Although the Democratic field for governor has yet to solidify, the three announced major candidates participated in their first cattle call Friday, promoting themselves as the best equipped to defeat the Republicans in the fall.
Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton zeroed in on Republican gubernatorial candidate Pat McCrory. State Rep. Bill Faison said he was the man with the jobs plan, while former U.S. Rep. Bob Etheridge said the GOP was engaging in a war on teachers.
The three appeared before about 270 Wake County Democrats attending the annual Valentine's Day fundraising party Friday evening held at the downtown headquarters of the N.C. Association of Educators.
But the question was whether this would be the only three candidates who would enter the May 8 Democratic primary.
State Sen. Dan Blue of Raleigh, the first African-American House speaker in modern Southern history and a major figure in the party, has said he is considering a bid. But when pointedly invited to join the candidates on the stage he declined - underscoring conventional wisdom that is he leaning against running.
Former state Treasurer Richard Moore of Raleigh has also said he is considering the race, but he was noticeably absent from the event. He could not be reached for comment Friday.
"I think it (the field) is about settled now," said former Secretary of State Rufus Edmisten, who was the Democratic nominee for governor in 1984. "I haven't heard any buzz. It's such a volatile year, it's anybody's guess who will win."
Mark Ezzell, a veteran Wake County Democratic activist, agreed that it was shaping up as a three-man field. But Ezzell said there is a growing sense of optimism that the current field might provide the Democrats with a strong enough standard bearer if the economy continues to show signs of reviving.
On the previous evening at a GOP event in Raleigh, McCrory, the former Charlotte mayor, had described the Democratic field as a continuation of the "Easley-Perdue" political culture, hoping to paint them in an unflattering light by comparing them to Gov. Bev Perdue and former Gov. Mike Easley, both Democrats.
On Friday, the Democrats answered back.
"Pat McCrory has been traveling this state for three and half years campaigning for governor and this week, he said he would start talking about policy issues," Dalton said. "That should tell you something."
During the same period that McCrory has been politicking, Dalton said he has been working to help the state get out of the recession, such as helping small businesses.
"Pat McCrory and the Republican leadership has taken us in the wrong direction," said Dalton. "Forty-ninth in per pupil spending is the wrong direction.
Laying off educators, laying off teachers, laying off faculty is the wrong direction. Taking away 6,000 financial aid scholarships is the wrong direction."
Etheridge didn't mention McCrory, but he portrayed the Republican legislature as hurting education, from secondary and elementary schools to the universities, where he said top college professors were now leaving because of low salaries.
"Those folks down the street have decided they are going to make war on teachers and anyone who works for state government," Etheridge said. "If we want 21st-century jobs, we will have to have 21st-century opportunities for our children in our classroom.''
Faison says ...
Faison said the Republican lawmakers came to Raleigh and "told three great lies": They weren't going to raise taxes, they were going to deal with jobs, and they wouldn't fire teachers or teacher aides. But he said they raised $100 million in fees, laid off teachers and teacher aides and virtually ignored job legislation.
Faison promoted his plan to reinstitute the sales tax increase that was repealed by the legislature last year to provide funding that "would put tens of thousands of people back to work right away."
"As Democrats planning on winning in 2012," Faison said, "we have got to get people back to work. There are almost half million people out of work. That is just unacceptable."
Rob Lockwood, spokesman for the state Republican Party, said: "The Democrats came together to discuss their dream platform: more taxes for North Carolina families. Increasing taxes on all North Carolinians is a terrible idea, but nonetheless it is the idea that they are championing."