Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Pat McCrory announcement: what I'll be watching

It will be very interesting to see what Pat McCrory says this afternoon in Jamestown. The basic question is whether he's going to run on his record in Charlotte or whether he's going to try to remake himself as a conservative.

Both strategies have their positives and negatives. McCrory has shown strong leadership as the Mayor of Charlotte. His status as a moderate (and Democrats nominating one bad candidate after another) has allowed him to do much better at the polls than a Republican should do in Charlotte. He can make a strong case to Republican primary voters that he's the only nominee who could end 16 years of Democratic control of the Governor's mansion.

At the same time, his greatest successes are on things like light rail, which aren't necessarily going to be real popular with Republican primary voters. One close observer of the race told me recently that he fully expects Bill Graham and Fred Smith will run attack ads on McCrory saying that he wants to bring light rail to all 100 counties of the state. That seems a little extreme, and I don't know how effective it would be, but it certainly seems plausible.

The ultimate question if McCrory runs a campaign focused on his record as Mayor is whether GOP voters are willing to sacrifice some ideological purity in exchange for electability.

The other strategy McCrory can pursue is remaking himself as a conservative, picking some wedge issues and really hammering on them. That's what Bill Graham has done with immigration and the gas tax. If he does that, he would need to be able to back up his campaign rhetoric with some proof of prior interest in the issues. GOP primary voters can smell a phony, and if he tries to make himself into something that his past record doesn't back up, he'll get hammered for it.

I think he'll probably run on his record. And that's what he should do. Then it'll be up to Republican primary voters to decide whether they want a nominee with an explicit conservative agenda who will get smoked by Bev Perdue or Richard Moore, or whether they're willing to nominate someone who is more in the middle but also more viable in November.

We'll know more soon.

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