Etheridge in, Bowles out in NC governor's race
"My life’s work has been about improving the public education system in North Carolina," he said in a statement. "As we move forward, we must ensure we are making the key investments in public education, community colleges and the university system.
The schools are expected to a big issue in the campaign as Republicans passed a state budget that Democrats have panned for reducing spending by several hundred million dollars.
"This election is about leadership. It’s about moving forward – not moving backward," he continued. "If we want a 21st century economy, we must have 21st century schools."
Etheridge's bid further shakes up the party's gubernatorial future just a week after incumbent Beverly Perdue said she wouldn't seek re-election.
He joins Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton and state Rep. Bill Faison in the party's primary. Three others are considering whether to enter the race, but that group no longer includes Erskine Bowles, the former White House Chief of Staff, two-time U.S. Senate candidate and past University of North Carolina system president.
State Democratic leaders sought to recruit Bowles for a run after Perdue announced last week she won't seek re-election.
A poll released early this week showed Bowles would be the most competitive Democratic contender against the likely Republican nominee Pat McCrory.
Bowles wrote in an email statement Thursday morning he wouldn't run after having "spent a lot of time trying to think what is the right thing for me to do."
"I don't think anyone questions my love for North Carolina or my efforts to make our state a better place to live, work or raise a family," I've done my best in this regard and I plan to continue to do so," Bowles wrote. He made a reference to advice given by his late father, Skipper Bowles, about serving people.
"There are lots of ways to make a difference, lots of ways to add to the community woodpile," he added.
U.S. Reps. Brad Miller of Raleigh and Mike McIntyre of Lumberton and former State Treasurer Richard Moore each said after Bowles' decision they were still considering getting in the race.
Etheridge, who planned to talk to the media Friday, had said earlier this week he was awaiting Bowles' before moving his own decision.
At age 70, Etheridge would be the oldest candidate in the race, but also the one with the longest resume in state politics — and probably the longest voting record that rivals could attempt to criticize. He joined the Harnett County commission in the early 1970s, followed by the state House before being elected state superintendent in 1988.
His last run at elected office ended in 2010 when as the 2nd District incumbent he narrowly lost to Republican Renee Ellmers. A viral video showing him grabbing a man who was taping him on a Washington street didn't help his effort. Since then, Perdue chose him to run the state's office for managing federal stimulus dollars and to advise her on the response to Hurricane Irene.
Campaign filing starts Feb. 13 and the primary is in less than 14 weeks.
Miller, who announced the same day Perdue got out of the race that he wouldn't seek re-election to Congress largely due to redistricting, said he hoped to decide by this weekend whether to get in the race. He said he believed he'd have a strong base of support from the beginning. Progressive groups such as MoveOn.org have been telling boosters to encourage him to run. Miller would likely be a favorite of the state's liberal bloc.
"I feel pretty confident that I could put together a campaign very quickly," he said.
Moore said in an email to The Associated Press that he was still very interested in running for governor "and will spend some time calling around the state over the next few days to gather advice and perspective."
A statement from a spokeswoman for McIntyre's congressional campaign said he's "continuing to discuss with family, leaders and advisers and pray about where he might best be of service to North Carolina."
Democrats have held the governor's mansion in North Carolina since 1993. Only two Republicans have been governor in the past 100 years.
- Web Editor: Kelly Gardner