By Bruce Mildworf
Two weeks after primaries set North Carolina's gubernatorial match this fall, Republican Pat McCrory has grabbed an early lead over Democrat Walter Dalton, according to a WRAL News poll released Tuesday.
SurveyUSA polled 524 likely voters between Friday and Monday and found that 44 percent would vote for McCrory if the election were held now, compared with 39 percent for Dalton and 7 percent for Libertarian candidate Barbara Howe. Ten percent remain undecided.
The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.
McCrory has a sizable lead among male voters, at 47 to 35 percent, while the candidates are virtually tied among female voters, according to the poll. McCrory also leads among voters under age 50, and is basically tied with Dalton among older voters.
Almost three-quarters of black voters support Dalton, but McCrory is backed by more than half of white and Hispanic voters. Dalton also leads among lower-income voters, while McCrory has the advantage among the middle-class and upper-income voters, the poll shows.
Sixteen percent of the Democrats surveyed back McCrory, while only 6 percent of Republicans said they would cross over to vote for Dalton, according to the poll. Independent voters also favor McCrory by a 47 to 26 percent margin.
"This is a marathon. It's not a sprint," McCrory said. "I'm sure it's going to be a close election."
McCrory's has a 55 to 33 percent lead among voters in his home base of Charlotte, where he was mayor for 14 years. Meanwhile, the Democratic stronghold in southeastern North Carolina delivers a 53 to 32 percent lead for Dalton, the poll shows. Dalton has a slight lead in the Triad, and McCrory has a slight lead in the Triangle.
Voters oppose raising the state sales tax rate by three-quarters of a penny to generate more money for public schools by a 47 to 42 percent margin, according to the poll. Dalton backs the increase, which Gov. Beverly Perdue has lobbied for in recent months, but McCrory said the state needs to change its education system instead of pumping more money into it.
Both men pitched hundreds of North Carolina business leaders on their positions on the sales tax, along with government regulations, job creation and the economy, at an N.C. Chamber meeting Tuesday.
"I want to talk to all those people. I want to talk to them about how I think that money will help drive the economy and that money will filter back into the economy," Dalton said. "When teachers get paid money, they spend money."
"A 15 percent increase on small businesses and large businesses and consumers during the worst recession we've ever seen would cost North Carolina jobs," McCrory said.
Energy exploration in North Carolina is another controversial issue that could play a role in the fall elections. State lawmakers are considering legislation that could allow a method of natural gas drilling known as hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," within two years.
More than 40 percent of people surveyed said they don't know enough about fracking to take a position, but 35 percent said they support gas drilling in the state while only 24 percent oppose it, the poll shows.
Offshore oil drilling had even higher support, with 46 percent in favor and 26 percent opposed. The rest said they didn't know enough about the issue.
The poll also found that the General Assembly continues to be out of favor among voters. Fifty-three percent said they disapprove of the job lawmakers are doing, while about half as many said they approve. The results are similar to those from a WRAL News poll in March.
Regulate sweepstakes games
Finally, almost half of the 281 poll respondents who said they are familiar with sweepstakes cafés said North Carolina should regulate and tax the businesses, which sell Internet or phone time for people to play video-style games and uncover potential prizes.
The state Court of Appeals has ruled that a ban on the games is unconstitutional, and lawmakers are trying to determine how best to handle them.
Twenty-eight percent of those polled said the sweepstakes businesses should be allowed to operate without restriction, while 10 percent said they should be outlawed, according to the poll. Another 13 percent said the state lottery should be halted in addition to closing the sweepstakes cafés.