Breaking the "Charlotte Curse"
posted by Alan Greenblatt
The leading city often gets no love from the rest of the state. Out-state residents, resentful of any dollars that flow into the dominant city, will unite to keep politicians hailing from there out of statewide offices. Kentucky voters don’t embrace Louisville pols, for instance, and it’s highly unusual that the current governors of Pennsylvania and Indiana are from Philadelphia and Indianapolis, respectively. In North Carolina, Mayor Pat McCrory is hoping similarly to break a longstanding “Charlotte Curse” in his bid for governor this year.
The record of Charlotte candidates in statewide elections is terrible. The last four Charlotte mayors who aspired to statewide office all lost their races, dating back to the mid-1980s. Other local aspirants have also gone down to defeat, including two-time U.S. Senate candidate Erskine Bowles. (His father, Skipper Bowles, was the first Democrat to lose a gubernatorial election since the 1890s, but he was based in Greensboro.)
With Democrat Mike Easley term-limited, North Carolina is home to one of the few competitive gubernatorial elections this year.
McCrory announced on January 15 that he would join three other contenders in the Republican primary. (Democrats will choose between Lieutenant Governor Beverly Perdue and state Treasurer Richard Moore.)
McCrory has what should be an impressive record to run on –- a dozen years at the helm of a city that has experienced enormous growth due to its emergence as a leading banking center. McCrory claims credit not just for job and population growth, but a big cut in homicides and the city’s impressive investments in light-rail.
McCrory is more moderate than his primary opponents, although he’s recently signaled he’ll take a tough line on immigration and same-sex marriage. The other Republican aspirants say he’s not conservative enough, but his seeming lock on centrists and the country club set, along with his geographic base, could give him the edge over a divided field in the May primary.
But even if he prevails, that same geographic niche might hurt him in the fall. “The suspicion from easterners is that all the state institutions are set up with a bias toward shipping resources into western counties,” says Eric Heberlig, a UNC-Charlotte political scientist. McCrory’s record, which includes big-money projects not only in transit but an arena, the NASCAR museum and other cultural facilities, could fuel such suspicion.
Being a successful mayor of Charlotte may not be enough to keep McCrory out of the governor’s mansion. But it probably won’t help him as much as it should.