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State, national GOP is investing in Charlotte mayor’s race

Taking a page from Democrats, the state and national Republican parties have stepped into a Charlotte mayoral race for the first time – with an eye on a bigger race in 2014.

The N.C. Republican Party, with financial help from the national party, has provided five field organizers for Republican mayoral candidate Edwin Peacock, who faces Democrat Patrick Cannon in November.

“It’s all about turning out the vote,” said Todd Poole, executive director of the N.C. GOP. “We’ve ID’d voters, which will certainly be helpful in 2014. We’ve recruited volunteers. There are lots of benefits to getting an early start.”

Turning out the vote for Peacock could boost Republicans when their candidate faces Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan in 2014.

And the GOP needs help in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County.

Democrat Barack Obama carried Mecklenburg by 100,000 votes in 2008 and in 2012. Hagan won the county by 106,000 votes on her way to ousting incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole in 2008.

And in 2011, Democrats swept control not only of the mayor’s seat but nine of 11 City Council seats.

Republicans make up just 23 percent of city voters. Democrats outnumber them 2-1, and there are even more independents.

Poole said the state party is providing workers to municipal candidates in other cities, including Raleigh. But not to the extent that it is in Charlotte.

The five field organizers include an “African-American engagement coordinator.” After the Charlotte campaign, that organizer will try to expand the party’s minority outreach statewide.

In 2011, state Democrats provided two field workers for the campaign of former Mayor Anthony Foxx. That helped the campaign increase turnout in 68 percent of the most heavily Democratic precincts. Foxx’s campaign made 252,000 phone calls and knocked on 25,000 doors, including 7,000 in the four days before the election.

By contrast, Republican mayoral candidate Scott Stone’s campaign made just 20,000 calls. His campaign manager, Jessica Wood, called it “a wake-up call” for Republicans. “We were clearly just out-organized,” she said after the election.

This year, state Democrats haven’t put any troops in Charlotte.

“We’re looking at options,” said Robert Dempsey, executive director of the N.C. Democratic Party. “We’re looking at what we need to do to maintain that seat. And that’s what we’re going to do.”

Ground forces

One measure of organization is turning out voters loyal enough to vote straight tickets.

In 2011, turnout in Charlotte’s mayoral race fell 22 percent from 2009. While Democratic straight-ticket votes were down just 8 percent, straight Republican ballots were down 42 percent.

There were more than 8,000 fewer straight GOP votes in an election where Peacock, then an at-large council member, lost by just over 5,000 votes.

This year’s GOP “victory” campaign hopes to change that.

Peacock said volunteers, working under the GOP field staff, have made 38,000 calls and knocked on nearly 50,000 doors. He said he went to the state party and told them they should get involved.

“They realize that if we’re going to take the Senate we need significant ground forces in Charlotte,” Peacock said.

Poole declined to say how much the state or national GOP is investing in Charlotte. But a report filed with the Federal Election Commission in September showed the Republican National Committee had given the state party $30,500 this year. And the state party paid the regional field director, Mindy Moorman.

Core voters

Republican strategist Larry Shaheen of Charlotte said organizers are trying to identify and turn out core Republican voters.

“As long as the N.C. GOP is able to significantly increase (Republican) turnout, and Edwin’s campaign is able to reach out and create enthusiasm among moderate independents and Democrats, (that’s) going to be what results in victory for Edwin,” he said.

Peacock’s reputation as a moderate could hurt him among some conservatives.

“I don’t think there will be any great incentive for conservatives to get out and vote,” said Don Reid, a former Republican council member. “Everybody likes Edwin, but the conservatives don’t see him as any kind of bulwark against what we see as the problems here, and that is taxes and spending.”

Morrill: 704-358-5059
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