Come Back, Pat McCrory, for the Good of the State
This editorial is reprinted from The Charlotte Observer.
It wasn't the hair or the grin. Republican Pat McCrory became one of the most popular mayors in North Carolina history in large part by rejecting ideological blinders. In his record 14 years as Charlotte's mayor, he routinely worked with Republicans and Democrats to seek common ground.
As a result, he trounced all challengers. He consistently won the votes not only of Republicans but of most independents and a good chunk of Democrats.
Now McCrory faces a choice in this year's run for governor. Stay true to how he campaigned and governed for close to 20 years. Or continue his recent veer to the right.
We understand why McCrory has felt the need to shore up his support with the most conservative wing of his party. As mayor he backed public funding for light rail, an uptown arena and the NASCAR Hall of Fame, among other things, and conservatives viewed him with disdain. A tea party primary challenge posed at least as big of a threat to McCrory's prospects as the unpopular incumbent, Democrat Bev Perdue.
So for the past two to three years, McCrory's tone, volume and emphasis have changed dramatically. He embraced many of the hot-button, polarizing issues debated in the legislature and became a de facto spokesman for the conservative Americans for Prosperity. He jumped on a push to overturn federal health care reform.
He pressed hard for a voter ID law. He has made opposition to a 3/4-cent sales tax for education one of the early centerpieces of his campaign. He recorded a campaign call for a tea party candidate for Wake County's school board. He aligned himself closely with a Republican-led legislature that has a 16 percent approval rating.
It worked. There's no talk of a serious Republican challenge to McCrory for the nomination. Now what?
McCrory has to decide whether he can keep that base happy while going back to his bread-and-butter: the moderates who decide elections. He should retreat to the middle, both as a political calculation and because it's better for North Carolina.
Republicans make up just 31 percent of registered N.C. voters. Mathematically, McCrory can't win without significant support from independents or Democrats.
Aside from electoral politics, though, there's this: We have a heckuva lot of problems in North Carolina. We need a governor who won't represent any single faction, one who can work with the current Republican -legislature but also not kowtow to it.
Erskine Bowles would have been a strong candidate for governor because he had the respect not only of Democrats but also of most independents and many Republicans. There was no danger that he would automatically do the bidding of the Democratic Party.
Our inboxes are filled daily with Republicans joyous at bad news for Democrats and from Democrats gleeful about bad news for Republicans. Are we profoundly naive to ever hope for a different dynamic? Pat McCrory has the potential to help bridge that divide. We hope he does.
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