CHARLOTTE — This is a critical week for Democratic Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton, who lags behind his governor’s race opponent, Republican Pat McCrory, in voter polls and campaign donations.
The Democratic National Convention has brought to Dalton’s doorstep elements vital to statewide races – people who write campaign checks and party loyalists eager to cheer their nominees. It has also given him a spot on the podium Thursday, just hours before the president.
Dalton appears to need it all.
A recent Elon Poll showed him trailing McCrory by 15 percentage points (although Dalton said an internal poll shows a much narrower lead). Campaign finance reports covering accounts through June showed McCrory with $4.4 million in the bank; Dalton had$714,342.
Dalton said he has made significant strides at the convention with donors and voters. His TV ads start next week, and they will help shrink McCrory’s name-recognition advantage, he said. McCrory began running TV ads June 1.
Frustration among Democrats
Dalton’s slow start has frustrated Democrats who want more energy and fight from the campaign.
“When you’re sitting there in the bottom of the sixth inning and your team is a couple behind, you are sitting on the edge of your seat and you want to see the ball go over the fence,” Nina Szlosberg-Landis, a major Democratic donor, said last week as she prepared to leave for the convention. “We all want that.”
Szlosberg-Landis said she expects the race to change in the final 30 days, after Dalton starts his ad campaign and gets a boost from the Democratic Governors Association and the Obama campaign.
Dalton has addressed convention crowds large and small. He will speak at the Time Warner Arena on Thursday night. And most importantly, he’s raised money while in Charlotte.
The DGA co-hosted a fundraiser for Dalton with Crandall and Erskine Bowles at the Bowles’ home. Bowles was former President Bill Clinton’s chiefof staff and is a former UNC system president. The Wednesday morning event drew about 225 people.
Dalton said turnout “exceeded expectations,” but he doesn’t know how much money was raised.
On Tuesday, DGA president Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley said the group will spend more than $5 million to help Dalton. McCrory’s campaign is getting more than $5 million in TV ads from the Republican Governors Association.
Democratic political consultants said Dalton needs to come out of the convention having excited potential donors and defined himself for voters.
“He’s got to run a campaign within a campaign and persuade people he can win – persuade people to invest in his campaign,” said political consultant Gary Pearce.
Thursday speech will be key
Thomas Mills, a consultant from Carrboro, said Dalton’s speech gives him the chance to deliver a bold message and have it reported by TV stations and newspapers throughout the state.
Dalton also has the advantage of surrogates at the convention willing to tear down McCrory.
Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx told state delegates Wednesday that he never heard McCrory talk about education while he was mayor. Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy said he met McCrory when they were both mayors; he urged delegates to do everything they could to elect Dalton, who he described as “someone who doesn’t talk about himself, but talks about his state and the people who live in it.” O’Malley called McCrory an ideologue.
Brian Nick, a McCrory spokesman, saidDemocrats are calculating that they need the attacks to win.
He added that Foxx’s criticism of McCrory is wrong, because McCrory visited schools, worked with the district superintendent, the community college and UNC Charlotte.
McCrory has spent this week talking about “his vision to fix a broken economy,” Nick said. “If people are looking for more partisanship and less ideas and less vision, they have plenty of it going on with Walter Dalton and his surrogates.”
Staff writer John Frank contributed.