Ten Best: Moments in state campaigning

by Jordan Green

Dueling attack ads

Forget about Obama’s incendiary pastor or Clinton’s not-so-intrepid landing in Bosnia-Herzegovina. There’s a whole slew of state races in North Carolina, remember? In what is probably the most important of them – the Democratic primary for governor – all the action is in television advertising. Try your best to wade through the nastiness. The announcer in Bev Perdue’s recent ad says, “As treasurer, [Richard] Moore put $2 billion of state pensions in risky hedge funds. And increased fees paid to fund managers by 600 percent. Now Wall Street investors have given 1.5 million to his campaign.” Moore’s ad fires back: “It’s Perdue who’s been caught raising money on Wall Street. She’s been investigated for corruption by the SBI and a federal grand jury. And Bev Perdue was forced to return thousands in illegal donations from special interests.” Analyses by the Raleigh News & Observer found both candidates’ claims to be “not entirely” accurate.

Beg your Parton

Credit goes to News & Record reporter Mark Binker for putting this one in context. Given their mutual entanglements in the Randy Parton corporate incentives disaster in Roanoke Rapids, you would think the two leading Dems for guv would just keep their mouths shut. You would be wrong. On Jan. 18, Binker received a press release from the Perdue campaign declaring that rival Moore “needs to explain why he withheld details about the feasibility from the Local Government Commission, return the contributions he received from people involved in the Parton Theatre, and turn over the rest of the documents related to the project.” But an inconveniently timed Associated Press story reports that a member of the state Board of Transportation resigned after being questioned by his boss about raising money for Perdue from people connected with Carolina Crossroads – yes, the very same entertainment and retail complex anchored by the former Randy Parton Theatre.

Michael Jordan and who?

It’s in the Republican gubernatorial primary that things get really woolly. North Carolina favors Democrats for state office, so with less to lose, the Republicans can have more fun. Let’s start with Charlotte Mayor (and Jamestown homeboy) Pat McCrory’s address to the Lincoln County Republican Party convention at Gaston College on March 1. As quoted in the Lincoln Tribune, McCrory recalled refereeing Michael Jordan in a game back in the day: “Do you know why I called traveling on Michael Jordan? Because he traveled and I had the courage to call traveling on Michael Jordan. It’s going to take some tough leadership…and I’ve got a record of that tough leadership.”

Bob Orr talks smack about Pat McCrory

Prompting this bitchy blog post written by rival Bob Orr following the March 27 Republican debate in Greenville: “Pat, frankly, is getting on my nerves. He consistently ignores the time limitations and if I have to listen to him crow about his leadership anymore I may have to take anti-nausea medicine. And his ‘leadership is calling traveling on Michael Jordan’ story has gotten old quickly. Hey Pat, did you play high school basketball? Were you the starting point guard at Catawba College? Maybe old Michael knows a little more about the game than ‘Hiz Honor.’ And trust me, making tough decisions doesn’t have anything to do with exhibition basketball games, regardless of who’s playing. Try casting the deciding vote on whether someone gets executed at 2 a.m. if you want to know about making tough decisions.”

Lee Greenwood to the rescue

Then there’s the rather bizarre partnership between sentimental ballad singer Lee Greenwood and Republican state Sen. Fred Smith, also an aspiring resident of the governor’s mansion. In a travelogue pieced together from multiple YouTube clips, voters can watch the singer with a receding hairline and scraggly beard show up at a barbecue for the candidate in Hendersonville last September. “We both share something in common,” Smith says. To which Greenwood responds, “We both have trophy wives.” Greenwood tells the audience, “The soldiers are fighting toe to toe with people who would like to kill us all, and we need people who know how to take charge in an emergency.”

Jazz prestige

If endorsements by musicians are any indication, Durham lawyer Hampton Dellinger, a Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, is in another universe than Smith. Hamp, as he is known, recently scored an endorsement from saxophonist Branford Marsalis – a Durham resident who comes from New Orleans first family of jazz. The candidate who advertises himself as “pro-choice, pro-environment, progressive,” has also notched approval ratings from historian John Hope Franklin and Al Gore.

Don’t forget the guy from Winston-Salem

Okay, so it was kind of a dry speech, but it’s worth noting that a local, Winston-Salem City Councilman Dan Besse, is also a contender in the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor. Besse, who boasts of completing 21 marathons and who’s known for wearing his running shoes almost everywhere, calls himself “the real progressive Democrat.” In his closing statement at the Asheville debate in January he said the state needs a leader willing to tell business lobbies “that the state can’t afford to cut back pollution controls just because it might be in someone’s short-term economic interest… that we cannot afford to sway to every lobbying whim.”

Turning the clock back to the 1870s

Local races tend to have the color where state office campaigns overwhelm voters with wonkish policy and slick advertising. No one ever called retired Ku Klux Klan exalted cyclops EH Hennis slick. He made a recent campaign stop in his quest for a seat on the Guilford County Commission at a Greensboro City Council meeting. Call it counter-intuition. In a rambling address during the “speakers from the floor” segment during the April 1 meeting, he said, “Don’t get the idea you have anything on us over in the county”; called somebody a “compulsive liar”; boasted of his ability to “whip” an FBI agent; invoked bootstrapping self-reliance by mentioning his ownership of a sawmill, planer and concrete mixer; promised to save taxpayers’ money; and pledged to “do more for the constituents, less bickering, pet projects and politics.” He really is on the ballot – no joke.

First out of the gate

Black conservative and former High Point Enterprise reporter EC Huey has been running for Guilford County School Board ever since the end of the 2006 election cycle. He hinted at his candidacy in a November 2006 commentary published in YES! Weekly that took the newspaper to task for its endorsements: “Do you realize what is going on in Guilford County schools? Personal and personality-driven agendas among some board members, along with administrative mismanagement are threatening the livelihood of our schools.” Huey has been blogging and holding press conferences ever since. And with at-large member Dot Kearns retiring, he has a good shot. Huey faces Sandra Alexander, David Crawford, Alan Hawkes and Michael McKinney in the May 6 primary.

Touchy subjects

When Republican Joe Wilson, a Greensboro candidate for the open state Senate seat to be vacated by Kay Hagan, entered the race, blogger Joe Guarino expressed hope in a Feb. 28 post that Wilson would make political hay out of Democratic opponent Don Vaughan’s supposed interference in a probe of the failed Project Homestead nonprofit. Fellow blogger Roch Smith Jr. protested, “If Joe Wilson starts asserting that Vaughan ‘blocked an audit of PH,’ he’ll be summarily dismissed as out of touch with reality.” The candidate, who ran an unsuccessful race for Greensboro City Council last year, was soon heard from: “I have not asserted anything about anyone. I think that events since the election have proven that, if anything, I am definitely not out of touch with reality.”