Democrats in North Carolina have endured a rough patch lately. Gov. Bev Perdue didn’t announce until late January that she would not run again, setting off a scramble among her Democratic colleagues and leaving them little time to build the robust campaign organization typically needed for such a demanding race.
Then some of the party’s most capable leaders declined to run. As we said at the time, we think former UNC system president Erskine Bowles would have been the party’s strongest candidate. Without Bowles, some less intriguing aspirants fill the ballot: Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton, former congressman Bob Etheridge, state Rep. Bill Faison and three lesser-known contenders.
The candidates generally agree on the issues, so Democrats should select their nominee with an eye toward who has demonstrated the most leadership, who is most familiar with state issues, who can best work with a likely Republican legislature, and who has the best chance of beating the Republican nominee, presumably Pat McCrory.
Walter Dalton is the strongest candidate on each of these measures.
Dalton, 62, was elected lieutenant governor in 2008 after six terms representing Rutherford and Cleveland counties in the state Senate. He was a co-chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee and was consistently ranked as one of the most effective members of the Senate by fellow senators, lobbyists and the press. He first ran for office in 1996 after practicing law and serving in various community roles in Rutherfordton.
Dalton has a record of accomplishment. He was the primary sponsor of legislation that created North Carolina’s early college system and he helped establish the Joining Our Businesses and Schools Commission to bring schools and businesses together to help students. He also helped create a program to aid homeowners facing foreclosure. His experience makes him well-versed in both the legislative and executive branches and in the crucial issues facing the state.
Dalton has positioned himself as a business-friendly moderate and has taken conservative stances on social issues. That may give some Democratic primary voters pause, but his record and ideology would position him better than his opponents to work effectively with legislative Republicans rather than just butting heads.
McCrory would be favored against Dalton, and Dalton’s ties to Perdue and the Democratic establishment would surely be used against him. But Dalton beat Republican Robert Pittenger for his current office despite being vastly outspent (and thanks in large part to President Obama’s coattails). He also defeated a Republican incumbent in a conservative district in his first run for the Senate and won reelection five times. So he’s battle-tested. And as a centrist, he has a better chance of winning independent support than the other Democrats, especially if McCrory tacks to the right.
Etheridge, 70, served seven terms in the U.S. House before losing to Renee Ellmers in 2010. He has been a dedicated public official, and has served in elected office for most of the past 40 years. But he speaks in generalities and shows little passion on any state issue besides education. He often seems to take positions based on political expedience and hasn’t articulated a strong vision for what he’d do as governor, other than to try to persuade a reluctant legislature to spend more on education.
Faison, a four-term state representative from Orange County, has a sharp mind, a strong work ethic and a fearless demeanor. But he would struggle as governor to work with a Republican legislature and would have little chance of defeating McCrory in any case.
Which Pat McCrory next?
McCrory, the seven-term former Charlotte mayor who narrowly lost to Perdue in 2008, faces five little-known Republicans. He is the most qualified and deserves the nomination.
McCrory served Charlotte well as a moderate, business-friendly, progressive mayor. He would bring a number of strengths to the governor’s office, including a deep understanding of transportation issues and awareness of environmental issues. We hope he runs as the McCrory we’ve known, and does not just cater to the most conservative members of his party.