03/15/12 — GOP is eyeing eastern region

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GOP is eyeing eastern region

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on March 15, 2012 1:46 PM

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Wayne King

North Carolina GOP officials see Wayne County and the rest of eastern North Carolina as key to their party's ability to not only maintain its majorities in the state General Assembly, but also to win the governor's mansion, as well as claim the state for a Republican presidential candidate.

That, said state Republican vice chairman Wayne King, is why he has been to Goldsboro twice in the last month, talking with county residents and meeting with local party leaders and elected officials.

"Traditionally, the state party has left out areas like this," King said. "But I think it's important we reach out to people. I really believe as a party we've got to get our message out. When Barack Obama won North Carolina by 14,000 votes in 2008, it told me we have to get our message out better.

"We're excited about the opportunity for our party in 2012 -- reaching out to Republicans all across the state, unaffiliated voters and conservative Democrats -- to keep the majority in the General Assembly in the fall and take back North Carolina."

And with many seats now considered to be favoring Republicans after redistricting and Gov. Beverly Perdue deciding not to run for a second term, King said he believes the GOP is well-positioned for November.

"We were surprised (at Mrs. Perdue's decision). We believed she would run for re-election, but we also knew her failed policies and failed leadership in Raleigh have been a concern for her party," he said.

But with her decision coming relatively close to the start of the filing season, he believes the Democrats are at a disadvantage.

"There's no clear front-runner for the Democrats," King said. "All they have are regional candidates. They don't have a statewide name candidate."

By contrast, he said, Republican favorite Pat McCrory has been running for governor pretty much since he narrowly lost to Perdue in 2008. And despite the presence of five other Republicans on the May 8 primary -- including Mount Olive's Paul Wright -- King said he believes McCrory is the far and away the front-runner. And in fact, according to a recent Elon College statewide poll, McCrory does have the largest favorable ratings -- 33 percent -- of anyone running for governor.

"It's an expensive proposition, but I think people certainly have the right to run for governor," King said. "We've got a long time between May and November to get everyone behind our party's nominee, and I believe that will be Pat McCrory. He's been a good candidate and a very solid leader on the issues. It's important to us that we put forward the best candidate. We've got to make sure that we've got ethical people to send to Raleigh who not only can do the job, but can also do the right thing."

And that, he said, is why he's so excited to see so many Republican primaries up and down the ballot in almost every county and for almost every race.

"May is kind of like halftime in politics," King said. "We get a chance to get our act together and get the right people on the field. We've got some great candidates across the state this time."

And while he was disappointed that several Republican incumbents across the state were pushed into districts with each other, ultimately he hopes the strongest of the two will emerge.

"Primaries are a good thing for a party," he said. "They allow us to vet the candidates and hopefully come together as a strong team to win from May to November, and to do that, I think it's important to have a choice sometimes. We need to run a field of strong candidates."

His enthusiasm for primaries isn't just for local and state races, though. He's also excited about the role North Carolina could play in the Republican presidential primary, noting that while it appears to be a two-person race between Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum at this point, and that Romney has a sizable lead in the delegate count, he's still a long way from the required 1,144.

"The race is far from over," King said.

That said, though, he did acknowledge that he's hopeful the General Assembly will take up and approve legislation that would push the state's primary earlier, putting it more into the thick of the 2016 presidential campaign.

Still, even with the state's primary still five weeks away, he believes North Carolina's role as a swing state -- going for Obama in 2008 -- will put extra attention on its results. But, he said, he can't predict which Republican candidate might come out on top. He expects there to be a strong social conservative turnout because of the marriage amendment on the ballot -- which, according to the Elon poll has a 54 percent disapproval rating and a 38 percent approval rating -- that could help Santorum. But he also said he thinks Romney has a certain broad-based appeal in a state that Republicans need to win in November. Currently, according to that same Elon poll, Romney has the highest favorable ratings with 35 percent, while Ron Paul and Santorum are an extremely close second and third with 33 and 32 percent, respectively.

"We have a very diverse state," King said. "I believe we're critical to any Republican or Democrat candidate for president of the United States. North Carolina will be very competitive in November.

"I'm glad it will be a competitive primary, but I think once a candidate is chosen, the party will unite behind whoever is our nominee. Any of the Republican candidates for president are better than Barack Obama -- not that it's personal; it's just about the issues we believe in."

And that, he said, is the key to November -- for Republicans, on all levels, to focus on the issues that people care about, like unemployment, economics, jobs and education.

"Those are the issues people are talking about around their dinner tables," King said. "When we talk about those issues, we win. When we talk about personalities, that's when things get muddied and we get distracted."

That's why, he explained again, he's making eastern North Carolina more of a priority than perhaps his predecessors did, making sure that the Republican message on those issues is being told.

After all, even though the legislative and congressional seats are drawn to favor Republicans wherever possible, he said they want to make especially sure those seats, which have been in Democratic hands for years, aren't stolen away.

In particular, he's looking at the local legislative races in House Districts 10 and 4 and senate District 7, and on the federal level, the 13th Congressional District.

"We've got to win races here," King said. "We've got a chance here to work with Republicans, unaffiliated voters and conservative Democrats, and people are liking that we're presenting a unified team effort. This is a critical area for us."