DURHAM North Carolinas candidates for governor, Walter Dalton and Pat McCrory, engaged in a sharp-edged televised debate Wednesday, offering barbed exchanges on taxes, businesses, fracking, race and voter ID that reflected the states political polarization.
Dalton, the Democratic lieutenant governor, most often was in the role of the aggressor, portraying McCrory as someone who would be more responsive to the interests of the well-to-do, whether it came to taxes or big oil companies.
McCrory portrayed himself as the reformer who would make much needed changes in the state, while painting Dalton as part of a failed good ol boy and good ol girl system that had lead to high unemployment and scandal in government.
The hourlong face-off was the first of three statewide televised debates. It was sponsored by the N.C. Association of Broadcasters Educational Foundation and was held at the studios of UNC-TV.
At times, the debate turned nearly caustic such as when the subject of race relations was raised. The topic was a Dalton online ad featuring several African-American legislators. In the ad, the legislators criticized a McCrory ad as insensitive because it featured former Wilson County sheriff Wayne Gay who blamed black voters when he was defeated. The Dalton ad quoted people saying that McCrory just doesnt understand the African-American experience in North Carolina.
We need someone who brings everybody together, Dalton said.
Its the low point of North Carolina politics, McCrory said. I didnt think it could get any lower with some of the things that Gov. Perdue did. But that YouTube ad is not something that is going to bring people together. (McCrory lost to Democrat Bev Perdue in 2008).
McCrory said he treated people as individuals, and he noted that he had mentored a young black man, who is now an adult.
It is a friendship that will be with me with all my life, McCrory said.
I am glad he mentored that child, Dalton said. But if he finds this (online) ad offensive, its because he has offended.
That prompted a laugh of disbelief from McCrory.
You can laugh if you want to, Dalton shot back. You do not understand how offensive that ad was. You do not understand how offensive that (Romneys) 47 percent ad was ... Perhaps it was an innocent mistake, but it was a bad mistake.
Is he talking about me, or is he talking about somebody else, McCrory uttered, almost under his breath.
Race also touched the issue of whether the state should adopt a voter ID bill, which passed the legislature but was vetoed by Perdue. Dalton opposes the measure; McCrory is in favor. The legislation is strongly opposed by African-Americans.
If we require an ID to get Sudafed, if we require an ID to get into the governors mansion or to get into the Democratic National Convention when it is held in Charlotte, than I think it is good enough for the voting box in North Carolina, McCrory said.
But Dalton shot back: Sudafed is not a precious constitutional right. Dalton said there is little evidence of voter fraud in North Carolina, but he said McCrory wants to spend millions on it.
He said World War II veterans living in rural areas would have to travel miles to get the right documentation. I dont think he understands rural areas at all, Dalton said.
Replied McCrory: Ill be sure to tell my colleagues and my fellow students in Jamestown and Ragsdale High School that I dont understand their needs.
They also disagreed sharply on taxes. McCrory said the state needs to reform its tax system by making its corporate and income taxes more competitive with neighboring states. Dalton said he has offered a detailed tax plan and that McCrorys plan would ultimately shift the tax burden from the well-to-do to the middle class. McCrory responded that it was Dalton who has backed numerous tax increases in the legislature and until recently supported a 15 percent increase in the sales tax.