RALEIGH, N.C. - Another out-of-state governor made a stop Thursday in North Carolina as Maryland's chief executive provided moral and financial support to fellow Democrat Walter Dalton in his race against Pat McCrory for governor.
Gov. Martin O'Malley's visit to the Triad and Raleigh included a pair of fundraisers that bookended tours of a tableware replacement business and an innovative public high school. It marked the latest in the parade of governors raising money and goodwill for McCrory or Dalton.
O'Malley's appearances also attempted to assure Dalton's supporters that national Democrats were sticking with the lieutenant governor. The Democratic Governors Association, which O'Malley chairs, has given more than $2 million to a third-party group in North Carolina that's been running television commercials critical of Republican McCrory.
"We're very proud of the candidacy, the passion, the message that the lieutenant governor is bringing to the people of North Carolina," O'Malley told reporters before he and Dalton prepped for another fundraiser. The association, he added, "has already been present in this race for some months and we will continue to be."
McCrory has benefited the most from publicity and fundraising associated with trips by GOP out-of-state governors to North Carolina, which many consider the state where the gubernatorial seat is most likely to flip political parties in November. Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue didn't seek re-election.
McCrory, the former Charlotte mayor, has hosted at least six GOP current or former governors over the past year, including the Republican Party's rising stars and favorites of the tea party movement. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley attended a rally and fundraiser in Fayetteville on Wednesday, while Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is slated to attend a rally in Burlington and two fundraisers in Greensboro and Raleigh next Tuesday.
The GOP governors see the race as their best chance to end the Democrats' 20- year streak in the Executive Mansion.
"There is no more important governor's race in America than the governor's race in North Carolina," New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said last week at a rally in Salisbury in his second visit to North Carolina for McCrory. Christie said he expected to return before Election Day.
Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell followed a similar path as O'Malley on a visit to North Carolina last month. Rendell and Dalton toured a business and a high-tech university program. Dalton is attempting to wear the mantle of education reformer in this campaign in part by touting his role in 2003 legislation that helped expand the early college concept, where students attend a fifth year of high school to get an associate's degree or college credit toward a four-year degree.
The Republican Governors Association is expected to spend several million dollars on independent advertising this year, some on ads already running that attempt to link Dalton to Perdue on taxes and to President Barack Obama on immigration and voter ID.
O'Malley, the former mayor of Baltimore, questioned the usefulness of bringing the new Republican governors to North Carolina, accusing them of running "on a phony promise of saying they're going to restore our economy." He criticized McCrory for offering similar "platitudes" about the economy without offering specifics. The two served together on the U.S. Conference of Mayors, where O'Malley said McCrory was an "ideologue" who tried to push the latest policy idea of President George W. Bush's administration.
The McCrory campaign expected "these kind of partisan attacks" from O'Malley, who along with Perdue, is funding "millions of dollars in negative attack ads in North Carolina," spokesman Ricky Diaz said. Perdue is vice- chairwoman of the Democratic Governors Association.
McCrory likely is benefiting the most from the visits by firming up his support among Republican activists who like the new crop of chief executives. Christie gave the keynote address at last month's Republican National Convention, while Walker made headlines by surviving a recall election this year after angering many in his state by seeking to curb collective bargaining rights of public employees.
Walker "has become a darling of many conservatives (and) particularly popular among tea party types, and a visit from him is a signal to them that Pat McCrory is their kind of Republican," said Andrew Taylor, a political science professor at North Carolina State University.
One governor you're not likely to see campaign with Dalton is Perdue herself. Perdue has been beset by low poll numbers and Dalton has attempted to distance himself on the campaign trail from her.
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
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