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Who the hell is Pat McCrory? 

Voters outside Charlotte sound off on the man who would be governor

Unless you've been under a rock in Gastonia for the last 12 years, then you're undoubtedly familiar with the man named Pat McCrory.

As the seven-term mayor of Charlotte, McCrory brought light rail to town, told the state that they needed to light up the Q.C.'s highways, advised African-American kids to pull up their saggy pants and became the slick face of the city. And now he's set his sights on the big governor's seat in Raleigh.

It's been 16 years since a Republican has occupied the state house. But McCrory -- and fellow GOP candidates Sen. Fred Smith, former N.C. Supreme Court Justice Bob Orr and Salisbury attorney Bill Graham -- hope to change that.

McCrory officially announced his intentions to seek the office in January. And he did it in Jamestown, the small Guilford County town where he grew up. Hundreds of his friends showed up -- but of course they would. Who doesn't want to see the small-town boy they know and love grow up and do good?

But what do people outside of his hometown and the city of Charlotte know about McCrory?

And more importantly, will they vote for him come May 6, when North Carolina heads to the polls?

Creative Loafing decided to take a trip east down Highway 74 to see what folks who don't live around here think about hizzhonor the mayor.

First stop, Richmond County.

Located outside of Anson County (Wadesboro), Richmond County is the kind of place where you have to watch out for deer if you're driving at night. Some of the big attractions in Richmond include Rockingham's Wal-Mart and Hamlet's sign boasting that it's the birth place of jazz legend John Coltrane.

Richmond County will become a big player in transportation once Interstate 74 is completed. For now, however, this is small-town USA.

Logging on to the Richmond County GOP Web site, McCrory isn't even mentioned on the list of 2008 Republican candidates (ouch).

Pulling into a gas station off Highway 74 in Rockingham, the sleepy little town that holds the county seat and home to the Richmond County High School Raiders, I notice a man sitting in the café section of the station, waiting for his meal of fried chicken and potato wedges and sipping on a small cup of coffee that would cost $3 in Starbucks. But, like McCrory's presence on the GOP's Web site, there is no Starbucks here.

"Do you know who Pat McCrory is?" I ask.

The man, who prefers not to give his name, replies: "I've heard that name around Charlotte, I believe. He's a politician. I don't know his position."

"He's the mayor of Charlotte," I say, "and now he's running for governor."

"Oh, OK," he replies.

"Would you support him in the election?"

"I don't know enough about him to make any judgment right now," he says, leaning back in the shiny, orange wooden seat. He admits that he hasn't given much thought to whom he plans to vote for in the gubernatorial race.

His order is ready, and it's time to say goodbye.

Further down Highway 74 sits Scotland County. Once I reach the city limits of Laurinburg, the county seat, I'm fully aware that I've entered conservative country.

How?

Signs showing support for Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul and former candidate Mitt Romney dot main streets. Even in residential areas, there isn't a sign of support for Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama.

The county is on the border of South Carolina's Pee Dee region, and according to some who live here, the only news they get from TV is about South Carolina. That means no WSOC (which can be picked by neighbors in Marlboro County, S.C.), and not much news about McCrory.

And they don't know much about CL either. When the head of the county's GOP returned my call, his first question was, "Are you from McCrory's office?"

Mark Schenck, chairman of the Scotland County GOP says they'd been trying to reach McCrory to have him come speak to the Republicans in the area.

"We're trying to get to know everybody," says Schenck.

So far, according to Schenk, candidates Fred Smith and Bill Graham have come to the county. Local Republican officials plan to ask McCrory to visit in March.

"We want to get to know them, do a little Q&A and see if our needs blend with their objectives."

The lack of news about North Carolina, he says, puts the county at a disadvantage when it comes to finding the right candidate to support.

But there has been some news about McCrory in Scotland County.

The Laurinburg Exchange, the local newspaper in Scotland, has written much about our dear mayor. In the most recent piece to appear in the paper about McCrory, columnist John Hood writes: "For McCrory, the elect ability argument is a valuable one. He's correct in believing the 'Charlotte Curse' is an overblown, simplistic invention of the chattering classes. He recognized that Republican frustration with feckless gubernatorial campaigns runs deep."

Hood even says that McCrory's entry into the race brings new attention to the contest -- a contest that has been overshadowed by political stories about the next leader of the free world.

Further down the road in Moore County, an area known for the rolling hills of Pinehurst and several PGA events, some Republicans have their minds made up about McCrory.

Bensalem resident Evelyn Hill admits that she doesn't know a whole lot about McCrory, but she's not voting for him.

"What little bit I know about him is that he's a moderate Republican, and I won't vote for him ever," she says. "A moderate is just like a Democrat. And when you can't tell the Saints from the Ain'ts, what's the purpose of having two parties?"

McCrory, however, has history in Moore County. Some say it was at a meeting of the Moore County Republican Men where he first hinted that he would indeed run for governor. This meeting happened about a month before he made the official announcement in Jamestown.

Michael Pies, a Pinebluff resident, says he doesn't know much about McCrory either -- being that he lives two hours away from the Queen City.

But he thinks Charlotte's mayor would probably do well as governor.

"Since Mecklenburg County is the most populated county in the state and Charlotte is the largest city, he'd probably a good job," Pies says. But he stopped short of saying that he'd vote for Mayor Pat.

Though Pies admits he hasn't made up his mind about who to support, he says he'd like McCrory to be a little more conservative.

"Lots of times moderates have a bent toward liberalism," he says. That's why he says he'd more than likely vote for Smith.

"I believe he's the kind of conservative that I feel is a conservative," Pies says. "I like some of the things he stands for."

McCrory, who entered the race in January, seems undaunted by his doubters. He's been on a statewide tour, from the coast to the mountains, meeting people who don't know much about him.

He's touching on issues that he's been dealing with as a mayor and he's been attempting to set the record straight on being a "moderate."

"We've only been running our campaign for three weeks and we've already been to Asheville, Wilmington and Greenville," says McCrory. He's also hit up the Outer Banks, Rocky Mount and Goldsboro.

"So, I'm traveling all over the state during the next several weeks to connect with the people and find out what their concerns are and tell them what my issues are all about."

McCrory says he's finding out that the issues facing Charlotte and things he'd been working on for the last 12 years also apply to small towns.

"We're finding out that issues of creating jobs, issues of public safety, issues of education and issues of transportation apply to small towns and big cities alike," he says. "People are looking for a leader. They're not necessarily looking for someone from where they grew up, but a leader who has a successful track record and a vision for the future."

But what about his reputation? Many in the state consider McCrory a moderate. While that may play well in Charlotte, more conservative areas of the state just aren't feeling it.

McCrory says, "I don't like labels. I think that the pundits love to try and stick a person under a certain title or label, which is often inaccurate. I am a Republican, and I am convinced that people are looking for a leader -- not necessarily agreement on all the issues. I think the best compliment that I get is: 'Mayor, I don't agree with you on all the issues, but you're a good leader.' I'll take that compliment any day. I'm not going to try and appease every interest group in North Carolina. I try to do what is best and let the people evaluate my job."

That's how McCrory describes the way he's run the city of Charlotte over the last decade.

"I have stepped on the toes of the far right and the far left," he says. "I anticipate doing the same thing as governor."

He says that the mass-transit and light-rail issues in Charlotte are examples of him doing what's best for the future.

"Many of the people in my party strongly disagreed with that, but I felt it was the best long-term thing to do for our city and region. I didn't waver, and I think in the long term we will find out that it's the best decision; and we're finding out that it's the best decision in the short term. And ... I've disagreed with the political left on many issues, such as the death-penalty moratorium to the living wage to certain tax increases. I do what I think is best and I'm not going to try to appease every interest group."

And speaking of running the city, even though McCrory is seeking a new job, he still has one. Just because he's in the governor's race doesn't mean issues within the city have been put on hold. So, how is he juggling both duties?

Well, for one, McCrory says he's giving up his job at Duke Energy this month. And he's used to burning the candle at both ends, saying that he's worked full time and ran the city for years. Now, he's campaigning and running the city. McCrory says giving up his spot at Duke is a major sacrifice, but he's doing it for public service. He considers running for governor his "top priority."

McCrory, who says he won't miss any more city council meetings than normal, uses Mondays to do city business and prepare for meetings in his campaign office in the shadow of Uptown on Morehead Street.

Since his campaign began, McCrory claims he hasn't missed a city council meeting and he attended the city council retreat that was held in late January.

So, how is McCrory going to get people who don't know much about him to join his team?

He says this: "I tell people first, that I enjoy decision making and being around people that want to solve problems and not just identify problems. I do take risks. I'm ethical. I feel like I have good values; one of my responsibilities is to be a good role model as an elected official. I like to be extremely accessible as an elected official. And I like to go out and seek opinions and solutions as opposed of people just coming to me."

It's no secret that McCrory has been critical of Raleigh and the "culture" of the beltway. He says that his run for governor is an attempt to change that.

"We're striking a chord with the voters that have yet to find a leader that is viable to lead the state for the next 4 to 8 years."

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