State Politics

Gov. Pat McCrory gets a challenger in Republican primary

Former state Rep. Robert Brawley, right, a Mooresville Republican, says he’s running against Gov. Pat McCrory in next year’s Republican primary. Brawley has been an outspoken opponent of plans to add toll lanes to Interstate 77 north of Charlotte.
Former state Rep. Robert Brawley, right, a Mooresville Republican, says he’s running against Gov. Pat McCrory in next year’s Republican primary. Brawley has been an outspoken opponent of plans to add toll lanes to Interstate 77 north of Charlotte. clowenst@newsobserver.com

Former state Rep. Robert Brawley announced Wednesday that he’ll run against Gov. Pat McCrory in the Republican primary next March.

So far, McCrory hasn’t drawn a primary challenger, allowing his campaign to focus on the November general election and Democratic frontrunner Roy Cooper. While Brawley will have long odds against McCrory, his entrance to the race will create headaches for the governor’s reelection campaign.

In his announcement, Brawley said McCrory has done “good things,” but “there are concerns that must be addressed.” He did not list examples.

“The people of North Carolina deserve leadership that will look out for their interests, not deep pocketed special interests,” Brawley said. “The people of North Carolina want honesty, integrity, and transparency in government. My record shows I’m not afraid to challenge the powerful special interests in Raleigh, and as governor, I’ll run them right out of this state.”

Brawley, who lives in Mooresville, served in the House in the 1980s and ‘90s and returned to the legislature in 2013. During his most recent term, he was a frequent critic of then-Speaker Thom Tillis – a role that cost him his position as the powerful Finance Committee chairman and ultimately prompted Republicans to kick him out of the GOP caucus.

He lost the 2014 Republican primary in his district to John Fraley, who now holds the seat. House GOP leaders backed Fraley in his primary bid against Brawley in 2012.

Brawley had been planning a rematch against Fraley in March, and he said recently that the positive response from that announcement caused him to consider the governor’s race instead.

“I got so much encouragement there, that’s the reason I started looking at this,” he said last month. He could not be reached for comment Wednesday morning.

Brawley has long been an outspoken opponent of a plan to add toll lanes to Interstate 77 north of Charlotte – a plan that has seen a mounting backlash from residents of the area.

Brawley will likely use the tolling issue to criticize McCrory – something that could hurt the governor in northern Mecklenburg County, a Republican-leaning area where McCrory needs support.

Brawley’s bid could also benefit from this year’s anti-establishment sentiment among Republican primary voters.

He doesn’t have much name recognition outside Mecklenburg and Iredell counties, but that might not matter to voters who want to see an outsider like Donald Trump win the primary.

Within hours of Brawley’s announcement, the N.C. Democratic Party issued a gleeful news release.

“Now, even a long-term member of Republican leadership is challenging the governor over his plan for 50-year highway tolls, raising middle class taxes and putting donors and special interests first,” Democratic Party spokesman Ford Porter said in the release.

Brawley is already drawing criticism from some of his fellow Republicans. Former Rep. Ruth Samuelson of Charlotte, who was a close ally of Tillis in the House, called him “not fit to hold the office he seeks.”

“Not only was he untrustworthy and ineffective as a legislator, he routinely attacked conservatives and the principles we hold dear,” she said. “In the end, his campaign will be exposed for what it is: nothing more than another opportunity to promote himself and attack others, not help advance what is best for North Carolina.”

DomeTracker: NC candidates

The filing period for statewide offices for the 2016 elections is from Dec. 1 to Dec. 21. The primary will be held March 15. The general elections will be held Nov. 9.

Some candidates have already announced their intention to run for an office. This tracker will be updated throughout the filing period.

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Colin Campbell: 919-829-4698, @RaleighReporter

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