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Wilmington Star-News - Race Tight as Perdue Aims to Become N.C.'s First Female Governor

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Wilmington Star-News - Race Tight as Perdue Aims to Become N.C.'s First Female Governor

Vicky Eckenrode

In the final days of campaigning, the contest for the governor's office has become a tight matchup between a Republican looking to be the state's first GOP leader in 15 years and a Democrat hoping to enter the history books as North Carolina's first female executive.

Various polls leading up to Election Day have Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory and Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue even or within points of each other.

They are vying for an open position as Gov. Mike Easley prepares to leave office after serving two terms.

Even Libertarian candidate Mike Munger is on the verge of making his own history in the race since he is projected to win enough votes to keep the third party on the ballot for the next time around.

All three candidates have crisscrossed the state numerous times, including several stops in the Wilmington area. McCrory has appeared at candidate forums during both the primary season and earlier this month. Perdue has stuck with group appearances and fundraisers.

Perdue, 61, rallied local supporters just more than a week ago at Whitey's Restaurant where there hangs a framed photo of the lieutenant governor signed in 2005.

"That's how I'm going to carry New Hanover County," she said, pointing to the picture.

Perdue, a former state senator and representative, has stumped on her ability to lead the state through the tough economic times that are expected to confront the next governor.

"The day I take office, I've got some safeguards in place with the rainy day fund," she said in a recent interview. "I know how to prioritize."

Perdue has pointed out to local voters that she was the Senate appropriations chairwoman when lawmakers gave nearly $840 million in 1999 for Hurricane Floyd recovery to the eastern part of the state.

"I understand how you can move around things when the times are challenging like they were for us during Hurricane Floyd," she said.

McCrory, 52, said employment will be a crucial focus for the new governor.

"We need a governor that fights to keep jobs and brings jobs into North Carolina. I've done it as mayor," said McCrory, who in his seven terms has been Charlotte's longest-serving mayor. "I'm going to use the same techniques I've done as mayor to cut out bureaucracy that prohibits people from investing in new jobs."

Both candidates acknowledged there will be tough decisions and cuts ahead.

Some officials are projecting up to a $2 billion shortfall next year in the state's more than $21 billion budget.

Perdue said her goal will be to maintain existing services and to not cut into education spending. Some of her campaign pledges, though, have included universal health care coverage for children and expanding coverage for more working families.

McCrory also has stumped on building more prison space, a position he said has not changed in light of the tightening budget picture.

"We have the least amount of prison space that's available in the Southeast, and as a result, our police are just re-arresting the same people over and over again," he said. "I'm going to raise court fees to find money to build more prisons and to help our DAs (district attorneys) to prosecute our career criminals."

Munger, a Duke University professor and chairman of the school's political science department, is shooting for at least 2 percent of the total votes. That way, the Libertarian Party automatically will be on the ballot in 2012 without having to launch a petition campaign like Munger had to do earlier this year.

Munger, 50, raised and spent a quarter million dollars on a petition drive to be included on the ballot.

He said no matter what the election result, he plans to work county-by-county to build up the Libertarian Party and advocate for less restrictive ballot access laws in the state.

Munger said he was a longtime Republican and worked as a Federal Trade Commission economist during President Ronald Reagan's administration before eventually leaving the GOP.

"I was dissatisfied with the leadership both nationally and at the state level," he said. "I think the principles of the American Constitution are not being represented by either of the two parties."

Munger has campaigned on pushing for more local control of school systems rather than centralization from the state out of Raleigh. He also said officials are ignoring maintenance of the state's existing road and bridge infrastructure in favor of spending money on new projects.

"We have let politics dominate common sense," he said. "We've got to focus on rebuilding our road system rather than building bright, shiny objects."

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