DURHAM — North Carolinas candidates for governor, Walter Dalton and Pat McCrory, engaged in a sharp-edged televised debate Wednesday, offering barbed exchanges on taxes, businesses, fracking, race and voter ID that reflected the states political polarization.
Dalton, the Democratic lieutenant governor, most often was in the role of the aggressor, portraying McCrory as someone who would be more responsive to the interests of the well-to-do, whether it came to taxes or big oil companies.
McCrory portrayed himself as the reformer who would make much needed changes in the state, while painting Dalton as part of a failed good ol boy and good ol girl system that had led to high unemployment and scandal in government.
The hourlong face-off was the first of three scheduled statewide televised debates. It was sponsored by the N.C. Association of Broadcasters Educational Foundation and was held at the studios of UNC-TV.
At times, the debate turned nearly caustic such as when the subject of race relations was raised. The topic was a Dalton online ad featuring several African-American legislators. In the ad, the legislators criticized a McCrory ad as insensitive because it featured former Wilson County Sheriff Wayne Gay who blamed black voters when he was defeated. The Dalton ad quoted people saying that McCrory just doesnt understand the African-American experience in North Carolina.
Its the low point of North Carolina politics, McCrory said. I didnt think it could get any lower with some of the things that Gov. Perdue did. (McCrory lost to Democrat Bev Perdue in 2008).
McCrory said he treated people as individuals, and he noted that he had mentored a young black man, who is now an adult.
It is a friendship that will be with me all my life, McCrory said.
I am glad he mentored that child, Dalton said. But if he finds this (online) ad offensive, its because he has offended.
That prompted a laugh of disbelief from McCrory.
You can laugh if you want to, Dalton shot back. You do not understand how offensive that ad was. You do not understand how offensive that (Romneys) 47 percent ad was. ... Perhaps it was an innocent mistake, but it was a bad mistake.
Daltons aggressiveness reflected his need to change the chemistry of a race in which he has trailed significantly in all the polls, and in which he has been outspent by a considerable margin.
McCrory, who has a reputation for being thin-skinned, maintained his composure while answering Daltons charges, and while challenging Daltons record. As a longtime mayor of North Carolinas largest city and the host of his own TV program, McCrory is comfortable in front of the TV cameras.
The issue of race returned during a discussion of whether the state should adopt a voter ID bill. The bill passed the legislature but was vetoed by Perdue. Dalton opposes the measure; McCrory is in favor. The legislation is strongly opposed by African-Americans.
If we require an ID to get Sudafed, if we require an ID to get into the governors mansion or to get into the Democratic National Convention when it is held in Charlotte, then I think it is good enough for the voting box in North Carolina, McCrory said.
Dalton shot back: Sudafed is not a precious constitutional right.
Dalton said that there is little evidence of voter fraud in North Carolina, and that the law would be a burden on veterans living in rural areas who would have to travel miles to get the right documentation. I dont think he understands rural areas at all, Dalton said.
Replied McCrory: Ill be sure to tell my colleagues and my fellow students in Jamestown and Ragsdale High School that I dont understand their needs.
They also disagreed sharply on taxes. McCrory said the state needs to reform its tax system by making its corporate and income taxes more competitive with neighboring states. Dalton said he has offered a detailed tax plan and that McCrorys plan would ultimately shift the tax burden from the well-to-do to the middle class.