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Losing is new for McCrory

After 10 straight victories, mayor couldn't overcome Democratic wave, even in his own backyard.

By Jim Morrill
jmorrill@charlotteobserver.com

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No number from Tuesday's N.C. governor's race jumps out like one: 385.

That's the number of votes by which Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory lost Mecklenburg County.

After 10 straight decisive wins as mayor and city council member, McCrory, a Republican, was beaten in his backyard, as much the victim of Barack Obama and straight-ticket voting as of his Democratic rival, Bev Perdue.

“Obama's coattails were ragged,” says Democratic consultant Carl Clark of Charlotte. “(But) in Mecklenburg, they were very long.” McCrory lost not only his home county but urban areas across the state, places he had expected would warm to a big-city mayor running on a platform that included anti-crime measures and better roads.

His loss and their new-found organizational muscle leaves Charlotte Democrats optimistic as they head into next year's mayoral election, whether or not McCrory is a candidate.

“We have a blueprint, we have newly registered voters, we have a system in place,” says Mecklenburg Democratic chairman Joel Ford. “We think we can be successful.”

Obama voters for Perdue

McCrory carried suburban counties including Gaston and Cabarrus. But Perdue won urban and rural counties, according to an Observer analysis. Though she took the most populous areas, she consistently ran behind Democrats Obama and Kay Hagan, who unseated Republican U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole.

Obama and Hagan each won Mecklenburg by around 100,000 votes, far more than Perdue.

“In my opinion (McCrory) did darn well,” says McCrory strategist Jack Hawke. “Yeah, we would have liked to carry it. But he ran 100,000 votes ahead of his party.”

McCrory did not return calls Wednesday. Campaign manager Richard Hudson said the mayor ran into “a Chicago-style turnout machine.”

Across the state, Democrats not only registered a record number of new voters but got them to the polls. And when they did, they were encouraged to vote a straight ticket.

More than one of every three Mecklenburg voters – nearly 148,000 - cast a straight Democratic ticket. Only 81,000 voted straight Republican.

“It does us no good to have people vote for Sen. Obama and then walk away,” says Ford.

Numbers tell the story.

In predominantly African American precincts such as East Stonewall AME Zion Church, Obama got 2,103 votes to 14 for Republican John McCain. There, Perdue won 1,983 to McCrory's 81.

At the West Charlotte Recreation Center, Obama won 1,600-14. Perdue carried the precinct 1,477-45.

Other precincts that went heavily to Obama went for McCrory.

At mostly white Precinct 9, which votes at Dilworth's Covenant Presbyterian Church, for example, Obama won 2-1. But McCrory outpolled Perdue 1,042-724.

But straight-ticket voting reached deep. It helped Democrat David Granberry topple longtime Republican Register of Deeds Judy Gibson.

What's next for mayor?

What McCrory does now is unclear. He left his job at Duke Energy to run for governor and still has a year left in his seventh term as mayor.

“My wife told me eight months ago what my future would be here in Charlotte and I'll announce that later,” he told WCNC. He did not elaborate

“He's committed to that role (as mayor) and the community expects him to carry out this term,” says friend John Lassiter, a GOP council member. “More pressing to him personally is he has to decide how he's going to provide for his family.”

Last week, anticipating victory, McCrory all but endorsed Lassiter as a successor. Democratic council member Anthony Foxx has already announced his interest. And state Sen. Malcolm Graham, also a Democrat, has hinted that he might run.

On Wednesday, Democrats were bullish about their chances in 2009, regardless of who the Republican candidate is. The city has a higher percentage of registered Democrats and African Americans than even the county.

“If the Democrats want to beat McCrory or another Republican next year, I hope they took their three to four drinks of Jack Daniels last night and get to work tomorrow,” said Clark, the Democratic strategist. “Because if they don't organize, they don't win.”

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