It was bound to happen. The only surprise is that it took this long.
Bev of the East has invoked the specter of Big Bad Pat from Charlotte. City Pat. Urban Pat. Pat-who-will-come-to-Raleigh-and-snatch-your-four-lane-road.
“I'm surprised he even thinks us folks out in the country can read,” says one self-styled country boy in one of Beverly Perdue's latest campaign ads for governor.
Pat McCrory “said Charlotte's getting ripped off and he'd take money away from rural highways,” says another.
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Oh. My. Gawd. Hide the hound dogs and lock up the ladies. The man from Charlotte is on the loose.
Two North Carolinas
This would be a good time to say that 48 of my 52 years have been spent in the rural East. When I say addressing that region's needs are urgent to this state's well-being, and talk about the divide between it and the prosperous Piedmont, I speak with one foot in each world.
That divide is a powerful force in North Carolina's politics and its economy. The growth and prosperity so evident in Charlotte, the state's most populous, affluent and urban patch, has not been shared in many places. Nowhere do the numbers show that gap better than in the rural East.
Thirty-five counties have poverty rates higher than the state average of 12.9 percent, and in eight of those counties more than a quarter of the people are poor, according to a recent report by the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research in Raleigh.
Only 16.6 percent of adults ages 25-64 in the East have finished college, according to the report, when nearly a quarter of those statewide have.
The median household income in the East is $32,274; statewide it's $38,194 and in Mecklenburg it's $54,988.
Those numbers reflect significant differences in resources and opportunity.
There's a suspicion of all things Charlotte in many corners of the East, and a palpable fear of losing out to a place with money and people.
Divide and conquer
When the governor's race pitted Perdue, the Democrat from New Bern, against McCrory, the Republican mayor from the state's largest city, it set up an East versus West, rural versus urban, dynamic.
Sure enough, five days before the election, polls show McCrory running strong in the state's urban crescent from Durham to Greensboro to Charlotte and Perdue running strong in the rural counties east of Interstate 95.
Enter Perdue, playing the Fear of Charlotte card.
McCrory's tenuous lead in this race mirrors a milestone for North Carolina. Slightly more of its residents now live in the state's urban communities than in its rural communities. That shift has been under way for decades. But if McCrory wins the governor's seat, the shift will become tangible in its politics.
It would be fair for Perdue to question whether McCrory's economic policies are suitable for the rural East. It would be fair for her to question his political grounding in education, a key to the state's future. It would be fair to ask, too, whether his perspective as an urban mayor lets him grasp the plight of places where access, not scale, is the primary issue.
Yet she's wrong to caricature the needs of her region to score votes. It's despicable to divide this state by invoking regionalism in order to get a leg up in an election. Period.
The next governor must be able to govern every square inch of Tar Heel soil, and that means bridging divisions, not widening them.
The wrong card
Can someone from Charlotte lead a state where nearly half the people live in a rural setting? Of course, if it's the right person.
Is McCrory the person? That's the question Perdue ought to be asking instead of playing the tired old Fear of Charlotte card.