With nine months to go until this year's gubernatorial vote, two Democratic candidates have found themselves trapped in a rut of negative attention, whereas the Republican field is happy for any attention it can get.
An investigative audit report released last week concluded that Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue and State Treasurer Richard Moore, the two Democratic frontrunners in the race, used state government resources inappropriately in their campaigns.
State law prevents government workers from using state resources to support or oppose a candidate.
The two candidates asked State Auditor Les Merritt to investigate each other last September. The report is the latest in a series of negative campaign tactics that the two have used.
Moore's campaign claimed that there were serious problems with the investigation, which was launched by the Office of the State Auditor.
"[The] staff has adopted a definition of 'political' that goes far beyond any reasonable person's definition," wrote Stacey Phipps, Moore's chief of staff and general counsel, in a response to the report Jan. 24.
Perdue's campaign blamed Moore for the negative tactics employed in the campaign.
"It is unfortunate that several months ago Richard Moore decided he wanted to run a scorched earth campaign," said David Kochman, Perdue's deputy campaign manager.
Michael Munger, professor of political science and economics and a candidate for governor as a libertarian, said the negative campaigning will likely worsen.
"There is very little of substance that divides these two candidates," he explained.
Munger added that he did not think the negative tactics used in the Democratic primary would hurt either candidate in the general election because of the long time period separating the two elections.
"The Republicans in this state have a tradition of running circus clowns, and the winner of the primary will be the winner of the general election," he said. "People will still go out to vote because it is a presidential election, they just might be left feeling dirty."
A SurveyUSA poll conducted last month showed Perdue leading Moore in the race for the Democratic primary with 19 percent of voters still undecided.
Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, currently the leading Republican candidate, was a late entrant to the race last month. He is trailed by Republican Sen. Fred Smith, businessman Bill Graham and former State Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr.
Orr said he was pleased that McCrory's entrance into the Republican field has attracted media attention to the election.
"I find [the report] troubling, but not surprising," he added. "You have a political culture embedded in state government that is a product of one party domination for literally 100 years."
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