RALEIGH — With the defection of five conservative Democratic legislators, Republican leaders at the General Assembly appear to have the votes they need to override a potential veto of their $19.7 billion budget.
But there are solid political reasons why Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue may issue a veto anyway.
Each time Perdue has vetoed a bill in the current legislative session, which has seen Republicans in control of both chambers for the first time in more than a century, her poll numbers have risen.
Beginning the year with her popularity at dismal levels, the Democratic governor's hopes of winning re-election in 2012 have been resuscitated. Although she continues to trail in a rematch with likely GOP candidate Pat McCrory, recent polling suggests she has closed the gap to single digits.
"Her numbers are going up because her base is returning to her," said Carter Wrenn, a Republican strategist. "And that's apparently because she's vetoing all these Republican bills."
Conventional political wisdom dictates that chief executives don't want to veto bills when they know they're likely to be overridden, for fear of looking weak. But Perdue could reap some good political will within her party for standing up for what appears to be a lost cause.
"Democratic activists across the state feel powerless right now as they see several decades' worth of progressive policies unwound in a number of important areas," said Joe Sinsheimer, a Democratic strategist. "The governor's vetoes have the effect of rallying the party base and focusing public attention on the long-term consequences of some of the most controversial Republican proposals."
She's not telling
Those eager for Perdue to make a decision will have to wait.
Perdue spokeswoman Chrissy Pearson said Sunday that it will likely be several days before the governor decides what to do. Perdue has 10 days from when she receives a bill to sign it, veto it or do nothing and let the measure become law without her signature.
"She's got a lot to review," Pearson said by email.
Perdue said Friday she intends to read every word in the 343-page budget approved by Republican majorities in both legislative chambers before making up her mind.
But even as she says she has not yet made a decision, Perdue's rhetoric has grown more strident. Earlier this week, she went so far as to call the GOP spending plan "evil."
"I will not be the first governor to abandon our schools, our community colleges and our university system," Perdue said in a statement issued Saturday. "I am prepared to veto this budget if my review indeed shows what I fear - that North Carolina will move backwards under this budget plan."
Republican leaders shrug at such talk, confident they have the votes they need. The five House Democrats who agreed to cross party lines and vote for the GOP budget did so in exchange for concessions that included more money for education and protecting programs in their home districts.
At his party's convention in Wilmington on Saturday, Senate Republican leader Phil Berger said he didn't really care what the governor does.
"The question on everybody's mind is whether the governor signs the budget," Berger said. "Fortunately, I'm not sure it matters a whole lot whether she signs the budget. Increasingly, she is making herself irrelevant to what is happening in North Carolina."
And while a Perdue veto might make Democratic activists feel a little better in defeat, Sinsheimer said the governor's failure to stop the Republicans from peeling away five votes from her party does not bode well.
It's her party
"The defection of the five House Democrats is a terrible political blow to the governor," the Democratic consultant said. "It raises questions about her effectiveness in holding legislative Democrats together and allows the Republicans to crow that they passed a budget with bipartisan support, an outcome that few thought was possible just four weeks ago."
Ultimately, however, Perdue's past statements about the budget leave her little rhetorical room not to get out her veto stamp and red ink.
"Politically, looking at what's happened when she's vetoed the other bills, it helps her whether she sustains it or not," Wrenn said. "And more to the point, if she thinks the budget is wrong, she going to look pretty hypocritical if she doesn't veto it."
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