Saying North Carolina had “lost its mojo” when he came to office, Gov. Pat McCrory officially launched his re-election campaign Wednesday by touting the state’s economic turnaround.
“Some say we could do better, but the results show that no one has ever done it better than this administration,” he told about 200 supporters in the warehouse of Salem One, a thriving printing company. “The results speak for themselves.”
In coming to Forsyth County, McCrory returned to the Triad, the region where he grew up and where he announced his last run for governor.
The former Charlotte mayor cast himself as a leader who arrived in Raleigh in 2013 as an “outsider” and went on to preside over an administration that cut taxes, created jobs and put the state on a sound financial footing.
“I’m running for governor not because of what we’ve accomplished. I’m running for governor because our comeback story isn’t over; there’s still more to do,” McCrory said in a campaign video released Tuesday.
But after three years, McCrory is no longer an outsider. He has a record that not only will he boast about but one that critics will attack.
Two Democrats are vying for the chance to run against him. Attorney General Roy Cooper faces Durham lawyer Ken Spaulding in a March 15 primary. Through June Cooper had a war chest of over $3 million, more than McCrory and far more than his Democratic rival.
Democrats wasted little time in blasting McCrory.
“Gov. McCrory begins his re-election campaign facing at least two federal corruption investigations into his administration,” Democratic Party spokesman Ford Porter said Wednesday. “Thanks to Gov. McCrory, middle class families have less money in their pockets, wages have stagnated, and North Carolina’s best teachers are leaving for other states – all while giant corporations and those at the top have received record breaks.”
A federal criminal grand jury has been investigating expensive contracts for high-ranking employees at the Department of Health and Human Services as well as for a consulting firm that was hired on a no-bid, $3.2 million contract that later was expanded to more than $9 million.
And the FBI is conducting an inquiry into the awarding of a prison maintenance contract to a Charlotte firm.
McCrory came to office as North Carolina began to dig out of a recession that had left it with the nation’s fifth-highest unemployment rate. After what he said was the addition of over 230,000 jobs, the state’s most recent unemployment rate, 5.7 percent, ranked 39th in the country.
The governor also touted the state’s repayment of a $2.8 billion debt to the federal government, borrowed to pay extended unemployment benefits during the recession. The state recently announced a $1 billion rainy-day surplus has been built for the unemployment program.
“We tore up the credit card to the federal government,” McCrory said Wednesday.
McCrory came to office with the reputation as a Charlotte moderate. But as governor he signed into law legislation from the Republican-controlled General Assembly that critics say has turned the state further to the right on voting and tax issues as well as social and health care policies.
Michael Bitzer, a political scientist at Catawba College, McCrory’s alma mater, said that could hurt the governor with some of the people who supported him in 2012. Bitzer said studies showed the governor got the support of about 15 percent of Democrats in the last election.
“I would be surprised if it were that high again,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a very partisan, base election in which we’re going to see the presidential race and the U.S. Senate race impact the gubernatorial race.”
Grant Whitney, a former Mecklenburg GOP chairman, traveled to Kernersville along with a handful of other Charlotte Republicans. He acknowledged what could be a tougher campaign for his friend.
“It’s going to be a challenge,” he said. “But from everything I can see he’s off to a great start.”