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Dropping in on the Wake Republican Party at Dorton Arena and the Raleigh Wake Citizens Association meeting at Martin Street Baptist Church; also, "Draft Portman"

Election year eavesdropping 

The Wake Republican Party put on a show last week at Dorton Arena. It was one-stop shopping for those of us not on the inside of GOP politics.

One thing I saw: Gubernatorial candidate Pat McCrory is a much-improved public speaker from four years ago, when he lost to Bev Perdue. McCrory's keynote to the GOP gathering (supposedly 1,900 in attendance—it's a great idea to hold all the precinct organizing meetings in one hall) wasn't great oratory, nor was there much policy heft to it. But it did have a theme: He's running against the "Easley-Perdue culture" (as strains of The Who's "We Won't Get Fooled Again" played over the loudspeaker). He pledges to search for natural gas on land and sea, and sign all the bills that the GOP-led Legislature passed that Perdue vetoed—"including Voter ID," McCrory said to huge applause.

And there will be no tax increases for anything. "Do more with less" will be the order of the day for schools and everybody else when he's the boss, McCrory said.

I was struck, too, with the thought that the average GOP politician is not much interested in local offices, despite professing a belief in keeping government close to the people. They seem drawn only to state and federal offices, those in which it's possible to make laws against local governments accomplishing anything. Thus, three of the remaining four GOP members of the Wake school board are looking to move on—or up? Debra Goldman, with freshly printed gold business cards, sees herself as the state auditor. Ohhh-kay. John Tedesco is running for Superintendent of Public Instruction, of course, and Chris Malone is a candidate for a seat in the state House of Representatives. Only Deborah Prickett remains interested in the school system she and her Republican mates were running until the fall elections.

Similarly, Dorton Arena was very short on candidates for the Wake County Board of Commissioners. I see from the filings that Paul Fitts, who ran for Raleigh City Council last year, is running for a commissioner's seat against Democratic incumbent Betty Lou Ward. The terms of three Democrats—Ward, Erv Portman and James West—expire this year; the other four commissioners' seats, elected in '10 for four-year terms, are held by Republicans. But two of the four, Paul Coble and Tony Gurley, are angling for higher office: Coble for Congress in the 13th District and Gurley for lieutenant governor.

Meanwhile, over at the Raleigh Wake Citizens Association meeting, Democrats gathered to install the Rev. Earl Johnson as the new RWCA leader (the meeting was at Johnson's Martin Street Baptist Church in the community center) and plot their strategies.

Here's what I gleaned:

Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton and State Rep. Bill Faison, two of the three announced candidates for governor, attended the event, and although Dalton was gone by the time I arrived, Faison was still shaking hands. Faison was predicting that former Congressman Bob Etheridge, the third announced candidate, will soon decide against actually filing for office.

Faison opined that Etheridge isn't hearing good things about his prospective candidacy as he clicks the phone for dollars and support— because of that YouTube disaster from '10, Faison said. I would have dismissed this as self-promotion except that Faison correctly predicted that Gov. Bev Perdue wouldn't run for re-election, and I pooh-poohed that at the time.

Friday night was the Wake County Democrats' annual Valentine's Day gig at the home of the N.C. Association of Educators and the first joint appearance by the three announced gubernatorial candidates. On the way in, Etheridge shrugged off Faison's prediction without quite denying it. "Stay tuned," Etheridge said.

A possible fourth candidate was also on hand. State Sen. Dan Blue, D-Wake, strangely absent from the RWCA meeting—his base—the previous night, planted himself by the entry and worked to plant the idea that he is seriously considering entering the gubernatorial primary. "Don't read too much in" to his not having been at the RWCA meeting Thursday, he said to me. So you're running? "I'm leaning," Blue said with a smile. He meant leaning in the direction of being a candidate. He said he is meeting with potential supporters. With Brad Miller taking himself out of the race, Blue has a clear path to progressive support + Triangle support + African-American support.

Blue did decline, as The News & Observer noted, an invitation to do two minutes on stage after Dalton, Etheridge and Bill Faison did their turns. Truth is, the fact that Cal Cunningham, who ran the show, looked so expectant as he glanced over to Blue, said more about Blue's possible candidacy than any maybe-yes, maybe-no comments he might've offered.

One other possible complication: Former State Treasurer Richard Moore, who did not attend the RWCA meeting, is also a likely entrant, I was told by someone in contact with him. Moore has some progressive credentials, but he would bring the total to at least four white males, assuming all of them run.

In the state legislative races, there's a "Draft Portman" movement to enlist him to run for the state Senate seat being vacated by Republican Sen. Richard Stevens. The 17th Senate District is listed as "leaning Republican," but not solidly Republican, by the N.C. Free Enterprise Foundation. With Stevens not seeking re-election, if it's a Democratic year, a Democrat could take it away ... and Portman, a business owner and previously a Cary Town Council member, fits the profile of the moderate Democrat who could appeal to swing voters in this suburban realm. Portman hasn't said no.

An interesting race could shape up in the 15th Senate District, also listed as "leaning" GOP but not solidly by NCFEF. The GOP incumbent is Sen. Neal Hunt, whose conservative voting record could make him vulnerable in a Democratic year. And the Democrats have persuaded a very strong candidate to go against him. Sig Hutchinson, the county's leading greenways advocate, transit proponent—past chairman of the Triangle Transit Authority—and all-around good guy, will announce on Monday that he's taking on Hunt, I was told. Hutchinson is a marketing consultant and public speaker. He could give McCrory lessons.

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