WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Pat McCrory greeted hundreds of supporters at a campaign kickoff event Thursday in Wilmington. More than 100 people jammed into Break Time Billiards, chanting "Pat, Pat!" to welcome former mayor of Charlotte, and favorite for the GOP gubernatorial nomination.
Before the appearance, McCrory sat down in the WECT Studios to talk about his time away from politics. He went back into somewhat of a private life after his loss to Beverly Perdue in the 2008 campaign, even though he did make television appearances and speeches commenting on the state's political landscape.
"It actually helped me get out of the political bubble, so I could see first-hand the economic pain that is across this state," McCrory said in a sit-down interview. "People trying to hold on to their houses, and people trying to keep the doors open on their small businesses. Now that I'm coming back into it (politics), that outside perspective is bringing me a new perspective in this campaign."
Perdue's 50-47 victory over McCrory was one of the closest gubernatorial races of the 2008 political season. McCrory says he's learned from that experience what needs to be done better in 2012.
"There is no doubt with all of the Obama money coming into this state, we've got to have a much better grassroots effort to get people to vote," he said. "That really means using social media, and not just using social media for the sake of it. It's using social media to get people into action. It's also using social media to get your message out, and in communicating with your supporters in a two-way effort. That's what we're doing already in our campaign."
McCrory's kickoff event in Wilmington coincided with an announcement from Erskine Bowles, the former president of the UNC system and one-time Chief of Staff in the Clinton White House. Bowles released a statement Wednesday saying he would not run for governor. Many believed Bowles would be the democratic party's best chance of holding on to the office, following the announcement by Gov. Beverly Perdue that she would not seek re-election.
"I can relate. It's a very difficult decision to run for governor," McCrory said when asked about Bowles' announcement. "It's quite a commitment for family. Erskine is a friend of mine and I know him very well. I respect him and respect his decision, but we were not going to change our strategy."
The filing period for candidates begins February 13th, and ends on the 29th.
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"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.