Under the Dome

Dome: Roy Cooper lays groundwork for NC gubernatorial bid

rchristensen@newsobserver.com jfrank@newsobserver.comSeptember 29, 2013 

COOPER.090810.TI

N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper

TAKAAKI IWABU — newsobserver.com

In another sign that Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper is laying the groundwork for a gubernatorial bid in 2016, he has officially changed the name of his political committee from Cooper for Attorney General to Cooper for North Carolina.

Cooper has stepped up his visibility and has been privately telling Democrats of his interest in challenging Republican Gov. Pat McCrory.

Two Democrats have already announced: former state Rep. Ken Spaulding of Durham and former Chapel Hill Town Council member James Protzman.

Hagan gets feisty challenger

All the attention is focused on the Republicans vying to replace Democrat Kay Hagan in the U.S. Senate. But Hagan, too, will face a primary challenger.

The Fayetteville Observer reported last week that Fred Westphal, a retired educator from outside Fayetteville, plans to make a bid. And he’s mighty sure of his chances.

“She doesn’t have a chance against me,” Westphal, 76, told the newspaper. “She won’t get the party nomination.”

Tillis discounts donor issue

U.S. Senate candidate Thom Tillis danced around a question about his recent appointments of big donors to UNC posts and tried to pivot to attack Hagan.

In an interview with CQ/Roll Call that the Washington publication posted online last week, Tillis faced a question about a News & Observer report that showed major donors to his campaign getting seats on the UNC Board of Governors. Tillis called the storyline “tired old arguments” and his appointees “some of the greatest people in North Carolina.”

“It is disingenuous at the very best, probably misleading or dishonest in reality, because (Democrats) did it at levels that we would never allow,” Tillis said.

In a line of attack likely to be repeated this campaign cycle, Tillis tried to link Hagan, a former state lawmaker, to the Democratic Party’s ethical issues in recent years. “The first term that I was there, we had three Democratic members go to jail because they pushed the issue too far,” he said. “You haven’t seen that in the three years that we’ve been in power, and they are trying to fabricate something.”

Whether the line works is questionable given ethical troubles linked to Tillis, from his former Chief of Staff Charles Thomas’ relationship with a lobbyist to the indictment of his top lieutenant, Rep. Stephen LaRoque, who was found guilty of taking federal dollars for personal enrichment.

During the interview, Tillis also declined to term-limit himself if elected. The Cornelius Republican is retiring from the N.C. House at the end of 2014 after four terms, or eight years – a limit he put on himself when elected in 2006.

“I don’t anticipate myself being up here when I’m in my 80s,” he said, noting he will be 54 next year. But if elected, Tillis said, he would likely seek a second term and then re-evaluate.

Tillis declined to say he would vote for Mitch McConnell for Senate majority leader if Republicans win control in November 2014. Tillis said McConnell has “done great stuff” and “he has got a legitimate claim” for the post. But Tillis added that he’s “not going to get into that parlor game” about who should be the party’s leader, and pointed out that both he and McConnell had elections to win. “I don’t measure the drapes,” he said.

Staff writers Rob Christensen and John Frank

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