With most voters undecided, the Democratic primary campaign for the state’s No. 2 elected post is getting divisive as the candidates seek to differentiate themselves.
Linda Coleman sent a mailer this week attacking her rival, state Sen. Eric Mansfield, for not being a “real progressive” and criticizing his opposition to a three-quarter-cent sales tax for education supported by many Democrats. “Don’t be fooled on primary day,” the mailer warns.
Mansfield is countering by labeling Coleman a government bureaucrat and pitching himself as a fresh face. He emphasizes his robust biography: Army veteran, Baptist minister, Fayetteville surgeon and freshman lawmaker.
“She touts her experience for 30 years,” Mansfield said of Coleman, a former state lawmaker and longtime state employee. “I think looking back on where our state’s been and where it needs to go, we need a different vision and different leadership.”
The low-profile and low-budget race for lieutenant governor is blossoming late, a product of Gov. Bev Perdue’s January decision not to seek re-election and current Democratic Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton’s bid to replace her.
The contrasting storylines – Democratic credentials and insider-verses-outsider – mask the candidates’ common views. Both want to put a greater focus on training workers through the community college system. Both question the environmental effects of drilling for shale gas through a process known as fracking. Both oppose the constitutional amendment on marriage.
Coleman: Experience counts
Coleman, 62, says her experience makes her the most qualified for the post.
As a human resources director, she worked for various state departments including the state community college system. She represented Knightdale on the Wake County Board of Commissioners for four years and later served three terms in the legislature before resigning in 2008 when Gov. Bev Perdue appointed her state personnel director. She left her job March 31 to focus on the campaign.
The state employees association is backing Coleman’s bid, spending thousands on television advertising to support her.
From her political experience, she trumpets her role in pushing a $550 million school bond as a county commissioner and co-sponsorship of a bill as a state lawmaker to increase the minimum wage.
If elected, Coleman said she would focus on the economy and revamping state incentives and business recruitment to look at luring “industries and not just companies.”
She said the main policy difference with her rival is the proposed sales tax hike to fund education. Coleman believes the money is needed as a temporary source to avoid underfunding schools amid budget cuts.
Mansfield: Fresh approach needed
Mansfield called the plan a “Band-Aid measure” and said long-term, widespread tax reform is necessary to fully fund education.
“That could take a long time,” Coleman said. “You’ve got to have something there to move education along because that is going to be the lifeblood for our economy in terms of jobs.”
Mansfield, 47, is a relative newcomer to politics but is considered an up-and-comer. His campaign is built around his story. He grew up poor in Columbus, Ga. His father, an Army helicopter pilot, died from a heart attack when Mansfield was 10. His mother was a teacher. He went to college on an Army ROTC scholarship.
He became a doctor because he watched his father die, he said, and still remembers that helpless feeling.
Mansfield’s first foray into politics, as a college intern on Capitol Hill, soured him. But as his wife became involved in Barack Obama’s campaign in 2008, he started thinking: “I could sit at home and complain ... or do something to make sure other kids like me get the same opportunity.”
At the end of his first legislative session last year, he penned an editorial for his hometown newspaper lamenting the partisan nature of governing – a message central to his current campaign.
“I think one of the jobs for me as lieutenant governor is to go across the state and get people excited and engaged in their politics once again,” he said.
He disputes the notion he is not progressive enough, as his opponent claims.
Coleman criticizes Mansfield’s vote to limit certain medical malpractice lawsuits, an issue pushed by Republican leaders. Mansfield said he understands the issue as a surgeon and while he disagrees with the cap, “the bones of (the bill) were very good.”
“I try to not to look at issues as right or left,” he said. “I try to look at them as right or wrong.”