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The Charlotte Factor

Pat McCrory is the latest Charlotte politician to run for North Carolina governor. But history shows he faces a major challenge. For one, he's a Republican. Two, he's from Charlotte. Candidates from here have had little success running statewide. While a lot has changed, a few things have stayed the same in the 30 years Jim Morrill has been covering North Carolina politics for the Charlotte Observer. Republicans have won every presidential race in the state. Democrats have won nearly every governor's race. And no matter what the party, Charlotte politicians have tended to do poorly in statewide races. Despite that history, Pat McCrory is tied or ahead in some polls, of Democrat Bev Perdue. And people like Morrill have taken notice. "McCrory is swimming against a tide so far a little bit, swimming against history to some extent. And doing that pretty successfully. And I think I'm a little surprised by that because Democrats have just had a lock on the governorship here." Since 1901, the state has had only two Republican governors. So why in a presidential red state do Republicans have such a hard time running for governor? Carter Wrenn of Raleigh says it comes down to money. Wrenn headed former Charlotte Mayor Richard Vinroot's unsuccessful run for governor in 2000. "The Democrats have been able to raise much more money than the Republicans. It's not just McCrory, it's been that way for the last three or four governor's elections." In other words, success breeds more success. Democratic campaign consultant Mike Plante is a North Carolina native who now lives in West Virginia. He says it's just easier to raise money when a political party keeps winning. "I think a lot of times money follows money. And a lot of the old establishment, in terms of contributors, operate in those Democratic circles and continue to go that way cycle after cycle," Plante says. Democratic Lieutenant Governor Bev Perdue has been a part of that circle. And in terms of fundraising, it's paying off. The most recent campaign finance reports filed this summer show she's raised about $2.3 million, more than double what Pat McCrory raised. North Carolina State Political Science Professor Andy Taylor isn't surprised. "All of the cogs of the machine, patronage, connections with clients and groups that serve government, all of those are strongly in the Democratic camp," Taylor says. "And it's hard to break through that. And these organizations and individuals are very good at beating the bush for Democrats and raising money for them." But what about the often-tossed around notion that voters in other parts of North Carolina simply don't want to vote for a candidate from Charlotte? Wrenn, the Republican operative from Raleigh, thinks the notion is false. "That idea is a conceit local to Charlotte. It's 'we're big and we're rich and everybody envies us,' " Wrenn says. "The next thought there is that 'everybody's out to do us in.' It's silly. People in Raleigh don't sit arournd and say, 'How are we going to beat the candidate from Charlotte this election?' It's a little bit of Charlotte being too self-centered." Wrenn ran Jesse Helms' controversial U.S. Senate campaign in 1990 against former Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt. On the other side was Mike Plante, who advised the Gantt campaign. Plante says being from Charlotte can be a challenge. "Folks in rural areas tend to look at the urban areas as being another North Carolina, or not like us. And Charlotte, for years and years and years, would have to be at the top of that list," Plante says. And that's one reason why this year's race is so intriguing to people like political reporter Jim Morrill. He thinks the changing makeup of the state's electorate - along with McCrory's personality - makes him Charlotte's best chance to win a statewide race in some time. "He has a personality of a popular candidate - a Mike Easley," Morrill says. "He has changing demographics going for him. Not only in Charlotte but in the whole I-85 corridor, all of these people who are more tuned into urban concerns to who a mayor is not some alien from another planet." Other experts say also at work for McCrory this year is his good standing with many middle-of-the road Democrats who appear willing to vote Republican - at least in the governor's race. But considering his party's lack of past success, a McCrory win would still have to be considered a major upset.