RALEIGH — State Rep. Bill Faison of Orange County is running a sort of shadow campaign against Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue.
He has made nearly two dozen speeches around the state. He has debated the likely Republican nominee for governor, Patrick McCrory, on Charlotte TV stations. And he is aggressively using social media - Facebook and Twitter - to get his message out.
About the only thing the 64-year-old trial lawyer has not done is announce that he'll challenge Perdue in the Democratic primary.
In a recent interview, Faison said there was no need to challenge Perdue because he believed she would not file for re-election.
It is the sort of whistling-past-the-graveyard assertion he has made frequently in recent weeks. The Perdue campaign laughs off the assertion as nearly delusional.
But Faison is unfazed by such denials.
"It doesn't look to me like a serious and dedicated run for governor, and I think in the end she will decide not to do that," Faison said.
The Perdue-Faison dance is an unusual one, with Faison encouraging her not to run for the good of the party and the state, and with no guarantee that he will challenge her in a primary if she does run.
Faison is one of the stronger personalities in the state House. He is an intense, articulate man who grew up on a tobacco farm in eastern Wake County and made his fortune in medical malpractice cases. He has represented Orange County in the legislature since 2004.
Faison is also politically ambitious. He thought about seeking the Democratic nomination for governor in 2008 but ended up backing Perdue. At Perdue's request last year, Faison ran for state Democratic party chairman before losing in a close race to David Parker - the circulation of the details of a nasty divorce suit brought by his wife did not help.
Faison said he has become increasingly disenchanted with the legislature's Republican leadership that is pushing a "right-wing social agenda" rather than focusing on jobs as they had campaigned.
"We are in a tough economic time right now, one that I am concerned is going to get even tougher," Faison said. "Folks are really hurting."
He said the Republican job plan turned out to be a $3,500 tax credit for some businesses. He also asserts that the Republican budget led directly or indirectly to another 35,000 job losses. The GOP has said such figures are grossly exaggerated.
Faison unveiled his own jobs plan to increase the sales tax by 7/10 of a percent, which he said would result in the rehiring of the 35,000 people. (The legislature earlier this year repealed a temporary one-cent sales tax.) He then began moving around the state pushing the idea. Last month, he appeared on a TV program in Charlotte to debate McCrory and GOP House Speaker Thom Tillis.
"Somebody on behalf of some party needs to stand up and present a solution," Faison said. "If the governor was doing it, I wouldn't need to. If somebody else in the House was doing it, I wouldn't need to.
"It is the central issue and it was not addressed by the Republicans here and it was not addressed by my crowd either."
While pushing his jobs plan, Faison also questioned whether Perdue should be the Democratic standard-bearer next year.
Faison said Perdue has not provided forceful leadership on jobs, and that she is now saddled with the indictment of three former campaign workers for misuse of funds during the 2008 campaign.
"I am concerned that what is surrounding the governor at the moment is a distraction from the issues that we need to have addressed as a people of the state," Faison said. "The felony indictments of three folks close to her in the campaign would be concerning for anyone. Having ongoing investigations which are widely anticipated to lead to additional indictments of somebody, I would think would be a further distraction."
Faison said Perdue's failure to announce and her lack of fundraising activity point to a candidate who is not going to run. But asked if he would challenge Perdue in the May primary, Faison demurred, repeating that he doesn't think she'll run.
Perdue camp: She'll run
Perdue's campaign says that while the governor may not have made a formal announcement, she is busy preparing for her re-election bid.
"Governor Perdue is obviously running for re-election - there is no question about that whatsoever," said Fiona Conroy, Perdue's campaign manager. "We have a ton of support around the state. We feel we are exciting Democrats across the state. We just launched our website. We are raising money. That said, our primary focus is on creating jobs and being governor right now. Here at the campaign we are doing what we can to ramp up for 2012, but she is focused on doing her job."
As for Faison's assertion that the governor was distracted by scandal, Perdue's campaign was having none of it.
"The DA has repeatedly stated that Gov. Perdue was not the target of the investigation and cooperated fully," Conroy said.
In most instances an incumbent governor would not be feeling heat within her own party. But Perdue has not been a popular governor: A recent survey by the Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling showed her trailing McCrory by a 50-40 percent margin.
But Faison hardly seems the answer to the Democrats' prayers either. The same poll found him trailing McCrory by a 47-26 percent margin.
So far, Faison's cat and mouse game does not seem to be working very well for him.
The poll found that while most Democratic voters do not know Faison, those who do don't have a favorable opinion of him. Only 7 percent of the Democrats who had heard of him had a favorable opinion, while 31 percent had an unfavorable opinion.
As he travels across the state, Faison said he had received no negative feedback about his comments regarding Perdue.
But the rumblings on the political grapevine have for the most part not been kind to Faison.
"There is nothing wrong with running against an incumbent," said Gary Pearce, a veteran Democratic strategist. "Bob Scott ran against (Jim) Hunt in 1980 in the primary. He was very critical of Hunt.
"Faison has made the mistake of looking too eager to take advantage of her problems," Pearce said. "My guess is that Democrats don't like that. It's one thing to position yourself if you think there is an opportunity. People expect that of politicians. There is a fine line, where you go too far, and you appear to be too nakedly ambitious. He may have crossed that line."