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Perdue's Decision Changes Political Landscape

North Carolina’s first female governor has decided not to seek re-election this year. Governor Bev Perdue issued a statement yesterday saying that seeking a second term would "only further politicize the fight to adequately fund our schools." Her decision leaves the Democratic field of prospective gubernatorial candidates wide open. And it changes the political dynamic leading up to the November election.

Jessica Jones: Rob Lockwood says the governor’s announcement was absolutely the last thing he expected to hear yesterday. Lockwood is a spokesman for the state Republican Party.

Rob Lockwood: I’ll tell ya it came as quite a shock on a Thursday morning, we’ve had quite a busy day today, we expect to be busy for the next couple of weeks as a result.

Lockwood says his initial plans to have a nice quiet weekend have already flown out the window. And he wasn’t the only Raleigh politico to be surprised. Democrats and Republicans alike were caught off guard by Governor Perdue’s decision not to pursue a second term. But Lockwood says the tension between the governor’s office and the legislature finally caught up with Perdue.

Lockwood: Her service, her tenure, is long and impressive. I mean she has served the people in various capacities over three different decades. And so politically speaking I think she realized that the writing may have been on the wall this time.

Lagging poll numbers and a campaign war chest that was only slightly larger than Republican Pat McCrory’s were clearly cause for concern. Yet not too long ago Perdue said she still intended to run, despite rumors other Democrats were eyeing the governor’s mansion. Her poll numbers have risen a bit since a contentious legislative session in which she vetoed fifteen bills passed by a Republican-led General Assembly. That got her national publicity in Democratic circles for standing up to Republican legislators. But it’s not a great basis for campaigns at the state level. Ferrel Guillory directs the Program for Public Life at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Ferrel Guillory: Unlike previous governors, she couldn’t stand up in front of the public and say look at all we’ve accomplished, look at what we’ve gotten through the legislature. She was facing a re-election in which she was going to have to argue I’ve been vetoing, I’ve been standing against damage as she sees it.

And fellow Democrats have clearly been divided over Perdue’s chances for re-election against McCrory, who she narrowly defeated in 2008. Lieutenant Governor Walter Dalton announced his candidacy within hours of Perdue’s announcement. Representative Bill Faison has all but announced he’s running, and there are a number of other prospective candidates in the wings. But the filing period starts in two weeks, and Guillory says gubernatorial candidates are going to have to move quickly.

Guillory: No doubt there are all kinds of conversations going on right now and undoubtedly the Obama White House is part of the conversation, because this is a state that the president has targeted, it’s a swing state that he targeted last time, and it’s in his interest to have a strong party running along with him.

Guillory says after all Perdue’s years in politics, her decision was undoubtedly a difficult one for her to make. Some Democrats say they thought Perdue could still win. Walton Robinson is a spokesman for the state Democratic Party. He thinks polls didn’t accurately reflect support for the governor. Still, Robinson says her decision hasn’t changed the party’s game plan.

Walton Robinson: I think the only thing that changes is the name at the top of the ticket. There’s not going to be a shortage of work and there’s not going to be a shortage of effort that needs to be put in. But the plan is essentially the same, just to draw a clear contrast, clear distinctions between Democrats and Republicans.

That shouldn’t be hard to do at a time when state politics are more polarized than they have been for years. Democratic representative Becky Carney of Charlotte says she hopes the governor shares more of the reasons behind her decision because it shouldn’t cast a shadow on what she’s accomplished.

Becky Carney: I’m certainly proud of her term in office. And I thank her for her service throughout the years in this state. And I wanna thank her as a woman that doors are opening and will continue to open for women in this state.

But Perdue isn’t finished yet. She still has the better part of a year left as North Carolina’s governor. That will include another undoubtedly contentious legislative session.

Jessica Jones covers both the legislature in Raleigh and politics across the state. Before her current assignment, Jessica was given the responsibility to open up WUNC's first Greensboro Bureau at the Triad Stage in 2009. She's a seasoned public radio reporter who's covered everything from education to immigration, and she's a regular contributor to NPR's news programs. Jessica started her career in journalism in Egypt, where she freelanced for international print and radio outlets. After stints in Washington, D.C. with Voice of America and NPR, Jessica joined the staff of WUNC in 1999. She is a graduate of Yale University.
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