RALEIGH — A new poll out on Wednesday shows that Governor Pat McCrory is leading his Democratic challenger Attorney General Roy Cooper by 4 points, 46 percent to 42 percent. The poll was conducted by the Civitas Institute of 600 likely voters with a margin of error of +/- 4 percent.
The survey was taken over the weekend, but the results come the day after a final, hour-long debate between McCrory, Cooper and Libertarian Lon Cecil in Raleigh on Tuesday evening. Coming off of almost two weeks of emergency response for historic flooding in eastern N.C., McCrory focused his comments on that experience and on the dropping unemployment rate and lower taxes in the state since he took office. Cooper focused his argument on the impact of House Bill 2 and on education funding. The often tense exchange was moderated by local television reporters for WRAL-TV, David Crabtree and Laura Leslie. There was speculation ahead of the debate that the format might favor Cooper because the owner of WRAL and Capital Broadcasting Corporation has made large contributions to Cooper’s campaign. However, several times throughout the debate Crabtree challenged Cooper on statements he made. When pressed by Crabtree, Cooper said that he did not think new taxes were needed, in responding to questions of whether he would roll back the individual income tax cuts that were enacted by McCrory in order to pay for more education funding. “Help me understand the math, if you aren’t going to repeal them, how will you pay for it?” said Crabtree.”Its about priorities,” said Cooper “We did it before, we can do it again. I know we can,” said Cooper, referring to his time in the N.C. General Assembly in the late 1990’s. Cooper also criticized the governor’s move to reduce the corporate tax to 4 percent.
The economy fight
Throughout the debate, Cooper circled back several times to the H.B. 2 controversy saying the damage the bill caused to N.C.’s national reputation cost tax money that could be spent on state programs. He also questioned what McCrory has been calling the Carolina Comeback, a drop in unemployment and other markers that has led to N.C. being listed as one of the nation’s fastest growing economies.’There’s been a national economic recovery and N.C. is lagging behind. You ask working people if they have seen a Carolina Comeback and they will tell you they are working harder and longer for less money than they were before the recession,” said Cooper. McCrory pointed to the $2.6 billion debt and $500 million Medicaid mis-forecast as reasons that dramatic change was needed to right the state’s economic ship. “We lowered the income tax and guess what? We have more money coming into help pay for the bonds I proposed to help universities, community colleges and state parks,” said McCrory. “We have more money coming in with a lower income taxes… than three years ago. That’s incredible progress. That is letting the economy work. Then I’ve reinvested that money into education; teacher pay raises, a new medical school at Carolina, a new science building at Western Carolina University, an new engineering facility at N.C. A & T. That’s the best of both worlds.”
Cecil was mostly left out of the arguing, but did weigh in on the state of the economy. “I think we have made quite a bit of comeback in, particularly in the last four years,” he said. “I think Gov. McCrory’s leadership has done a good job of getting us recovered, but I think there’s a long way to go. Some of the new taxes have been burdensome on the poor people who don’t really have much. Finding out they have to pay sales tax on getting a car repair is hurt a lot of them.”N.C. GOP likely to file bar complaint One of the more fiery exchanges occurred over the millions of dollars in donations that has flowed into both campaigns. McCrory said that Cooper and Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts brought about the H.B. 2 bill by pushing the controversial Charlotte ordinance through on behalf of the Human Rights Campaign, an advocacy group and donor to both of their candidacies. Cooper shot back accusing McCrory of extending a prison contract in exchange for a donation, asserting that there is an FBI investigation into the matter.”He’s talking about political contributions all night tonight so if you want to talk about political contributions governor, you’re the one who now has an FBI criminal investigation.” McCrory interrupted saying, “As Attorney General you should be, resign right now for saying that. That is absolutely not true. There is no FBI investigation. You should apologize right now.”
On Wednesday, the U.S. Attorney’s office in Charlotte reported to the Charlotte Observer that there is not an ongoing investigation into any N.C. prison contract related to McCrory. They said the issue Cooper referred to was closed in February after interviewing several state employees and no action or charges from the agency were required.Also on Wednesday, the N.C. GOP said that they are likely to file a complaint with the state bar against Cooper for making that assertion in the debate. They argue that as Attorney General, Cooper represents the governor and his comments, while incorrect, constitutes a violation of his attorney client privacy requirements. “That is beyond disappointing behavior that’s unacceptable at any level. Several things are wrong here: Number one if there was an investigation and it’s verified that there is not, then our attorney general, our chief law enforcement officer of the state, would be compromising evidence,” said N.C. GOP Chairman Robin Hayes. “If it’s not true, and it’s not, then here he is making false statements which absolutely are unacceptable under any circumstances by someone who has a law degree and has the responsibility of being the chief law enforcement officer of the State of North Carolina.”
The topic led into arguments over the SBI crime lab and a reported backlog of evidence cases. Cooper has been Attorney General for sixteen years and said he inherited the problem from his predecessor. His AG predecessor was former Democratic Governor Mike Easley. Cooper said that when he took office the backlog was much larger and he has worked to reduce it.”We still have resource issues in the crime lab and we need to make sure there are more scientists and more equipment. We still have a lot to do. But this is about leadership,” said Cooper. “…There is tremendous progress that has been made, we’ve found a problem and we’ve fixed it.””Saying your crime lab is fixed, you ought to call your own hotline for fraud and turn yourself in.” said McCrory pointing out that several cities have begun building their own labs to process evidence due to ongoing delays at the state crime lab.In closing statements at the end of the debate, Cooper appealed to N.C. voters saying that the state’s reputation needs to be rebuilt in the wake of H.B. 2. Cecil made a pitch to legalize medical marijuana as a source of state income, and McCrory called for more debates before election day, saying they are a better venue for voters to learn the issue, rather than television ads. Cooper has not agreed to any further debates.Early voting begins in North Carolina on Thursday Oct. 20.