Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue won't appear on the 2012 ballot -- but she remains the focus of Republican candidate Pat McCrory's stump speech.
The Perdue-pinata theme continued Saturday evening when the former Charlotte mayor rallied Republicans at the Orange County Republican Party's Lincoln-Reagan Dinner.
Here's a few scribbles from my notebook:
--It seems like McCrory relished the chance to challenge Perdue before she exited. And it is clear he is trying his best to tie the other Democratic candidates for governor as closely to Perdue and former Gov. Mike Easley as possible. "All the names that are being discussed supported the Easley-Perdue policies and the way they did business," he told me in an interview after his speech, which hit similar points. "Not one of them spoke against the culture of ethics in the last eight years and said, 'this is wrong.' We can't find it from any of the people running now."
In Perdue's departure from the race, some conservatives see a White House conspiracy. "We have a post-American president who nudged aside a failed governor in North Carolina to make it harder for Pat McCrory," said Frank Roche, a talk radio host and former GOP candidate who served as the event's emcee.
--In his speech, McCrory's policy points sound incredibly similar to what you hear from Republican legislative leaders, whether education funding or energy exploration. Is McCrory concerned about tying himself to a legislature with low approval ratings among voters? "Approval ratings of all legislative bodies throughout the nation, Republican and Democrat, are quite low," he countered without answering directly.
But the next part of his response was the most interesting, possibly signaling that McCrory may try to distance himself from the GOP legislature. He suggested he supported some legislation from this past session but not everything. "You'd have to go issue by issue on where I support them and where I don't," he said.
--As the debate rages about President Barack Obama's contraception coverage plan, McCrory said he didn't know the details of the compromise enough to comment. "I'm sorry I'm just not that engaged," he said. At the same time, McCrory did say he is concerned about "putting another mandate on a private sector entity." As for whether women should get free contraception coverage, McCrory suggested it's a false premise. "I don't think anything is for free because someone pays for it," he said. "Anytime someone says something is for free, it's not the truth."
--The DMV is where McCrory says he decided he'd run for governor again after losing to Perdue in 2008. He went in October to renew his driver's license and tweeted about the long lines and inefficiencies. But he said the agency doesn't need more money to fix the problem, just better technology and a streamlined process. He also says if elected governor he won't put his picture in every DMV office in the state, as is current practice.
--On energy exploration, McCrory's plan is a near-replica of the "Energy Jobs Act," a Republican bill in the state legislature that promotes a three-state offshore drilling compact and the practice of shale-gas extraction known as fracking. McCrory said fracking would help some of the counties with the highest jobless rates drop unemployment to 2 to 3 percent, a claim worth fact-checking.
--Democrats are demanding McCrory release his taxes to shed light on his employment at a law firm that does lobbying work and his tenure on various corporate boards. McCrory has rejected the demand, saying he'll file only what is necessary under state law. Candidate's taxes became a major issue in the GOP presidential primary, but McCrory doesn't think candidates need to do so. "I think this concept of stepping over people's privacy in order to run for public office is just a terrible precedent that is being set," he said.