In July 17 runoff election, candidates find the trail lonely and hot

Will five statewide primary races attract any voters July 17?

jfrank@newsobserver.comJuly 8, 2012 

  • Republican, lieutenant governor Dan Forest, 44, Raleigh Occupation: Architect Education: UNC Charlotte, bachelor’s degree in architecture, 1993 Political experience: None Top issue: To spur economic growth and job creation by easing the regulatory environment and lowering the tax burden on businesses How are you different from your opponent? “Having worked as an architect, I think creatively and plan far into the future, and I will take that approach to government.”
    Tony Gurley, 56, Raleigh Occupation: Pharmacist Education: UNC-Chapel Hill, bachelor’s degree in pharmacy, 1978, master’s degree in pharmacy administration, 1981; N.C. Central University, law degree, 2003 Political experience: Wake County commissioner, 2002-present Top issue: “My focus is becoming a champion of small business through regulatory reform and by advocating for updating our tax code.” How are you different from your opponent? “My wife and I have owned our own pharmacies, and I know what it’s like to be a small-business owner.”
  • Republican, secretary of state Kenn Gardner, 53, Raleigh Occupation: Architect, Isosceles Design Education: Georgia Institute of Technology, bachelor’s degree in architecture, 1980; Central Michigan University, master’s degree in business administration, 1981; Georgia Tech, master’s degree in architecture, 1983 Political experience: Wake County commissioner, 2000-2008 Top issue: “I will use the office to be the voice for businesses at the General Assembly, to grow our community college system and will improve the agency’s website.” How are you different from your opponent? “I came to North Carolina 30 years ago to grow a creative business, and my opponent left about that time to work as a government bureaucrat.”
    Ed Goodwin, 59, Edenton Occupation: Farmer and retired business owner; retired from Naval Criminal Investigative Service Education: East Carolina University, bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, 1981 Political experience: Chowan County commissioner, 2008-present Top issue: “The Secretary of State needs to be out there listening to businesses, doing a better job of connecting businesses with legislators so we know what we need to do to help." How are you different from your opponent? “I had a career as a special agent for NCIS, risking my life every day, and I came back after traveling all over the world because nowhere’s better than Edenton. He wasn’t born in North Carolina. He came here.”
  • Republican, commissioner of insurance Mike Causey, 61, Greensboro Occupation: Farmer and business owner; retired insurance adviser Education: Wake Technical Community College, associate’s degree in engineering, 1971; High Point University, bachelor’s degree in business, 1995, master’s degree in business, 1996 Political experience: None Top issue: “The system we have in place for opening a business is different than any other state, and I would change that to make it easier for new companies to come here.” How are you different from your opponent? “I’m not a career politician, but I have a lot of experience and know the insurance industry.”
    Richard Morgan, 59, Pinehurst Occupation: Insurance broker and cattle farmer Education: UNC-Chapel Hill, political science, 1974 Political experience: Member, N.C. House of Representatives, 1990-2006; co-speaker, 2003-2004 Top issue: “There are three problems at the Department of Insurance: too much politics, too much bureaucracy and too much spending.” How are you different from your opponent? “I have years of experience in business and government, so I know what it takes to get things done.”
  • Republican, state superintendent Richard Alexander, 50, Monroe Occupation: Special education teacher Education: Kemper Military College, associate degree, 1982; University of Missouri-St. Louis, bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, 1985 Political experience: None Top issue: Reducing waste at the Department of Public Instruction How are you different from your opponent? “I have a rounded background. I have business and finance background, as well as management, I was an officer in the U.S. Army with service in Desert Storm.”
    John Tedesco, 37, Garner Occupation: President, N.C. Center for Education Reform Education: Thiel College, bachelor’s degree in political science Political experience: Wake County School Board, 2009-present Top issue: “I think we need to find a way to reduce bureaucracy, trim waste and streamline the dollars back to the classroom ... and increase local control.” How are you different from your opponent? “I’ve actually cut millions and been in leadership roles where we had to navigate a budget over $1 billion. I have an administrative background that knows how to trim budgets and navigate the political process.”
  • Democratic, commissioner of labor John Brooks, 75, Raleigh Occupation: Retired attorney; former state employee Education: UNC-Chapel Hill, bachelor’s degree in economics and political science, 1959; University of Chicago law school, law degree, 1962 Political experience: Former state labor commissioner, 1977-1993 Top issue: “To significantly reduce the 65,000 N.C. workplace injuries each year by increasing inspections at workplaces.” How are you different from your opponent? Brooks cites his 16 years of experience as labor commissioner and his law degree as important qualifications not shared by Foster.
    Marlowe Foster, 39, Raleigh Occupation: Lobbyist for Pfizer, pharmaceutical company Education: Virginia Commonwealth University, bachelor’s degree in political science, 1993; master’s degree in public administration, 1995 Political experience: Lost bid for Winston-Salem Board of Aldermen in 2001 Top issue: Workplace safety with a focus on the companies that have a persistent problem meeting standards How are you different from your opponent? “Electability. ... I believe my candidacy and my broad appeal to a cross-section of North Carolinians makes me more electable.”

— The pavement steamed in the summer heat as Dan Forest’s campaign bus rolled into this small town along the state’s southern border for a Fourth of July parade.

The Republican candidate for lieutenant governor and his family walked alongside an RV wrapped in red vinyl and bearing the “Run Forest Run” campaign slogan.

On the route, a man wearing a sweat-drenched baseball hat and blue-jean overalls waved an American flag in one hand and a POW-MIA flag in the other. He appeared confused. “I thought elections were in the fall. Anyone know who Dan Forest is? What does the lieutenant governor do?”

Such is the life of a candidate in North Carolina’s runoff election. It’s lonely – and hot.

“There are probably a million things our kids would rather be doing in the summertime than going from parade to parade and knocking on doors,” said Forest, whose four children, ages 7 to 19, have traveled often since the campaign started last year.

North Carolina is one of eight states that require runoff elections for all races. If the top vote-getter didn’t receive 40 percent in the May primary, the second-place finisher can ask for a runoff. And this year a new state law delayed the election by a month to account for military ballots from overseas, pushing it deep into summer.

The runoffs will determine candidates in five statewide contests, as well as numerous congressional and legislative districts, but the turnout is not expected to hit 10 percent.

In 2010, only 4.5 percent of those registered voted in a runoff election with a Democratic U.S. Senate race and three Republican congressional primaries. In 2008, only 1.8 percent went to the polls a second time.

So far in this second primary, only 13,000 people have voted early – roughly one-sixth of the turnout at this point in the May primary, which drew 2.2 million, or 34 percent, of eligible voters.

This year “seems to be living up to its past history, and that is of a dismal turnout statewide,” said Michael Bitzer, a Catawba College political science professor. “So when we say every vote counts, we literally mean it for this election.”

Focus outside Raleigh

On the Republican statewide ballot, voters will pick a nominee in four races: lieutenant governor, commissioner of insurance, state superintendent of public instruction and secretary of state.

On the Democratic side, the only statewide race being contested is commissioner of labor.

All together, the posts constitute most of the Council of State, a governing body of North Carolina’s top elected officials that meets regularly to make decisions on state contracts and borrowing. The current Council of State is stocked with Democrats. But Republicans hope to change the dynamic by electing the state’s second Republican lieutenant governor and first Republican insurance commissioner in history.

“These Council of State seats are pretty important, but people don’t pay attention,” said John Tedesco, a Republican candidate for state superintendent.

The runoff campaign looks very different from the first round. The candidates are criss-crossing the state attending even the smallest Republican club meetings and community events. Less emphasis is placed on mailings and television commercials. And those airing ads and sending fliers are targeting only the most loyal voters.

“Blitzing the airwaves doesn’t necessarily help if folks aren’t tuned in or on vacation,” Bitzer explained. “If candidates aren’t ringing doorbells and phones targeting these party loyalists, then I’d say their strategy isn’t going to prevail in a few weeks.”

Six of the eight Republican candidates traveled last week to Chatham County, near the border with Cary, for an adult community’s Republican club meeting. The club president, Judith McDaniel, started the event by asking the candidates to describe the responsibilities of the elected offices. The hour-long event only drew 60 people, but the candidates said it was one of the bigger forums on the campaign trail.

The majority of the statewide candidates call Raleigh home, but much of the campaign action is focused in the Charlotte area, including Union County, where Forest’s campaign spent the Fourth of July. Two heated runoffs in the 8th and 9th congressional districts are expected to draw the most voters to the polls.

Forest’s runoff rival, Tony Gurley, spent the day zigzagging the 11th Congressional District in the mountains, where another tight GOP contest will boost turnout. He attended a Hendersonville parade and a Brevard car show. His parents’ home in Marion, where he grew up, is acting as a home base for the campaign.

“I’ve spent more time in my old bedroom at my parents’ house in the last two months than in the past 30 years,” Gurley said.

John Brooks, a Democratic candidate for labor commissioner, is hoping to piggyback on the Republican interest. He said the GOP congressional primaries will “generate activity and awareness of the race among Democrats and that will motivate them to vote.”

Brooks served for 16 years as commissioner but lost in the 1992 Democratic primary after problems with workplace safety inspections were exposed by a deadly fire at a Hamlet chicken plant the previous year. He faces Marlowe Foster, a pharmaceutical industry lobbyist, in the primary.

Working for every vote

The campaign trail is often grueling for the candidates and their families.

Forest and his crew huddled in the RV after the Waxhaw parade, jockeying for position to catch the breeze from the air conditioner.

Each swallowed a quick Gatorade or water before disembarking for the next July 4 parade a couple hours later in Indian Trail, followed by another parade in nearby Unionville.

“Welcome to our life,” said Haley, Forest’s 16-year-old daughter. “It’s not a normal day if we don’t travel at least seven hours on the road.”

Frank: 919-829-4698

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