When Gov. Pat McCrory speaks at the state Republican convention Saturday, he’ll face a party that’s giving him mixed reviews.
While some applaud him for presiding over the state’s falling unemployment and fiscal success, others question recent policy decisions as well as his fundamental conservatism.
McCrory again butted heads this week with legislative Republicans who over-rode one veto and came close to turning back another.
He disappointed social conservatives by vetoing a bill allowing magistrates to recuse themselves from performing marriages for religious reasons.
And one tea party blog headlined a recent story: “Where Did We Go Wrong With McCrory?”
“There’s no doubt there’s part of the party, especially the social or evangelical conservatives, who are pretty unhappy with Pat,” said GOP strategist Carter Wrenn.
The Wall Street Journal featured an op-ed this week that touted McCrory’s successes. Not only are tax rates and unemployment down, Stephen Moore wrote, but the state has paid off a nearly $3 billion debt to the federal government and seen a budget deficit grow into a $400 million surplus.
“He’s got a pretty good record to talk about right now – that’s the economy, job creation and turning around our debt and getting us back in the black,” said Marc Rotterman, a Republican ad-maker from Raleigh.
But McCrory’s vetoes of two bills, one involving magistrates and the other private property – which critics call the “ag-gag” bill – appear to have hurt him.
Senate Republicans easily over-rode both vetoes. House Republicans turned back one and could vote on the other Monday.
McCrory had two of three vetoes over-ridden last session. Democrat Mike Easley, who like McCrory had a legislature controlled by his own party, had only one of nine vetoes overturned.
“You don’t like to be a governor who vetoes bills and loses each over-ride,” said David McLennan, a political scientist at Meredith College.
Lawmakers have a big say over McCrory’s agenda, including his budget. They’ve offered lukewarm support for his proposed $3 billion in transportation and infrastructure bonds.
“We have support in the legislature but it is very soft support,” McCrory told a business group recently, according N.C. Policy Watch. “Frankly, they’re scared of their own shadow.”
Though McCrory issued the two vetoes, he promised to sign a controversial measure extending the waiting period for an abortion from one day to three.
A poll last week by the left-leaning Public Policy Polling showed McCrory trailing Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper for the first time in a hypothetical re-election match-up. One reason: a decline in support from voters who cast ballots for Republican Mitt Romney in 2012.
“I don’t know what kind of reception he’ll get (Saturday) from social conservatives,” said Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the N.C. Values Coalition. “We’re grateful that he’s decided to sign the pro-life bill but we’re still disappointed that he vetoed a religious freedom bill.
“For conservatives, marriage, life and religious liberty are bedrock issues.”
Wrenn said McCrory’s vetoes suggest he may be looking at the general election, when he has to appeal to independents and moderates.
“He feels like using the legislature as a foil helps him, and he’s looking at a general election,” Wrenn said.
Delma Blinson, editor of a conservative website called the Beaufort Observer, said McCrory needs enthusiastic conservatives like him next year. Though that doesn’t mean they’re going to vote Democratic, they could play a big role.
“My fear is that they won’t vote for whoever the Republican candidate is in the general election or that they will not get out … to turn out the vote,” he said. “(McCrory is) going to have to switch gears and become much more conservative than he’s been thus far.”