Dalton ad on race riles McCrory

jmorrill@charlotteobserver.comSeptember 27, 2012 Updated 13 hours ago

Black supporters of Democrat Walter Dalton escalated their criticism of Pat McCrory Thursday with an online video that claims the Republican gubernatorial candidate “just doesn’t understand the African American experience in North Carolina.”

The video is the latest reaction to a McCrory ad featuring a former sheriff from Eastern North Carolina.

Earlier this week, one black leader accused the McCrory campaign of “subtle racism” and even “race-baiting” over the ad.

The controversy reflects the lingering potency of what has historically been a hair-trigger issue in North Carolina. According to some, it also represents the continued use of race as a political tool.

“It’s firing up the base, that’s all (Dalton’s) trying to do,” said Gary Pearce, a Democratic strategist from Raleigh. “Dalton’s in a position where one of the big things he needs to do is get the base fired up, and he thinks he found a way to do it.”

The controversy started with an ad that began late last week. It featured former Wilson County Sheriff Wayne Gay.

“Once a sheriff, always a sheriff. Once a Democrat, always a Democrat. Never voted any other way. Till now,” Gay says in the ad. “North Carolina’s a mess. Not getting better. Our only hope is Pat McCrory.”

Gay, sheriff for 28 years, lost a 2010 primary to a black SBI agent by 24 points. He later switched parties. He told a TV reporter that “the black community realized they had an opportunity to elect a black sheriff, and I think they took advantage of it. Ninety-eight percent of them voted based on race.”

Dalton in ‘panic mode’?

State Sen. Floyd McKissick Jr. of Durham, who chairs the legislative black caucus, accused Gay of triggering a “racial cue” in the McCrory ad.

“Running an ad in which Gay says, ‘Our only hope is Pat McCrory’ begs the question is who is ‘our,’ ” McKissick wrote McCrory on Monday. He asked the former Charlotte mayor to take down the ad.

On Tuesday, after McCrory’s campaign defended the ad, Dalton’s campaign issued a statement from Melvin “Skip” Alston, chairman of the Guilford County commissioners and former president of the state NAACP. He accused McCrory of defending someone “notorious for stoking racial tensions and bitterly blaming his professional failures on African Americans.”

“Race-baiting disguised as a political vision cannot be tolerated,” Alston said.

In the 60-second video released Thursday, McKissick and other African Americans take turns criticizing McCrory as photos from the Civil Rights movement flash behind.

McCrory spokesman Brian Nick called Dalton’s online ad “extraordinarily aggressive.” He said their own ad has nothing to do with race.

“Dalton has gone just full-throttle panic mode,” Nick said. “He does what a desperate politician does. He goes over the top with desperate attacks. … Usually this is kind of a late-October Hail Mary, … but it’s happening in late September.”

Ad could move to TV

African Americans vote heavily Democratic. In a recent survey by Public Policy Polling, Dalton, the current lieutenant governor, was winning 61 percent of the black vote to 14 percent for McCrory. The same poll showed Dalton trailing by six points.

Like Dalton’s, President Barack Obama’s campaign also is counting on black voters going to the polls in North Carolina.

“With the black community it’s more a turnout question,” said Andrew Taylor, a political scientist at N.C. State University, adding that both parties use race to their advantage.

“Whether the candidates believe it or not, they understand that there’s a racial narrative that makes people vote in certain ways,” he said.

Dalton spokesman Schorr Johnson said the new online ad will “likely” air on television. McCrory’s ad, he said, “has caused a lot of concern in the African American community. … And Pat McCrory’s standing by that ad has increased those concerns.”

Pearce, the Democratic consultant, said McCrory’s ad appears to be appealing to Democrats in a state where they still outnumber Republicans.

“People running campaigns are looking for everything they need to do to give them an edge,” he said. “… Everything’s fair in politics, and Dalton’s obviously got a lot of ground he needs to make up.”

Morrill: 704-358-5059

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