years ago, so handicapping the race is tricky.

One candidate is already running, a second plans to announce Saturday and at least a half-dozen other Democrats have said publicly they're considering the idea. If no one gets more than 40 percent of the vote in the May 8 primary, the top two vote-getters will advance to a June 26 runoff.

"It's wide open — that's the way it's perceived," said David McLennan, a political science professor at William Peace University in Raleigh.

Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton put out a statement within hours of Perdue's announcement Thursday saying he was in, pointing out that he's won statewide office before, a direct contrast to Republican nominee Pat McCrory, who lost to Perdue in 2008. He said Friday in an interview he couldn't control who would enter the race but that he had a history of winning tight and crowded elections in the state Senate and for lieutenant governor.

"I will run this race going to the people of North Carolina. I will run all the money I can to get our message out. I will let them know that I am the person that can lead them to that better future," said Dalton. He added later: "I am a fighter."

State Rep. Bill Faison, D-Orange, who had been aggravating Perdue supporters by suggesting for months she wouldn't run, planned to announce formally his bid Saturday morning, a spokeswoman said. It will occur at a hotel where Democrats will gather that evening for an annual dinner. Perdue was scheduled to speak briefly at the dinner.

While Faison hasn't won statewide office — he lost last year in a bid for state Democratic Party chairman — he has money.

Faison said earlier this month he planned to loan his campaign committee $500,000. Dalton had $590,000 in the bank as of Dec. 31. His Wednesday night event raised about $150,000, his campaign said.

Having ready to access to money will give the pair and other independent wealthy candidates the ability to run television ads quickly and boost their name recognition, Democratic consultant Brad Crone said.

Money won't be enough in a statewide race that could get cantankerous as May approaches. The winning candidate probably will need to raise a few million dollars and have an array of dedicated supporters across the state, not just in urban areas. People who are considering a bid need to understand the difficulty of competing in such a large state, said Hampton Dellinger of Durham, who finished second to Dalton in the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor in 2008.

"It's hard to build a statewide network in two years, much less two months," Dellinger said. "Murphy and Manteo are not close. I've been to both."

Both Dalton and Faison have potential weaknesses. Neither candidate is particularly well known. Faison's style doesn't sit well with some party members, and court filings detailing a marriage that ended in divorce in 2010 could give opponents fodder. In the Senate, Dalton will have to explain to the party's liberal bloc why he co-sponsored in 2005 a bill to put a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage on the ballot.

Dalton said Friday he co-sponsored the bill to respond to voters in his district who asked for the chance to vote on the question. He said he's opposed to a similar amendment on the May 8 ballot because he said state law already limits marriage to a man and a woman.

Here's a quick look at other Democrats who have said they're considering a run:

RICHARD MOORE: The 51-year-old former state treasurer has won statewide office twice and can provide some self-financing to his campaign. But he lost badly to Perdue in the 2008 Democratic gubernatorial primary in which some criticized his tactics. He has been keeping a low profile in state Democratic politics ever since.

ANTHONY FOXX: The Charlotte mayor is a fresh face in state politics, has won convincingly in a city that McCrory needs to do well in order to win and has close connections to President Barack Obama. Foxx, who is black, also could help bring out the Democratic vote in the general election. But it might be the wrong time for Foxx to take on such a bid when the Democratic National Convention comes to Charlotte in September.

BOB ETHERIDGE: The former seven-term congressman from Harnett County could re-assemble a statewide network that got him elected state schools superintendent twice. His age (70) and his 2010 congressional defeat — assisted by a viral video showing him grabbing a man who was taping him on a Washington street — could raise questions about electability.

MIKE MCINTYRE AND BRAD MILLER: Both are Democratic incumbents in Congress whose re-election bids have been harmed by redistricting. McIntyre would attract conservative Democrats while Miller would get help from liberal enclaves. But they'd have to persuade voters that running for governor isn't a consolation prize. U.S. Rep. Heath Shuler also fits in this category.

ALLEN JOINES: The Winston-Salem mayor would seem a long shot but has been involved in statewide politics and has ties to Perdue.

WILDCARD: Erskine Bowles is a former U.S. Senate candidate, White House chief of staff and president of the University of North Carolina system who is being urged by many Democrats to get into the race but has said nothing publicly. He's received bipartisan praise as UNC president and leading a bipartisan commission that studied the federal debt. He knows how to run statewide but lost in 2002 and 2004 and has eschewed other political bids.


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