Even off the ballot, Pat McCrory influenced election

jmorrill@charlotteobserver.comNovember 9, 2013 

— Did Pat McCrory cost Edwin Peacock votes?

Peacock thinks so.

The Republican businessman lost Charlotte’s mayoral race Tuesday to Democrat Patrick Cannon by 6,000 votes.

Peacock said McCrory, the Republican governor and former Charlotte mayor, often came up when he talked to voters – and usually, not in a positive way.

“What they would ask me is, ‘Are you going to be another Pat McCrory?’” Peacock said. “I do think it was a contributory factor. This was the anti- McCrory, anti-legislature sentiment.”

McCrory was a popular mayor re-elected seven times by big margins. But since being elected governor a year ago, his approval ratings have continued to fall.

In September, only 35 percent of state voters approved of his performance, according to Public Policy Polling, a Democratic-leaning firm. The GOP-controlled General Assembly had 24 percent approval.

There’s no question that many Charlotteans objected to GOP legislation this year.

A Charlotte Observer poll in May, for example, found that, by a 3-1 margin, Charlotte voters wanted the city to keep control over Charlotte Douglas International Airport. Legislators transferred control first to an authority and then a commission, though the matter is now in court.

Another poll found only 16 percent of Charlotte voters supported an airport authority. “Moral Monday” protests over issues such as abortion and voting also drew scores of Charlotteans to Raleigh in the spring and summer.

Peacock sought to distance himself from unpopular decisions in Raleigh. He often said he was his own man and promised to “end the bickering” between city and state officials.

But questions kept coming.

‘Nobody left to offend’

At a Tuesday Morning Breakfast Forum last month, Ken Koontz asked Peacock whether he was “going to morph into Pat McCrory.”

“Pat McCrory had been considered a moderate Republican,” Koontz, an unaffiliated voter, said Friday.

On the day before the election, Peacock spoke to students at Providence High School. A girl asked him what his relationship was with the governor.

“Her question … was, ‘Are you going to be like Pat McCrory?’” Peacock said.

Peacock said Republican legislation turned off many North Carolina voters. Critics accused GOP lawmakers of making it harder to vote, tightening rules on abortion and turning away federal Medicaid money for the poor.

Add that to last year’s amendment banning same-sex marriage – which Peacock opposed but many Republicans supported – and Peacock said, “There’s nobody left to offend.”

Also, an NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll last month found that 55 percent of Americans blamed Republicans for last month’s government shutdown. Only 31 percent blamed President Barack Obama.

In a city that has twice as many Democrats as Republicans, and where even unaffiliated voters outnumber Republicans, Peacock needed support from both groups.

“It very much complicated my fundraising and it complicated getting people engaged in our race,” he said. “People also were thinking more about party affiliation than they ever have.”

‘Guilt by association’

One Republican strategist who asked not to be named said Peacock could have embraced the parts of McCrory’s record that made him a popular mayor and helped Charlotte thrive, such as policies on transportation and economic development. Peacock, who campaigned on lower taxes, could also have talked about the tax cuts McCrory signed into law.

But Michael Bitzer, a Catawba College political scientist, said Peacock was a victim of “guilt by association.”

Morrill: 704-358-5059

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