CHARLOTTE — Gov. Bev Perdue is working the Democratic convention like a candidate.
Wake early. TV interview. Speech. TV interview. Economic development meeting. Luncheon talk. More meetings. Reception. Late reception.
Except she’s not running again. Now her energy is spent pitching the state and a different candidate, President Barack Obama.
“There’s just a clear choice in this race,” Perdue said in a CNN interview Tuesday morning. “Do you want to go backwards to the policies that caused North Carolina’s economy to implode? Or do you want to go forward – the president had made tremendous progress.”
She echoed similar themes later in the day as she took the stage on the convention’s first night. “From education to broadband, from building roads and bridges to supporting the military, Barack Obama is delivering for North Carolina,” Perdue said. “And he is delivering for America.”
Perdue also used her speech to emphasize the president’s record on education and women’s issues, two of her top issues as a former schoolteacher and the state’s first woman governor. “He has helped women fight for equal pay for equal work; he has fought to guarantee that women have access to quality, affordable health care...” she said. “And unlike Mitt Romney, President Obama is standing up for Planned Parenthood.”
At the same time, political analysts suggest her speech partly represented her lame-duck status. She spoke for five minutes at 6:15 p.m., hours before the primetime spotlight, to a half-empty convention hall. Walter Dalton, the state’s Democratic candidate for governor, will speak to a much larger crowd at Bank of America Stadium on Thursday, just hours before the president.
Perdue decided not to seek re-election at the eleventh hour earlier this year, as her popularity diminished and her former campaign aides were indicted on criminal charges. She now ranks as one of the most unpopular governors in the nation, polling shows.
But the convention allowed her to change the conversation and bask in the glow of her admirers.
Her aides seemingly spent half the day fielding calls for national cable television interviews with the likes of CNN and Fox Business. Her schedule is so long it needs a staple in the corner. And her office is overwhelmed with invitations to receptions and events.
“She has been an incredible mentor for other women and I know she will continue to do that,” said Barbara Lee, whose foundation feted Perdue at a convention event.
Perdue relishes the opportunity to host the convention in North Carolina. She fits neatly into the role as hostess-in-chief. And she is attempting to translate the convention into economic development. “Every story mentions North Carolina. Every story mentions Charlotte. And they talk about how hip we are, how successful we are, how robust we are,” she said in an interview. “When I leave here I’m going to meet with companies trying to recruit them,” Perdue said in a morning interview. “They are here because of the convention. I probably wouldn’t have been able to see the CEO otherwise.”
Republicans contend Perdue is sugar-coating the state’s problems, including its above-average jobless rate. In an MSNBC interview Monday, the governor claimed “North Carolina has bounced back” even though the state’s unemployment rate rose two-tenths to 9.6 percent last month.
Republican House Speaker Thom Tillis suggested Perdue is out of touch. “I’m not sure how she can say that,” he said. “We have a long way to go before anyone can say this economy has bounced back.”
Perdue adjusted her language the next day, saying the state is “poised for recovery.”
But she’s not curtailing her energy. She has talked so much she nearly lost her voice in her convention speech. And her enthusiasm was so palpable it led reporters to ask a question: Does she regret not running again?
Perdue demurred. “I’m just like you,” she said. “I look forward to tomorrow.”