Election 2012: The Race for Governor

In second bid for governor, a new image for McCrory

Some say former Charlotte mayor has grown more conservative

jmorrill@charlotteobserver.comOctober 21, 2012 


Former Charlotte mayor Pat McCrory is running for governor against North Carolina Lt. Governor Walter Dalton. McRory is seen here in Raleigh on Tuesday, October 16, 2012.

SHAWN ROCCO — srocco@newsobserver.com

  • Patrick Lloyd McCrory Born: Oct. 17, 1956, in Columbus, Ohio Education: Catawba College, bachelor’s in political science/Education, 1978 Family: Married to Ann Gordon, 1988 Residence: Charlotte, in a Myers Park home valued for taxes at $579,100 Career: Duke Energy, various positions, 1978-2007. Partner, McCrory & Co. Senior director of strategic initiatives, Moore & Van Allen Political career: Charlotte mayor, 1995-2009; City Council 1989-95 Military: None Now reading: “The Mobile Wave, How Mobile Intelligence Will Change Everything,” by Michael Saylor The knock on him is: He’s thin-skinned. Once, during a closed City Council meeting, he yelled at a fellow Republican. Democrat Anthony Foxx, then a council member, told the mayor he was rude. McCrory apologized. Unusual Facts: He has appeared in three films: “Nell,” “Shallow Hal” and “The Ultimate Gift.” All were shot in Charlotte. … Though Charlotte Republicans were outnumbered 3-1 by Democrats and Independents while he was mayor, he won seven times with an average of 63 percent of the vote.
  • The McCrory record Charlotte In return for the franchise that became the Charlotte Bobcats, he led the push for a $200 million arena paid for in part with an existing hotel tax.   Crime The city added 366 police officers while he was mayor. Crime rates fluctuated, though generally dropped, according to the State Bureau of Investigation.   Taxes As a candidate, calls for cutting corporate and personal income tax rates. As mayor, supported higher hotel taxes for the NASCAR Hall of Fame but vetoed a higher car-rental tax for uptown museums. The City Council overrode it. In 1998, he championed the half-cent sales tax that funds the Lynx Blue Line, the first leg of a light-rail system. In 2007, he helped defeat the effort to repeal the tax.   Social issues Last spring, he favored the constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between one man and one woman. In 2003 and again in 2004, he opposed providing benefits to city employees’ same-sex partners. He said the benefits would cost too much and go against what most Charlotteans wanted. In 2005, he declined to send a letter welcoming those attending a dinner in Charlotte for the Human Rights Campaign, the country’s largest civil rights group for gays and lesbians.

— Pat McCrory was back on his home court.

Speaking to a Rotary Club at the Greensboro Coliseum, he conjured memories of a place where he’d seen Elvis, worked as an usher and watched basketball greats such as N.C. State’s David Thompson.

Scanning the banquet hall, he pointed out people he knew growing up in nearby Jamestown. Old family friends. A one-time boss named Doug Copeland.

He supervised a teenage McCrory in the office of the late Democratic U.S. Rep. Richardson Preyer. Now he recalls the intern as energetic, outgoing and optimistic.

“Today I get the same sense,” says Copeland. “He worked the room brilliantly.”

As he runs for the state’s top office against Democratic Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton, McCrory has reason for optimism.

With a wide lead in most polls, he could become North Carolina’s first Republican governor in 20 years, the first in more than a century to govern with a Republican-led General Assembly.

The former Charlotte mayor, 56, also is poised to do what he couldn’t do against Democrat Bev Perdue in 2008 – and what four Charlotte predecessors failed to do seven times since 1984: win statewide office.

But North Carolina’s political landscape has changed dramatically in four years. Critics say McCrory has, too. Like his party, they say, the man who led Charlotte for 14 years as a moderate has shifted to the right.

“Obviously it looks like he’s embraced a lot of the tea party agenda,” Dalton says.

Since taking over the General Assembly last year, GOP lawmakers have literally redrawn the map of North Carolina politics. They adopted a budget that cut spending for schools and colleges, reduced some taxes and passed measures such as a voter ID bill that prompted a flurry of Perdue vetoes.

“What happened in between 2008 and 2012 was the tea party insurgency … that captured the Republican Party, particularly here in North Carolina,” says Michael Bitzer, a political scientist at Catawba College, McCrory’s alma mater. “McCrory has had to make some philosophical adjustments.”

McCrory insists he hasn’t “moved a bit” in his positions or beliefs.

But he and his party have made mutual accommodations.

Rising from a defeat

After losing to Perdue in 2008 by less than 4 percentage points, McCrory says he “assumed my political career was over.” But a year later, with Perdue’s popularity ratings crashing amid a budget crisis that forced her to cut state jobs and salaries, he was laying the groundwork for another run.

He stumped the state for GOP candidates and started the New Leadership Political Action Committee that helped fund their campaigns. He spoke out against President Barack Obama’s health care plan at rallies sponsored by Americans for Prosperity, a group founded by the conservative Koch brothers and tied to the tea party movement.

At the group’s request, McCrory recorded calls in 2010 against a Democratic bill in Raleigh that would have expanded public funding for statewide campaigns. The robo calls sparked what one Senate Democrat called a firestorm of complaints that forced his party to withdraw the bill. McCrory made other calls attacking Perdue vetoes.

It all paid off. Unlike in 2008, McCrory faced no serious primary challenge this year.

“He obviously did what was necessary from a political standpoint to avoid a primary,” says Dallas Woodhouse, state director for Americans for Prosperity. “One reason (conservatives) felt comfortable was because they got to know him better.”

McCrory has had an uneasy relationship with some small-government conservatives.

In Charlotte, he championed a $460 million light-rail line and led campaigns for voters first to raise and then to keep the sales tax to pay for it. After voters rejected a nonbinding referendum in 2001 for projects that included a new uptown arena, he helped find a way to build one. He pushed for public funding for the NASCAR Hall of Fame and an ambitious package of arts projects now known as the Levine Center for the Arts. “He hasn’t been conservative anytime … on City Council or as mayor,” says Charlotte Republican Don Reid, a former City Council member and persistent critic.

Other conservatives, however, have grown comfortable.

“Pat McCrory is the type of person that knows how to talk to both sides,” says Franklin Lawson, president of the Catawba Valley Tea Party. “If we get somebody in office at least drifting in the right direction, we’re in good shape.”

The solid support from his own party has helped McCrory to a fundraising edge.

His campaign has announced it had raised nearly $10 million through September. Dalton has yet to announce his own take, though it’s expected to be considerably less. The money shows up in TV buys. McCrory’s campaign and its allies have bought $12 million in TV ads, while the Dalton campaign and its allies have bought $5.2 million.

‘Running hard to the right’

For some, McCrory’s problem isn’t that he’s too moderate. It’s that he’s become more conservative. On no issue do they sense a shift as much as the environment.

McCrory has become an outspoken proponent of offshore oil drilling and the controversial gas exploration known as “fracking.” And at this year’s state GOP convention, he endorsed a resolution opposing the United Nation’s so-called Agenda 21, a 20-year-old blueprint that advocates sustainable “smart growth.”

The GOP resolution called Agenda 21 “a comprehensive plan of extreme environmentalism, social engineering and global political control.”

“It raises the question of which Pat McCrory the people of North Carolina will get,” says Molly Diggins, state director of the Sierra Club. “Pat McCrory is running hard to the right … Charlotte has a reputation as a forward-looking city … And I’m not seeing any of that in what Pat McCrory is offering now.”

In Charlotte, McCrory advocated smart growth and pushed for coordinated planning along the light rail and other transportation corridors. On the stump, he touts such efforts and promises to bring state government long-term strategies in areas such as transportation and infrastructure.

McCrory says that although he supports parts of Agenda 21, “I don’t believe the U.N. should determine land-use policy for local government.”

He invokes Charlotte in other ways. One is as an example of what he calls high state taxes that drove some employers across the line to South Carolina.

“A company had the option of moving a hundred yards away and having a cheaper tax rate,” he told an economic development conference in Greensboro recently.

Cutting taxes is a staple of McCrory’s platform just as it was in 2008. So are curbing government regulation and boosting energy exploration.

“Pat certainly hasn’t changed,” says Bob Orr, a former N.C. Supreme Court justice who ran against McCrory in the 2008 GOP primary. “He’s still very much a middle-of-the-road candidate.”

Connecting with voters

Two years ago, McCrory won a Metrolina Theatre Association Award for his cameo appearance in “Charlotte Squawks,” a musical satire of people and issues in the news. Over the years, his videotaped cameos have included self-deprecating sendups, often with deadpan deliveries. This year, he donned sunglasses in a mock come-on to female voters.

McCrory always has sold himself as much as his ideas.

“People who disagree with him tend to still get along with him,” says John Hood, president of the conservative John Locke Foundation. “He has that characteristic that is valuable in politics of getting people to like him. He is more a candidate of personality than he is of public policy details. That’s not a bad thing.”

At the economic development conference, McCrory talked about recruitment strategies. But, he told the audience, “You and I both know that a lot of economic recruitment is about relationships.”

McCrory has used personal leverage before, in business and in public office. When the Charlotte Hornets left town, he helped persuade the NBA to promise an expansion franchise. He wooed executives of companies such as General Dynamics, which moved a division headquarters to Charlotte in 2003.

“He’s a good salesman,” says Commerce Secretary Keith Crisco, a Democrat who attended the economic development conference. “He’s a good point person, very good. He was a ‘3A’ in economic development. He’d talk to anybody, anytime, anyplace.”

Woodhouse, of Americans for Prosperity, credits McCrory’s personal appeal with helping Republicans coalesce around his candidacy.

“In North Carolina there has been an extraordinarily limited number of politicians that could truly connect in a personal way, and McCrory is one of them,” he says. “When Pat McCrory gets in a room, no matter who he’s talking to, he has a way of connecting to people. … That is not something we’ve seen in a lot of Republican candidates for statewide office.”

Salesmanship also has helped McCrory’s bottom line.

Making money amid conflicts

McCrory likes to say he was out of a job after the 2008 election. But that didn’t last long.

In January 2009, he joined the board of Charlotte-based Tree.com, the parent of LendingTree and other consumer finance and real estate sites. Last year he earned $112,500 in cash and stock, according to a company report.

The same week he joined his brother Phil in McCrory & Company, a business consulting firm.

A few months later, McCrory took a seat on the board of Kewaunee Scientific Corp., a Statesville firm that builds lab furniture. According to a company filing, he earned pay and benefits worth $53,168 in the year that ended April 30.

In January 2010, he began another job: as a “strategic policy consultant” at the Charlotte-based law firm Moore & Van Allen. Neither McCrory nor the firm will say exactly what he does or what he earns. The firm says he does no lobbying, instead working as a sort of rainmaker for new clients.

Ernie Reigel, who chairs the firm’s marketing committee, says McCrory contributes “greatly to our marketing and client development work.”

Critics suggest McCrory, who has promised to pursue gas and oil drilling in the state, could face conflicts of interest from working at a firm whose clients include the American Petroleum Institute. He has denied the charge, though he has declined to say what companies he works with at the law firm.

According to his personal financial disclosure, McCrory also collected thousands in honoraria and consulting fees last year, including more than $5,000 for appearances on “FlashPoint,” a weekly public affairs show on WCNC-TV.

McCrory, unlike Dalton, has declined to reveal his tax returns. Records show that he paid off a $258,000 mortgage in May 2011.

Teaming with the legislature

When McCrory was a guest on WFAE-FM’s “Charlotte Talks” earlier this month, a listener asked: If elected, would he govern as a moderate or “side with the legislature?”

McCrory gave what has become his standard answer.

“I’ve stepped on the toes of the right and the left,” he said. “I’m going to be my own man.”

McCrory has said he’ll try to be a “teammate” of the legislature. He says he would have signed some GOP-sponsored bills that Perdue vetoed, such as voter ID, but opposed others such as one that curbs local governments’ ability to regulate billboards.

GOP House Speaker Thom Tillis of Cornelius says he expects a lot of cooperation if McCrory is elected.

“I don’t think that we’re going to find many instances where we’re going to disagree,” Tillis says.

Gary Pearce, a Democratic strategist and blogger, doesn’t expect any honeymoon to last long.

“Wait until the legislative leadership decides to show him who’s boss,” Pearce blogged recently. “Wait until a couple of really, really conservative Republican legislators squawk when McCrory makes a moderate peep.”

Staff writer Rob Christensen contributed to this report.

Morrill: 704-358-5059

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