State Rep. Bill Faison started laying the groundwork for a maverick run for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in September, months before Gov. Bev Perdue announced she would not run again.
He began holding news conferences, speaking around the state and debating the presumed Republican nominee, Pat McCrory. Since then he has expanded his jobs platform with proposals about education and the environment.
But the four-term Orange County Democrat's head start hasn't erased obstacles between him and the May 8 primary election. He had a dismal showing in the first poll of gubernatorial candidates. And Faison, 65, has been going through a protracted divorce that has aired nasty accusations that could be used against him.
Faison, in an interview in his office in the state Legislative Office Building last week, seemed unperturbed about the prospect of it tarnishing his campaign. He said he is not worried because the accusations are untrue.
The divorce - which includes accusations of extramarital affairs - would be an unfortunate but common he-said-she-said break-up that would not be a matter of broader interest were Faison not running for the highest office in the state. His decision to run in spite of it raises the question about how much a candidate's private behavior matters these days.
Candidates' personal lives can be more of an issue in the primary than in the general election, said N.C. State University political science professor Andrew J. Taylor.
"One of the arguments made to the primary electorate is, 'We're all one family and we have to have a candidate who is electable,' " Taylor said. "The biggest thing is to find the best person to beat the other side, and obviously these kinds of things undercut your case if you're a candidate."
Faison, a wealthy medical malpractice lawyer, married Lindy Faison, at the time a public relations and marketing firm owner, in 1988. They had four children by the time they decided, in 2008, to split up.
Attempts to divide their property amicably failed, and in 2010 Lindy Faison filed a complaint in Orange County Superior Court for alimony and equitable distribution of assets. She made unflattering accusations in that document, which has since been widely circulated in political circles, where many thought it would dissuade him from seeking higher office.
Faison's side of the story came in an answer and counterclaim he filed in October. He said last week he would let that filing speak for itself.
Lindy Faison claims that he was a "womanizer," that he read pornography and that he left her with tax debt on property they owned. Faison denies all that in his court filings.
The back-and-forth includes accusations that each was rude and unaffectionate to the other, that she either did or didn't support his political ambitions and that she was either left with all the chores on the farm they bought in 2000, or that she refused to do any work on it.
She also contends Faison was obsessed with horse breeding and eventually acquired 30 horses. She says he spent hours actively engaged in helping the horses breed, and insisted their children watch "so that they would learn about the birds and the bees." Faison denies it all.
He says in his court filings he believes his ex-wife had affairs and contends she had strained relationships with their children. He also accuses her of intentionally making him violently ill over a three-month period by cooking with wheat, knowing he has celiac disease, an autoimmune intestinal disordered triggered by gluten, the protein found in wheat. She denies all of that in a document filed in response in December.
The couple's divorce was granted in November, but they are still fighting over finances. Faison claims the prenuptial agreement they signed in 1988 prevents or limits her claims. In the document she filed in December, Lindy Faison claims he pressured her into signing the contract.
That part of the legal dispute also exposes Faison's extensive financial dealings. Lindy Faison claims his net worth is more than $15 million. He has ownership interests in his law firm, aircraft, property development, boats, motorcycles and cars, according to his request to consider those as his separate property.
Lindy Faison couldn't be reached for comment.
Faison pointed out in his court filings and in the interview that the children chose to live with him after the separation.
Three are now in college and one is in high school. He lives in Efland.
Faison said he has discussed with his children the potential for the divorce case to become public.
"As I stand by them they stand with me," he said.
A Public Policy Polling survey released Wednesday showed Faison coming in last in a race against former U.S. Rep. Bob Etheridge (who had 30 percent of the responses) and Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton (24 percent). Faison trailed at 6 percent. When four unannounced candidates were added, Faison came in at the bottom with 2 percent.
"He finishes in last place in every possible field, and he also has a greater than 2:1 negative favorability ratio," PPP director Tom Jensen said in releasing the results.
Faison shrugged off the early polling numbers.
He said he's encouraged by strangers who approach him and say they are voting for him.
"The poll I take in my legislative district is the one at the end of a handshake," he said.