05/11/08 — Fred Smith says he's hapy with race for GOP nod

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Fred Smith says he's hapy with race for GOP nod

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on May 11, 2008 2:00 AM

Despite losing the Republican gubernatorial nomination to Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, and the disappointment that naturally comes along with that, Fred Smith said Thursday he was pleased with the campaign he ran.

"Going through this campaign was a great experience," he said, adding that after spending the last year and a half traveling across all 100 counties in North Carolina -- many of which he had never been to before -- and meeting thousands of people, he is confident that his message will continue to resonate with voters through November.

"I feel like we ran a good campaign and worked hard," he said. "We won 66 counties, and that's winning a lot of counties."

In Wayne, he won 66.8 percent of the vote -- 45.3 percent more than McCrory.

"Wayne County has just been so good to me. I couldn't have asked for any more from Wayne County," he said.

Unfortunately, he added, laughing, "I also learned there are a lot of people living in Mecklenburg County. And we were not able to penetrate that market."

But even though McCrory carried only 32 counties, those just happened to be some of the state's most populated as he won with 46 percent of the total vote, as compared to Smith's 37 percent.

Smith also admitted that it didn't help that for much of his campaign he was only facing two real challenges -- at least until McCrory announced he was entering the race in January.

Other twists along the way included the downturn in the housing market, which forced him to take time to deal with its effects on his development company, C.C. Mangum Co.

"We're not immune from that pain, and that claimed a little more of my time than I had anticipated," he said.

And, he added, the high voter turnout was a surprise -- attributing it to the hotly debated national races and the sales and land transfer tax questions on many ballots.

"Politics was just the topic de jure," he said. "People got into it, and even if they vote Republican, it brought them out. And we think a lot of unaffiliated voters voted in the Democratic primary.

"But I'm not making any excuses. At the end of the day, we did well, we just didn't win. The people spoke and more voted for him than for me and that means he won."

Still, Smith said he was pleased with the way he ran his campaign -- and with the fact that much of the state seemed to be responding to his messages on corruption in Raleigh, illegal immigration, crime and transportation.

"It's like playing a football game -- not all the plays were called right, but I think the strategy was sound," he said. "A lot of the other candidates adopted my issues, and I think you'll see these message continue to resonate.

"Our messages were well-received by folks. My message wasn't wrong. It was right, and people responded to it. So while we didn't win, I do think our campaign was a success."

And he knows those issues will continue to be talked about and addressed by McCrory as he begins turning his attention toward the Democratic nominee, Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue.

So despite the fact that he considers himself to be a more conservative Republican and not in complete agreement with McCrory on everything, Smith has no qualms about now backing his former rival.

"I think he can (win). He's a nice guy," he said. "I'm a good team player, and I'm going to support the party.

"Whatever Pat needs me to do, I'm going to try to help him, and I know he would have done the same for me."

But for now, Smith is going to turn his attention back toward his businesses and, at least until the end of the year, his seat in the state Senate where he has represented Johnston and Wayne counties since 2002.

"I'm just trying to get back in my business. I'm trying to wind this campaign up, send thank-you letters out and talk to some people," he said.

And, he added, he is also planning to spend some time alone with his wife, Ginny.

He would not speculate, though, what, if any, future involvement he might have in politics.

"I'm not too big on hypotheticals," he said. "But I am big believer that when the Lord closes one door, that sometime in the future, he opens another. And we'll just to wait and see where that door leads.

"I'm excited about the future. How can I not be excited? We've got a wonderful state; I've got a wonderful family, and I've had a chance to serve the people of this state. We'll just see what the future holds."