The race for the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor is shaping up to be the most competitive statewide Republican race this year.
Credit that in part to Republicans having all but anointed Pat McCrory, a former Charlotte mayor, as their nominee for governor and the position being a stepping stone to running for governor.
So far the GOP race for the state's No. 2 spot has attracted the former chairman of the Wake County Board of Commissioners, the son of a Charlotte congresswoman and, as of Tuesday, the state House speaker pro tem.
The winner will face Democratic incumbent Walter Dalton in the fall.
With his entry, Rep. Dale Folwell of Winston-Salem is the first member of the new GOP legislative leadership to try to move up politically.
Folwell is a late entry into the primary, which has been waged for the past nine months at Reagan Day dinners, tea party meetings, at the state convention and on websites. The other two candidates - Tony Gurley, a Wake County commissioner and pharmacist, and Dan Forest, a Raleigh architect and the son of U.S. Rep. Sue Myrick of Charlotte - have been moving across the state building their organizations, raising money and collecting endorsements.
But Folwell, the top lieutenant of House Speaker Thom Tillis, is the only candidate currently on the statewide stage. He announced his candidacy at a news conference in Winston-Salem, portraying himself as a proven problem-solver who can work across party lines and with different interest groups.
He kicked off what he called his "Dale Can Fix NC Tour," in which he promised to unveil a new idea to improve the state's economy and education each week for the next 20 weeks before the primary May 8.
"The qualities of lieutenant governor need to be someone with legislative experience, somebody who can preside over the Senate, and somebody who has shown he can build a bridge," Folwell said.
Folwell, 53, said 20 of the bills he sponsored have passed the legislature with 4,098 "yes" votes and only 175 "No" votes. In most of those years, Folwell was in the Republican minority. He is perhaps best known for pushing through the first overhaul of the state's worker compensation laws in 17 years - a move business groups favored.
He also led the effort to pass a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriages, which social conservatives backed.
His opponents hope his late start will make it difficult for him to catch up.
"From a grass-roots standpoint, it would be difficult for anybody to get in and built a grass-roots organization like we built," Forest said.
Forest, 44, left his Raleigh architectural practice two years ago to start the nonprofit Revision North Carolina, allowing him to travel around the state talking about its problems. Nine months ago he began campaigning for lieutenant governor. He said he visited 75 counties and traveled 85,000 miles.
Politics is in his blood, having grown up in Charlotte, helping stuff envelopes in his mother's campaigns, starting with races for City Council. His campaign is being managed by Hal Weatherman, Myrick's longtime chief of staff, and Myrick has used some of her connections to help him raise what his campaign said will be about $200,000 when his finance report comes out later this month.
He is campaigning as an outsider, having never held political office. He is calling for a lowering of business taxes, an end to corporate subsidies, more choices in education, including tuition tax credits and vouchers, and for the state to take a tougher line against illegal immigration.
Forest also has good ties with social conservatives. He has been active in various conservative Christian groups. He was chairman of Wake Forest Pregnancy Support Services, a pro-life group, and he started the Triangle Leadership Forum, a Christian leadership program for young couples.
"I think I stand more boldly on my social conservative issues that are important to me," Forest said. "I would not consider myself an ideologue by any means."
Gurley, 55, has been campaigning part time since February, having visited 58 counties.
A pharmacist, he has been a Wake County commissioner for the past decade, including a three-year stint as chairman. He has been trying to line up support among the sheriffs and the community college network along with other Republicans.
So far, he has been winning the endorsement war, receiving the backing of Jim Gardner, the last Republican lieutenant governor, former U.S. Sen. Lauch Faircloth, and Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison. But he has found money-raising a challenge, raising $100,000 including a $50,000 personal loan.
Gurley said he would use the lieutenant governor's office to serve as a champion for small business. He said he also would look to expand the role of the community college system, and would consider allowing the community colleges to offer four-year degrees.
He also would look for ways to provide more options for parents, from charter schools to tuition tax credits to send their children to private schools. He noted that when he was Wake county commissioners chairman, the board voted to allow a school board referendum on a $970 million bond issue.
"I believe that the 10 years I have spent on the Wake County Board of Commissioners is a very good indicator of what I would do in the future," he said.