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Public Broadcasting Service "Online NewsHour" - Republican McCrory Takes Lead in N.C. as Democrats Remain Mired in Scandals

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Public Broadcasting Service "Online NewsHour" - Republican McCrory Takes Lead in N.C. as Democrats Remain Mired in Scandals

Talea Miller

In the race for governor of North Carolina, Republican candidate and Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory pulled into a recent lead after working to link Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue to an array of scandals plaguing the state's Democrats.

Photo illustration credits: Beverly Perdue, left, campaign photo; Pat McCrory, right, from deritastudio on Flickr

A Sept. 12 poll conducted by Research 2000 for the liberal blog DailyKos shows McCrory up five points, with 47 percent to Perdue's 42, with the margin of victory coming largely from independent voters.

The two were virtually tied in polls for months as they vie to replace retiring Democratic Gov. Mike Easley.

McCrory's campaign has framed Perdue as being part of a culture of corruption in North Carolina's government; at least eight state officials or lobbyists have been convicted or pleaded guilty to crimes since 2006. Former North Carolina House Speaker Jim Black, one of the state's top party leaders, was sentenced to 63 months in jail in 2007 for corruption charges.

While Perdue has not been involved in any of the corruption investigations, she was a Democrat working at a high level in the state government. Jack Betts, an associate editor for the Charlotte Observer, said McCrory has had some success in trying to frame this election as a referendum on Democratic corruption in Raleigh.

At a recent North Carolina Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform event in Raleigh, both candidates called for greater transparency at the state level.

"Fundamentally, we have to restore confidence in the voters across the state and prove that we're all serious about change," Perdue said.

McCrory said there is a culture of intimidation in the state's politics that he has experienced as mayor. "I've been told, 'Mayor, don't complain anymore ... because you'll not only not get what you need, but you'll lose what you have. Keep it down,'" McCrory said. He also expressed surprise that voters aren't showing the outrage he would have expected about the issue.

"They may not be jumping-up-and-down mad about it, but I think there is a widespread sense that something is wrong in Raleigh," Betts said.

Perdue may also be hurting from some controversial decisions that have not gone over well with traditional North Carolina Democrats.

Perdue changed her stance on off-shore drilling, first saying she opposed it, then saying she would not advocate Congress lifting the ban on Atlantic Coast drilling unless it was supported by scientists and engineers.

She also has come out against illegal immigrants attending community college, even at out-of-state tuition rates. That stance goes against a tradition of North Carolina governors expanding educational opportunities, Betts said.

Another education issue that has turned into one of the most-heated issues of the race has been McCrory's support of school vouchers for children in failing public schools. He likened the idea to state tuition grants for college during a debate on Sept. 9.

Perdue opposes vouchers and says they will drain public school of important funds and still not enable poorer families to reach the tuition requirements for good private schools.

The Perdue-McCrory face-off is just one of the close races this campaign season in North Carolina. In a recent poll by Opinion Research Corp. of battleground states for CNN and Time magazine, Republican presidential candidate John McCain had 48 percent support in North Carolina, followed closely by Democrat Barack Obama at 47 percent.

North Carolina has a pattern of voting Republican in presidential elections and most Senate races, while opting for Democratic governors. But Betts said the current polling shows that a reversal of that pattern might be on the horizon.

As the state gets more attention from the presidential campaigns, one effect that remains to be gauged is what type of trickle-down effect a major registration drive by Obama's campaign could have.

"It could be harmful," Jack Hawke, the chief strategist for McCrory, told The Charlotte Observer. "It has to be a concern."

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