Politics & Government

McCrory pays attention to others' lessons

When Jack Hawke took over as chief consultant to Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory's gubernatorial campaign, the candidate laid down one condition.

“His first comment to me was, ‘You're not going to remake me the way they did Richard Vinroot,'” Hawke recalls. “And we tried not to.”

Vinroot, the last Charlotte mayor to run for N.C. governor, is one of four to run – and lose – statewide campaigns. McCrory is trying to break the 24-year streak, in part by learning the lessons of his predecessors.

The political dynamics of 2008 are clearly different. So is the state, home to a million more people than when Vinroot ran eight years ago. And because McCrory has served longer than any Charlotte mayor, he starts the race better known.

“There are some advantages to being from the largest media market in the state and being well known,” says Ted Arrington, a UNC Charlotte political scientist. “McCrory has … been mayor so long, people have forgotten anybody else can be.”

But in 2000, Vinroot was already the veteran of a statewide campaign. Four years earlier, he lost the nomination to Concord Republican Robin Hayes.

Vinroot's 2000 campaign

The Vinroot of 2000 struck many as different from the moderate Republican Charlotte voters had known. In four citywide campaigns, he rarely criticized opponents, talking instead about his own record. An Eagle Scout who volunteered for duty in Vietnam, he once called himself “a Republican who has repeatedly tried to rise above narrow partisanship.”

In 2000, he hired Carter Wrenn, a former strategist to Sen. Jesse Helms. They ran a hardball campaign that even Republican primary opponents called negative. He ran so far to the right that it was hard to appeal to more centrist voters in November. He lost to Democrat Mike Easley.

“If Richard Vinroot had run in 2000 with the kind of message, the kind of issues, the kind of focus he had as mayor of Charlotte, he would have won,” says GOP consultant Paul Shumaker.

Vinroot doesn't buy the notion that he became something he wasn't.

“I don't think anybody who ever dealt with me would say I wasn't competitive,” he says. “I had a lot of flaws, but it wasn't because somebody messed me up. I was what I was.”

In this spring's primary, McCrory talked mainly about his own record. In his commercials, he spoke directly to the camera.

“I've said the same thing when I ran for mayor,” he says. “I'm not going to try to be somebody I'm not.”

‘Got to work the whole state'

There's one thing Vinroot would have changed about 2000: all the time he spent raising money.

During the primary, he avoided many public functions and traditional party events, angering some party activists in the process. At the time, he said strategists told him that the way to win was not to be out shaking hands with voters, but by courting donors, sending direct mail and buying TV time.

One former mayor, Eddie Knox, did the opposite.

“I sang songs, I chewed tobacco, I shook every hand that was possible,” says Knox, who lost a Democratic primary for governor in 1984. “I sort of ran like you were running for class president.”

Knox says he put too much emphasis on campaigning in rural counties and not in urban ones. However, Jim Martin, the last Republican governor, says McCrory needs to go beyond his urban base.

“What's important,” Martin says, “is he's got to work the whole state.”

Martin, a former Mecklenburg County commissioner, used his Lake Norman residence to identify himself as an Iredell County resident and distance himself from Charlotte, something McCrory can't do.

The mayor is aware of his predecessors' experiences. But he says times and circumstances have changed, in part after a series of state government scandals. In 2000, he says, “there wasn't a call for a change.”

Hawke sees another difference.

“Hopefully the voters of North Carolina will get to know Pat McCrory, and his ability and his personality and his achievements,” he says. “I'm not sure the state of North Carolina ever got to know Richard Vinroot. And that's a shame.”

When Jack Hawke took over as chief consultant to Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory's gubernatorial campaign, the candidate laid down one condition.

“His first comment to me was, ‘You're not going to remake me the way they did Richard Vinroot,'” Hawke recalls. “And we tried not to.”

Vinroot, the last Charlotte mayor to run for N.C. governor, is one of four to run – and lose – statewide campaigns. McCrory is trying to break the 24-year streak, in part by learning the lessons of his predecessors.

The political dynamics of 2008 are clearly different. So is the state, home to a million more people than when Vinroot ran eight years ago. And because McCrory has served longer than any Charlotte mayor, he starts the race better known.

“There are some advantages to being from the largest media market in the state and being well known,” says Ted Arrington, a UNC Charlotte political scientist. “McCrory has … been mayor so long, people have forgotten anybody else can be.”

But in 2000, Vinroot was already the veteran of a statewide campaign. Four years earlier, he lost the nomination to Concord Republican Robin Hayes.

Vinroot's 2000 campaign

The Vinroot of 2000 struck many as different from the moderate Republican Charlotte voters had known. In four citywide campaigns, he rarely criticized opponents, talking instead about his own record. An Eagle Scout who volunteered for duty in Vietnam, he once called himself “a Republican who has repeatedly tried to rise above narrow partisanship.”

In 2000, he hired Carter Wrenn, a former strategist to Sen. Jesse Helms. They ran a hardball campaign that even Republican primary opponents called negative. He ran so far to the right that it was hard to appeal to more centrist voters in November. He lost to Democrat Mike Easley.

“If Richard Vinroot had run in 2000 with the kind of message, the kind of issues, the kind of focus he had as mayor of Charlotte, he would have won,” says GOP consultant Paul Shumaker.

Vinroot doesn't buy the notion that he became something he wasn't.

“I don't think anybody who ever dealt with me would say I wasn't competitive,” he says. “I had a lot of flaws, but it wasn't because somebody messed me up. I was what I was.”

In this spring's primary, McCrory talked mainly about his own record. In his commercials, he spoke directly to the camera.

“I've said the same thing when I ran for mayor,” he says. “I'm not going to try to be somebody I'm not.”

‘Got to work the whole state'

There's one thing Vinroot would have changed about 2000: all the time he spent raising money.

During the primary, he avoided many public functions and traditional party events, angering some party activists in the process. At the time, he said strategists told him that the way to win was not to be out shaking hands with voters, but by courting donors, sending direct mail and buying TV time.

One former mayor, Eddie Knox, did the opposite.

“I sang songs, I chewed tobacco, I shook every hand that was possible,” says Knox, who lost a Democratic primary for governor in 1984. “I sort of ran like you were running for class president.”

Knox says he put too much emphasis on campaigning in rural counties and not in urban ones. However, Jim Martin, the last Republican governor, says McCrory needs to go beyond his urban base.

“What's important,” Martin says, “is he's got to work the whole state.”

Martin, a former Mecklenburg County commissioner, used his Lake Norman residence to identify himself as an Iredell County resident and distance himself from Charlotte, something McCrory can't do.

The mayor is aware of his predecessors' experiences. But he says times and circumstances have changed, in part after a series of state government scandals. In 2000, he says, “there wasn't a call for a change.”

Hawke sees another difference.

“Hopefully the voters of North Carolina will get to know Pat McCrory, and his ability and his personality and his achievements,” he says. “I'm not sure the state of North Carolina ever got to know Richard Vinroot. And that's a shame.”

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