Republican Pat McCrory has a large fundraising advantage in his encore campaign for the governorship. He has been ahead in the polls. However, McCrorys first debate with his Democratic opponent, Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton, showed that he is up against someone who by all rights should be a tough customer.
McCrory, the former Charlotte mayor, sounded familiar themes as he and Dalton squared off Wednesday evening. He decried North Carolinas high unemployment rate as signaling a broken economy, which he vowed to fix. Hed do that by cutting taxes and reducing regulations on business that he said get in the way of job creation. And as he did in his unsuccessful run against then-Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue in 2008, he pledged to change a state government culture marked by good-ol-boy favoritism.
Dalton, a veteran legislator before winning the lieutenant governors post four years ago not on a ticket with Perdue, as he is careful to point out does fit the description of a state capital insider. But he used the debate to showcase why familiarity with the details of governing and with the hard policy choices that must be made are important things for voters to consider.
His agenda for putting North Carolinians back to work is more specific than McCrorys and more persuasive in drawing the connection between education and jobs. And in keeping with his pitch to the debate audience that the states investments in education are critical to getting its economy back on track, Dalton steered clear of the tax-cutting, budget-shrinking refrain so popular with McCrorys backers.
You dont improve education by being near the bottom of education spending, Dalton said, referring to North Carolinas spot in national rankings. It was not a point McCrory could effectively counter.
McCrory, as the front-runner, didnt need to land a knockout punch, and with his tried-and-true Republican generalities he didnt.
Daltons come-from-behind mission requires a more aggressive approach, and in the debate he was the one playing offense.
His presentation was forceful, articulate and well-grounded in the realities of governing a state where what many families and their children need most is opportunity the opportunity that comes from being well-prepared to start school, or from having excellent teachers, or from having access to job training at a community college. This debate highlighted that Dalton has what it takes to be a good governor.