By Rob Christensen, The News & Observer, Raleigh, N.C.
The barely 2-week-old campaign for governor has gotten off to a raucous start, with a lawsuit, threats of "evisceration" and the two national parties wading in playing hard ball.
On Thursday, Republican candidate Pat McCrory called for a cease-fire, suggesting that he and Democratic rival Walter Dalton "pledge to not run ads that are clearly unfair." At the same time, McCrory's campaign filed a lawsuit in Wake County Superior Court against two Democratic groups running an ad critical of him -- and said it will file another suit Friday against WTVD, the ABC affiliate in Durham, because it is running the ad.
"This election should be about the serious issues facing the state and the two competing visions for North Carolina," McCrory said at a news conference at state GOP headquarters. "There's enough that differentiates Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton and I without having to resort to airing sleazy and unfair ads."
Democrats accused McCrory of selective outrage.
"We're glad McCrory finally has an opinion on something," said Ford Porter, a Dalton spokesman. "He certainly didn't have an opinion about his consultant's racially charged ad campaign against the president. Amazingly, he also had no opinion on the misleading ads that the Republican Governors Association ran first attacking Walter Dalton."
The intensity of the governor's race, reflects in part that North Carolina is a top target for Republicans. One week after the primaries, the Republican Governors Association began an $865,000 TV campaign to define Dalton, tying the lieutenant governor to unpopular Democrat Gov. Bev Perdue.
Three days later, a Democratic group, called N.C. Citizens for Progress, funded by the Democratic Governors Association, began a $217,000 TV campaign against McCrory. It has since moved $1 million into the state group's fund.
The Democrats' TV commercial raises questions about McCrory's role in lobbying to keep Tree.com, a lending and real estate company, headquartered in Charlotte and then later accepting $140,000 in compensation to sit on its board.
"It's a total lie," McCrory said.
"The character assassination and misrepresentation has already reached an unparalleled level, and the campaign just started." On Thursday, McCrory moved aggressively to counter the ad. On behalf of the campaign, Raleigh attorney Dan Boyce filed a lawsuit against the two Democratic organizations. The suit says that the ad makes "false, fraudulent and defamatory statements with actual knowledge and reckless disregard for the truth thereby impugning the personal honor, integrity, and reputation" of McCrory.
Among those named in the suit are Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, chairman of the DGA, and Perdue, the vice chairwoman. Michael Weisel, attorney for N.C. Citizens, said he had not seen the suit and couldn't comment.
"However, this is just the latest in a series of threats and bullying by Pat McCrory attempting to stop free speech and a smokescreen to hide the facts," Weisel said. "We look forward to taking his deposition before November 2012, to answer questions about his tax returns, his clients and who is paying him to do what."
McCrory said the legal action would send a signal that he wouldn't sit still for personal attacks.
McCrory also plans to make an example of WTVD, by bringing a lawsuit against them, even though numerous other TV stations are running the ad. According to the McCrory campaign, only WXII in Winston-Salem has pulled the ad.
WTVD was the only station to respond to the campaign's complaint, saying it would continue to air the ad. Media attorneys have advised the stations that there is nothing defamatory in the ad. McCrory chastised reporters at his news conference, saying their stations should pull the ad.
"Many of you are making money off these ads, and your salary is being paid by these ads," McCrory told reporters. "You may have a conflict of interest on this issue. Maybe you ought to interview yourself at the same time."
McCrory said the Democratic strategy is to "absolutely eviscerate" through "a thousand cuts." He was quoting Dustin Ingalls, a pollster with the Democratic-leaning firm Public Policy Polling, who made the comments speaking to a Democratic group in Fayetteville.
The Charlotte mayor said news organizations should question whether they run PPP polls, because he said it was obvious the polling organization was working in tandem with the DGA and with Dalton.
When asked whether he would disavow any of the RGA ads attacking Dalton, McCrory said he didn't think they were of the "nasty" variety that were being aired against him. "If there are any inaccuracies," McCrory said, "I would speak against them."
McCrory said he would not drop his campaign's media consulting firm, Strategic Perception, which has been at the center of controversy for proposing an ad tying President Barack Obama to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
"I can tell you right now they are not going to run any ads like that," McCrory said, referring to his own campaign.
(c)2012 The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)