CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Republican Pat McCrory entered the final weeks of the gubernatorial campaign with a 6-to-1 cash advantage over Democrat Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton, an edge that reflects his double-digit lead in most polls.
At the same time, one Democratic source appeared mostly untapped: Gov. Bev Perdue is poised to leave office with $1.2 million in her campaign account.
McCrory raised $5 million from July 1 through Oct. 20, meaning his haul this campaign cycle will approach $12 million. The total nearly doubles what McCrory spent in his losing 2008 bid for governor but won’t match the $17 million Perdue spent to win the office.
McCrory’s bank account still includes $1.7 million that will enable him to keep his TV ads airing through the homestretch. But Dalton ended the third campaign quarter with just $270,000 on hand, leaving him few resources to challenge McCrory in the last days. He raised just $1.4 million since July, making his total this election cycle $3.9 million. The campaign hoped a high-dollar fundraiser Tuesday in Charlotte with Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear would narrow the gap.
The disparity became starkly apparent Tuesday when state election officials released the final campaign finance reports before the Nov. 6 election.
Outside the governor’s race, the most expensive state campaign is likely the contest between incumbent N.C. Supreme Court Justice Paul Newby and challenger appellate court Judge Sam “Jimmy” Ervin IV, where more than $2.5 million has been raised so far.
Most of the spending disclosed to date has heavily promoted Newby. And in recent weeks, a huge infusion of out-of-state money is flooding the race, including from national Republican interests trying to protect redistricting maps. The latest count shows $1.6 million has been spent to air the banjo TV ad supporting Newby across the state.
Outside political groups also are spending big money in the governor’s race. The Republican Governors Association has spent nearly $7 million to boost McCrory, largely on TV ads that trash Dalton. A liberal group backed by the Democratic Governors Association responded with $2.7 million in TV ads to help Dalton.
Both intended to spend millions more, but McCrory’s solid lead in the polls led both to shift focus elsewhere.
Dalton started his campaign millions of dollars behind McCrory after Perdue’s last-minute decision in January not to seek another term. A primary race further depleted his coffers, and Democratic donors switched sides.
“It’s about what’s happened in Raleigh with people on her (campaign) staff getting indicted. That’s horrible,” said Charlotte attorney George Laughrun II, a registered Democrat who gave to McCrory. “It’s time for somebody who’s not in the establishment to come in and change North Carolina.”
Two members of Perdue’s 2008 campaign staff were indicted for obstruction of justice last year. Both pleaded guilty and were fined. One, Juleigh Sitton of Morganton, became the director of the governor’s Western North Carolina office after the election.
Perdue started the year with $2 million. Since July, she directed $250,000 to the state Democratic Party and refunded $243,000 to individual donors. A campaign aide said she also gave $4,000 to Dalton, but the donation is not reflected in the records.
Excluding expenditures in the first half of the year, Perdue has $1.26 million remaining. State law allows Perdue to give unlimited amounts of her available funds to political parties. She can also give limited donations to other candidates and pay back loans.
Perdue listed debts of $776,500 to herself and her husband, Robert Eaves. An aide said she also plans to use some of the money to publish her official papers.
“Gov. Perdue is strongly committed to electing Democrats to local, state and federal offices,” said spokesman Marc Farinella. “The governor continues to explore effective uses of her remaining funds to advance important causes like public education and elect Democratic candidates.”
Asked about Perdue’s campaign money, Dalton spokesman Schorr Johnson said, “I’ll decline to say anything about Gov. Perdue.”
At least one Democrat said Perdue’s $1.2 million – nearly as much as Dalton raised in the third quarter – might not have made that much difference had it gone to the party on his behalf.
“How much difference would that have made really?” asks Gary Pearce, a Democratic strategist from Raleigh. “How much of a gap is there between Dalton and McCrory? I won’t say it’s a drop in the bucket, but it’s a pretty big bucket.”
Justice for All
In the Supreme Court race, Republicans launched an independent expenditure committee named Justice for All. It has been dormant since registering with the state in May, but now its third-quarter report and a subsequent filing show a sudden flurry of activity adding up to $1.3 million in receipts.
A huge portion – $860,000 – came from the Republican State Leadership Committee, based in Washington. The organization has a vested interest in keeping the GOP-drawn congressional and legislative districts intact, an issue that will end up before the state Supreme Court, which currently tilts conservative 4-3.
Other newly disclosed contributors to the group include North Carolinians for Affordable Health Care, which favors restricting medical malpractice lawsuits, $100,000; American Federation for Children, a Washington-based advocate for private schools, $100,000; N.C. Citizens for Freedom of Education, with a school-choice agenda, $10,000; and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, which recently expanded its gambling casino in the mountains of North Carolina, $10,000.
Justice for All, in turn, has sent $720,000 to the N.C. Judicial Coalition, the super PAC formed to re-elect Newby.