For Edwin Peacock, it was a welcome plug at Friday’s opening of the North Carolina Republican Convention.
“Our candidate for mayor,” state GOP Chairman Robin Hayes called him as Peacock took the dais to lead 1,600 delegates in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Though filing doesn’t start for a month, Peacock is the party’s only declared candidate in the race to succeed Democrat Anthony Foxx, who awaits confirmation as U.S. transportation secretary.
Mayor Pro Tem Patrick Cannon is the only announced Democrat.
The race highlights the sharp contrast between Republican fortunes in the state and its largest city. November’s mayoral election also offers opportunities for the party to make inroads that could help its U.S. Senate candidate and legislative candidates next year.
Statewide, Republicans are jubilant about their recent successes. They hold the governor’s office and control both houses of the General Assembly for the first time in more than 100 years. In November, Mitt Romney won the state’s 15 electoral votes.
But in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, the GOP is struggling to hold on as the area grows increasingly Democratic. Even unaffiliated voters outnumber Republicans, who make up less than one in four voters in Charlotte. Democrats swept the City Council at-large races in 2011 and the Board of Commissioners at-large seats in 2012. Last year, President Barack Obama carried the county by more than 100,000 votes.
When Republican Pat McCrory was first elected mayor in 1995, 73 percent of the city’s voters were white. By the time Foxx was elected in 2009, whites made up 57 percent. Today they’re 53 percent.
“Charlotte is a blue city, no doubt about it,” said Mike Rusher, executive director of the state GOP. “But we feel confident. …When you look at raw Republican voters or raw swing voters, there’s a wealth of opportunity in Mecklenburg for Republicans.”
Peacock has assembled a campaign team with a record of success.
Senior strategist Jack Hawke served the same role for GOP Govs. Pat McCrory recently and Jim Martin during the 1980s and ’90s. Campaign manager Russell Peck ran McCrory’s 2012 campaign. Political director Chance Lambeth is a veteran of the GOP’s 2012 Victory Campaign.
They point to an internal poll that shows a race with Cannon a virtual dead heat.
But Republican consultant Larry Shaheen of Charlotte said Peacock has a difficult road ahead.
“He’s going to have to focus on fundraising within the business community,” he said. “In the end, this is going to come down to demographics. And if the demographics are similar to 2009 and 2011, it’s going to be tough.”
Reputation as moderate
For Peacock, any path to success involves capturing independents and moderate Democrats.
He has a reputation as a moderate. During his two terms on the council, he championed the environment. And when he ran for Congress in the 9th District last year, he was the only one of 10 GOP candidates to publicly oppose the amendment to ban same-sex marriage.
Democratic consultant Dan McCorkle said Peacock has to walk a tightrope.
“Is he conservative enough to motivate his base?” he said. “Is he moderate enough to attract independents and Democrats?”
Peacock, 43, sees it differently.
“People want leaders who fix problems and find solutions,” he said. “They want less of the partisanship and bickering that has become so prevalent in our local government.”
He said he’ll bring a “positive and pragmatic message” that resonates with Democrats, Republicans and independents.
Republicans hope that trumps the changing electorate.
“Ideas and positions are what people vote on, not necessarily demographics,” said county GOP Chairman Brad Overcash.
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