Thursday, March 31, 2011

Rucho: Only 'normal people' on committee

The Observer's Jim Morrill had a great story today on the launching of North Carolina's congressional and legislative redistricting efforts Wednesday. The process is always difficult, and it's not unusual to have lawsuits still pending over the shape of one district or another almost until it's time to redistrict again. The decennial U.S. Census shows population changes that require redrawing political districts every 10 years.

This year is different because for the first time in this state, Republicans will be in charge.  And state Sen. Bob Rucho of Mecklenburg, an energetic, passionate and outspoken legislator, is running the Senate redistricting committee.  I've always liked Rucho because, if you ask him a question, he won't beat around the bush. You get what he thinks, usually unvarnished and with the bark still on it.

Rucho has resisted entreaties from Senate Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt, an Asheville Democrat, to add two Democrats to the committee -- Rucho's Mecklenburg Delegation colleague Sen. Dan Clodfelter, and Wake Sen. Dan Blue, former Speaker of the House.  Nesbitt said he and Sen. Charlie Dannelly, D-Mecklenburg, would drop off the panel if Rucho would agree to name Clodfelter and Blue to the committee, but Rucho declined, saying he wanted "normal people" on the committee, not more lawyers:

"For the first time in a long time, we're going to try to have normal people lead this," Rucho said. "The last thing I want to do is replace non-attorneys in this process."

Nesbitt, of course, is a lawyer. Dannelly is not. (His resignation from the committee was announced at mid-morning Thursday, so there's a vacancy.) Both Clodfelter and Blue are lawyers, and they are regarded as among the best legislative technicians.

Rucho's reasoning for not putting them on the committee shows you just how far North Carolina has come in the last half-century.  When a Massachusetts-born dentist with a New England accent such as Bob Rucho can get away with saying he wanted "normal people" on the committee, you know that we have grown in many ways to accommodate views, political and otherwise, that once would have been regarded in some precincts of the Tar Heel state as either outlandish or, as they say Down East, not from around here.

You may or you may not like what the Republicans are doing in the General Assembly, but by golly they have livened the place up and given folks something to talk about.

Read more:

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Charter school funding, and grammar

Sunday's column reflecting on how Democrats might have avoided some of the steamrollering in the 2011 session of the General Assembly included some background on legislation to lift the cap on charter schools and make other changes, including making charters eligible for some kinds of funding that public schools get.

The sentence read:

“So when Wake Republican Sen. Richard Stevens sponsored his charter school bill this year in the Senate to do away with the charter cap entirely and make a number of other changes, including making charters eligible for more public funds that traditional schools also get, Democrats were aghast.”

Amy Auth of Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger's office emailed to say that some people evidently had read that sentence to say that charters would be eligible for more money THAN traditional public schools, and suggested a clarification to clear up any confusion. As she noted, "Counties would have the option under Senate Bill 8 to allocate funds for equipment and buildings. However, that does not mean a charter school would get more than a regular public school."

There is, of course, a distinction between that and than. Charter schools are public schools, but they don't get all the funding that public schools get. Charter advocates say they receive about 70 percent of the funding that traditional public schools receive, and the bill would make them eligible -- if counties approve -- for more of the funding sources that traditional public schools get -- not more THAN they get.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Bury him in Madison County

Sunday's column mentioned a bill in the state House to require voters to show photo I.D. cards in order to cast ballots at the polls. One periodic correspondent with significant Washington experience e-mailed me with a suggestion: Require all those voters who attempt to vote in the names of the deceased to produce a valid death certificate before they can vote.

Dark humor, yes, but North Carolina does have some lamentable experience with votes cast in the names of the dead, particularly up in the mountains. I've heard or read about this joke being told by a number of politicians, including former New Jersey Sen. Bill Bradley, who at a speech in Asheville was reported to have said, "When I die I want to be buried in Madison County so I can remain active in politics."

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Senate Skulker and nickel bags of weed

Tongues were wagging in Raleigh this week as legislators and staff alike wondered who it was who placed material on senators' desks that sharply criticized former Gov. W.W. Holden -- the first governor in America to be impeached, convicted and removed from office -- and at least temporarily foiled a bipartisan plan to pardon Holden for his crimes. Holden has sought to counter violence by the Ku Klux Klan and had ordered the arrest of a number of people he held responsible.  The House in 1971 1871 impeached Holden for high crimes and misdemeanors and the Senate convicted and removed him from office. LINK HERE

Three state senators -- including Republican Sen. Neal Hunt and Democratic Sen. Dan Blue, both of Raleigh, plus Sen. Doug Berger, a Democrat from Franklin county -- were sponsoring the bill to pardon him

But the plan fell apart and the bill was sent back to the Senate Rules Committee after someone broke Senate rules and left material criticizing Holden and the pardon attempt on Senators desks.   Mark Binker of the Greensboro News Record traced the material to a blogger, but who got into the Senate to distribute the information now one knows. WRAL's Laura Leslie has more on the mystery, too. A Senate security camera was on the blink and does not show who it might have been. 
The Senate rule against leaving material on senator's desks is a curious one. I found out about it back in the 1980s when, as editor of North Carolina Insight magazine at the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research, I thought it would be helpful to legislators to have a copy of some research we had done on a pressing legislative issue. It might have been prison policy but I don't recall.  Our plan was to put a copy of the magazine on each senator's desk in the Senate chamber, but we quickly found out about the legislative rules against that -- and why.

I'll say at the outset this story may be apocryphal.  Gerry Cohen, a legislative staffer who has been there very nearly forever, says he had never heard it before. And Gerry hears quite a lot, so maybe someone was pulling our legs.

But according to the story we were told by legislative staffers in the clerk's offices maybe 25 year ago, the rule was adopted in the 1970s when there was a bill  to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. And some supporters of that proposal had thoughtfully prepared cellophane bags with a small amount of marijuana in them, and place one on each legislators' desk.   When word got around, many lawmakers feared the public would perceive that as lawmakers possessing marijuana, and, the story goes, a rule against putting materials on desks was quickly adopted.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Poll finds McCrory leading Perdue, other Dems

Former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory ought to be feeling pretty good about his chances in the 2012 governor's race. McCrory lost to Gov. Bev Perdue in 2008, but in current polling matchups with Perdue or any of three other potential contenders for the Democratic nomination, McCrory still is in the lead.

Public Policy Polling, a Democratic firm that has tracked Perdue's weak popularity numbers since taking office, says regardless of whether it's Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper, Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton or state Sen. Dan Blue, McCrory  leads from the outset.  The upshot is that Democrats have a lot of overcoming to do in the next year, though after the legislative session things may look a bit different and Perdue may be in much better shape to capture a second term. For Republicans, the question is whether rank-and-file GOP members will coalesce enthusiastically behind McCrory. If they do, he's in an excellent position to win the nomination next year and to take the governorship for his party for the first time since Jim Martin last held the post from 1985-1993 (he won election in 1984 and reelection in 1988, of course, but governors take office in January).

Here's what PPP has to say:

Democrats' problems in next year's race for Governor of North Carolina go well beyond Bev Perdue. PPP's newest statewide survey finds that a trio of potential Democratic candidates in the event of a Perdue retirement- Attorney General Roy Cooper, Lieutenant Governor Walter Dalton, and state senator Dan Blue- would all start out trailing presumptive Republican nominee Pat McCrory by a significant margin. This is not a situation where if Perdue decided to step aside her party would all the sudden be even money to hold the Governor's office- the GOP will start out ahead in this race regardless of who the Democratic candidate ends up being.

After hitting a high point in December Perdue's numbers continue to slide back in the wrong direction. 30% of voters now approve of her with 52% disapproving, the worst her numbers have been since posting identical figures last August. Perdue's decline since December is across the board rather than coming primarily with one voter bloc- with Democrats she's down from 55% to 50% approval, with Republicans she's gone from 15% to 10%, and with independents her drop is from 26% to 21%. We're seeing Gubernatorial approval ratings across the country plummet in the first part of this year- budget time just does not tend to win Governors a whole lot of friends.

Perdue trails Pat McCrory 50-36 this month in a hypothetical rematch of their 2008 contest. Because Perdue's numbers are so poor there's been a lot of speculation about whether she might decide not to run again or whether another Democrat might take her out in the primary. We tested some alternate nominees for the party this month but their prospects don't look great either. Cooper does better than Perdue, trailing by only an 8 point margin at 43-35. But Dalton and Blue each do worse, trailing by 20 point margins at 47-27 and 48-28 respectively. Democrats would be facing an uphill battle with any candidate.

Cooper is mostly unknown statewide- 56% of voters have no opinion about him- but his numbers with the folks that do know him are impressive. 27% have a favorable opinion of him to 18% with an unfavorable one and that includes positive numbers with both Democrats (32/17) and Republicans (26/18). Cooper is probably the only politician in the state who has more voters across party lines that like him than dislike him. That appeal to GOP voters is also the biggest reason why Cooper performs better than Perdue against McCrory- he trails by 63 points with Republicans at 75-12 but that's a lot better than her 75 point deficit at 83-8.

Cooper might not be terribly well known but he's a celebrity at this point compared to Blue and Dalton. Only 33% of voters know Blue well enough to have an opinion about him and Dalton's even lower at 31%. That low name recognition means that their poll deficits are artificially high. 28% of Democrats are undecided in a Blue/McCrory match while only 14% of Republicans are and that gap is even wider for the Dalton match up with 32% of Democrats undecided to only 13% of Republicans. If either of those folks were to become the party nominee the base would likely rally around them and bring these margins a lot closer but make no mistake, they'd still be starting out double digits behind.

Right now North Carolinians are ready to elect a Republican Governor for the first time in more than two decades. Democrats' greatest ally is time- there's a long way to go and depending on how the new GOP legislative majority conducts itself over the next 20 months voters may change their minds about whether Republican control of state government is a particularly desirable outcome. If we voted today though there's little doubt McCrory would be elected Governor against anyone the Democrats put forward.
This analysis is also available on our blog:

Monday, March 21, 2011

Perdue wants new way to hold schools accountable

In the Friday rush I somehow missed Gov. Bev Perdue's announcement that she wouldn't sign House Bill 48, to eliminate public school testing, but she said she wouldn't veto it, either.  She's obviously trying to avoid an excessive number of confrontations with the Republican-dominated General Assembly, after vetoing two bills (including one that she first said she would not sign but wouldn't veto, either, before she did). Perdue said she would urge the legislature to work with the State Board of Education to create a new way to hold schools accountable for their performance.

 Wake Superior Court Judge Howard Manning, who oversees the ongoing improvement that is supposed to come under the N.C. Supreme Court's decision in the Leandro case requiring that every child have the opportunity for a sound education, is also troubled about the legislature's decision to end end-of-course testing. As noted in an earlier blogpost, Manning says that testing is constitutionally mandated because it's a critical part of assessing where the troubled schools are and figuring out whether they are making progress. A few weeks ago I spoke with Manning briefly asking him what he was going to do. At the time, he was planning to sit back and think about his options.  He may be thinking harder now.

Here's Perdue's statement.

"Personally, I believe the tests now used in school systems are due for change. I've talked to many teachers, and heard from education leaders across the state. It's clear that current testing does not accomplish our shared goal of excellent teachers in every classroom and the best schools for our children in every community.
"But let me be very clear: I do not support simply eliminating testing. This state must have some process in place for identifying areas in need of improvement.

"For those reasons, I will not sign this bill, nor will I veto it. Instead, I urge the General Assembly to work aggressively and deliberately with the State Board of Education to develop a new method of holding schools accountable to the people. This is the only way to ensure we meet the state's Constitutional obligation of a sound, basic education for our children."

Friday, March 18, 2011

Rep. Bradley has done Raleigh a service

Freshman Republican Rep. Glen Bradley of Youngsville in Franklin County has been taking a derisive beating among those who have found his proposal absurd for North Carolina to adopt a new currency backed by gold and silver. Some have called it wacky. Some say it's outlandish.

Mr. Speaker, I rise to defend Rep. Bradley. The 2011 General Assembly session so far has been overly serious and without sufficient humor to release widespread stress over a huge shortfall in the state budget, not to mention some political tensions from a change in the balance of power. Rep. Bradley's proposal has provided other members, lobbyists, reporters, clerks, legislative staff and indeed the larger populace of downtown Raleigh with something to enjoy talking about. You can't walk across the Capitol grounds or down Fayetteville Street without being stopped by someone who wants to talk about it.

Why, just the other day a distinguished lawyer of long acquaintance beseeched me to write an editorial not only backing Rep. Bradley's plan, but also to endorse the lawyer for a newly created state job: Commissioner of Precious Metals, a post whose salary would be paid in gold, of course.

Shoot, I'm thinking of applying for a job myself in the new administration. I think the title of Deputy Commissioner for Sterling Silver and German Nickel would be just dandy.

Rep. Bradley, we owe you a debt of gratitude.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

More trivia about Gov. W.W. Holden

Sunday's column on Gov. W.W. Holden -- the first governor in the United States to be impeached, convicted and removed from office, reminded several folks that his 19th century  home in Raleigh stood at the corner of Hargett and McDowell Streets, hardly a stone's toss from my office in the building of the News & Observer.

 Holden began his career as a Democrat, supporting the same things many Southerners did including slavery, and wound up helping found the Republican Party, which opposed slavery.  The founder of the News & Observer was Josephus Daniels, who at the end of the 20th 19th century (Thanks to reader Marc Barnes for pointing out this 100-year mistake) worked in consort with Democrats and other newspapers, especially the Charlotte Observer, in the White Supremacy Movement that overthrew a legally elected government in Wilmington that had included black Republicans. The Daniels' family view of black people would change dramatically over the years and his descendants strongly supported reforms in the Civil Rights Era. 

One other historical note that will make good trivia: that house that Holden lived in in downtown Raleigh contained, according to biographer Horace Raper, "one of the first bathtubs" in the Capital City.  He also had a sunken garden, said to be unique at the time. Holden died in 1892 and is buried in old Oakwood Cemetery on the northeast side of downtown.

Monday, March 14, 2011

How did Sen. John "Chicken" Stephens die? Shot or stabbed?

I read up on some ancient history last week and wrote about the resolution pending in the state Senate to pardon former Gov. William Woods Holden, convicted March 22, 1871of high crimes and misdeanors. He was the first governor in the United State to be impeached and removed from office.

One of the things he was impeached for was trying to rein in violence by the Ki Ku Klux Klan. The column quoted from Edgar E. Folk and Bynum Shaw's "W.W. Holden: A Political Biography," that a state senator from Caswell County was shot and killed by the Klan while he was trying to help Holden gather information on the Klan. Specifically, they wrote, "the Klan ... in broad daylight in the Caswell County Courthhouse, before numerous witnesses, shot Republican State Senator John W. Stephens to death."

Sharp-eyed reader David Kinney, a student of history as well as editor in chief of Business North Carolina, sent a note point out that Stephens was assassinated by knife. "The ku-kluxers did lure John “Chicken” Stephens into the courthouse’s basement during the county Democratic convention, but they killed him by putting a noose around his neck and stabbing him with a pocket knife," Kinney wrote.

Online accounts support that version. Another interesting question: How did John "Chicken" Stephens get his nickname?  Well, of course, accounts vary, but they usually have to do with an altercation after he shot a chicken on his own property.

Read Wikipedia's version abou it here.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

David Broder, gentleman of the press

In the rarified atmosphere that nationally syndicated columnists and talk show commentators breathe every day, I imagine it's hard to avoid getting an over-inflated view of your importance. We've heard about the big salaries and huge speaking fees some of them command, and we've seen puffed-up egos on TV, heard them on the radio and read their thoughts in print. It's fascinating to see how highly some of them value their own voices.

And then there was David Broder, the veteran columnist for The Washington Post who remained, at heart and in practice, a shoe-leather reporter all of his days in this business. Broder died at 81 Wednesday, and the world of journalism will miss his presence.

The soft-spoken Broder, a son of the Midwest, looked at both sides of issues and often empathized with the arguments of each. But more important, he listened. He knocked on doors, asked questions of ordinary Americans about what they saw going on in national and state politics and wrote thoughtful pieces about what he heard. On Sunday talk shows he seemed less inclined to shoot from the lip and more interested in understanding context and explaining it to folks who sometimes wanted only yes-or-no, good-or-bad, win-or-lose answers.

But Broder also wrote tough columns that raked politicians over the coals and sometimes called his own profession to account for its lapses. One memorable column was his Aug. 29, 2001 piece after N.C. Republican Sen. Jesse Helms announced his decision not to run for re-election. His column began:

"Those who believe that the "liberal press" always has its knives sharpened for Republicans and conservatives must have been flummoxed by the coverage of Sen. Jesse Helms's announcement last week that he will not run for reelection next year in North Carolina. The reporting on his retirement was circumspect to the point of pussyfooting.

"On the day his decision became known, the New York Times described him as "a conservative stalwart for nearly 30 years," the Boston Globe as "an unyielding icon of conservatives and an archenemy of liberals." The Washington Post identified Helms as "one of the most powerful conservatives on Capitol Hill for three decades."

"Those were accurate descriptions. But they skirted the point. There are plenty of powerful conservatives in government. A few, such as Don Rumsfeld and Henry Hyde, have been around as long as Helms and have their own significant roles in 20th century political history. What really sets Jesse Helms apart is that he is the last prominent unabashed white racist politician in this country -- a title that one hopes will now be permanently retired. A few editorials and columns came close to saying that. But the squeamishness of much of the press in characterizing Helms for what he is suggests an unwillingness to confront the reality of race in our national life."

I didn't know Broder well but spent a little time with him now and then, thanks to Walt DeVries, the political scientist from Wilmington who for years ran the N.C. Institute of Political Leadership. It was DeVries' vision that created a program that would train those interested in running and serving in political office in the technical details and creative art of campaigning and serving. His graduates include Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians and independents -- and he frequently got his old friend David Broder to come to North Carolina to speak at training sessions or give a graduation address. He also helped other N.C. nonprofits who wanted Broder to appear at a seminar or make a speech.

On of them was the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research, and DeVries arranged for Broder to make a visit to a session on political changes in North Carolina during the '80s. As editor of the center's quarterly, North Carolina Insight, it was my job to pick Broder up at RDU and make sure he was settled in at his hotel and got to where he needed to be. I expected a Very Important Person consumed in his own profound thoughts. But the man I picked up insisted on carrying his own bags, was interested in knowing my background, was already conversant in what was going on in Tar Heel politics but asked good questions about the nuances of our closely split electorate. He, too, liked to talk about baseball. In 10 minutes it was as if we had known one another a long time.

I'd run into Broder from time to time as he breezed through the state on the trail of one story or another, watched him question businessmen, college presidents and those who might know something he needed to know. His interviews always seemed more like conversations than interrogations.

In a business where the press corps is sometimes derided as a pack of hyenas on the trail of blood, and where the term Gentlemen of the Press most often sparks a round of derisive laughter, David Broder was a rare figure who lived up to the image. He was a gentleman of the press.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Manning considering his options on school tests

The N.C. General Assembly has pretty much ignored Wake Superior Court Judge Howard Manning's 22-page memo urging legislators not to do away with four standardized end-of-course tests in high schools.  The legislature overwhelmingly passed the bill  meaning both Republicans and Democrats strongly supported the end to these tests. Gov. Bev Perdue, who has vetoed two bills approved by the legislature so far, says she won't veto this one.

Manning isn't saying what he might do about it, but he surely is considering his options.  In a brief conversation the other day, I asked him what his plans were.  He said, "We try to avoid a constitutional confrontation when it's possible. Right now I'm just going to think about it."

Manning had sent the Feb. 21 memo to Speaker of the House Thom Tillis and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger because he wanted to make sure legislators understood the value of the tests.  Manning has supervised, if that's the right word, the state's response to the N.C. Supreme Court's landmark Leandro ruling that ordered the state to provide a competent principal in every school, a competent teacher in every classroom, and adequate resources in every class so students can get a sound education. Manning has used test scores to help identify schools that are failing (and succeeding) and has pushed state education officials to respond more aggressively to failing schools.

In his memo, he told the legislative leaders that end of course testing in core Leando subjects "is constitutionally mandated as part of the accountability process and therefore, not subject to elimination by House Bill 48 or other legislative action."

No telling how this turns out, but since the Leandro case was filed nearly 17 years ago, it has provided a lot of work for litigators. I expect we'll see more.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

New poll shows McCrory leading Perdue in a rematch of '08

  A new poll taken for the N.C. Center for Voter Education and the national non-partisan advocacy group Justice at Stake shows former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory leading Gov. Bev Perdue by a 51-38 percent margin  in a rematch of their 2008 campaign.  The poll also shows President Barack Obama leading former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin by 47-45, but Obama trails former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney 49-43 in a head-to-head match.

The poll was taken for the groups by the firm 20/20 Insight Polling and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.

The groups are especially interested in judicial elections, and the poll found that half the voters polled would be disinclined to support a legislative candidate who wanted to do away with North Carolina's system of publicly funded campaigns for appellate judicial races. The program has proved popular with candidates from both parties because it frees judges from the potential conflict of interests inherent in having to ask lawyers who may appear in their courtrooms for political contributions to finance their campaigns.

The finding in the potential governor's race mirror what other polls have shown -- that Perdue is in some trouble -- but the more interesting poll results will come later this year, after the 2011 General Assembly has done its work and when voters can assess what kind of job the new Republican majority in the House and Senate have done. While Perdue only proposes a state budget, legislators have to adopt it, and voters' opinions will be shaped not only by legislation that passes this year but also by what services legislators cut in order to balance the budget and cover a shortfall.

Here's a link to the website. Here's the text of what the two groups said about the poll results:

RALEIGH – More than six in 10 North Carolina voters say the country is on the wrong track, according to a poll exploring attitudes on money, courts and politics, commissioned by the Justice at Stake Campaign and the N.C. Center for Voter Education.

That feeling is especially prominent among Republicans and independents, with 88 percent and 62 percent, respectively, saying the country is moving in the wrong direction. Just 35 percent of Democratic voters believe the country is on the wrong track.

Voters are evenly split on their feelings about the outcome of the 2010 legislative and congressional elections, with 46 percent satisfied with the results and 46 percent dissatisfied.

Not surprisingly, party affiliation greatly influences voter attitudes about last year’s election outcomes, with 82 percent of Democrats not satisfied and 83 percent of Republicans satisfied with November’s results. Among independent voters, 44 percent are satisfied and 42 percent are dissatisfied.

Looking ahead to potential 2012 match ups, the poll finds that voters favor Democratic President Barack Obama over Republican Sarah Palin, 47-45 percent. Republican Mitt Romney fares better, leading Obama 49-43 percent.

In a hypothetical gubernatorial rematch from 2008, Republican Pat McCrory leads Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue 51-38 percent. Among the key demographic of independent voters, McCrory leads 47-30 percent.

Likely Republican presidential primary voters are yet to throw their support behind a clear favorite, with 19 percent supporting Palin, 15 percent supporting Mike Huckabee and 13 percent supporting Romney. Twenty-eight percent say they are unsure of which candidate will get their vote.

These questions were part of a poll examining voter attitudes about the influence of political money on North Carolina’s courts. Released last week, those results found that 94 percent of state voters believe campaign contributions have some sway on a judge’s decision, including 43 percent who say campaign donations can greatly affect a ruling.

The poll also shows that when it comes to North Carolina’s first-in-the-nation system of public financing for judicial elections, 49 percent of voters say they would be less likely to support a legislative candidate who wants to eliminate the program. Only 20 percent of voters say they would be more likely to favor a candidate who sought to end the program.

Conducted Feb. 8-10 by 20/20 Insight Polling, the statewide poll of 600 registered North Carolina voters has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.  Questions asked of 229 likely 2012 Republican primary voters have a margin of error of plus or minus 6.5 percent.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

McCrory vulnerable to primary challenge?

Not long ago pollsters found evidence that Gov. Bev Perdue might be vulnerable to a challenge from within her party in the 2012 Democratic primary.   Blogger Gary Pearce says he hears of at least two Democrats who might be considering a run against the state's first woman governor in the primary: State Sens. Dan Blue and Josh Stein of Wake County.  

Now Public Policy Polling also detects a potential vulnerability for the presumed Republican nominee, former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, who ran in 2008 but lost to Perdue because, among other things of a strong pull from Barack Obama's presidential campaign.

PPP said more than four out of 10 GOP voters want a candidate more conservative than McCrory, while about three in 10 voters ay they'd support him.  It certainly appears that McCrory is aware of the potential problem.  For more than a year he has worked to strengthen his conservative image. He has been outspoken about the Affordable Care Act and has spoken to conservative groups.  If McCrory is successful in building stronger ties to Republicans, he would be in better position to win the Republican nomination again. But whether that will help him win the governorship is a question that turns on other factors, including Obama's popularity, who the Democratic nominee is (I'd still find it hard to image Democrats turning out a governor, but in politics anything can happen) and, if it's Perdue again, whether her popularity numbers improve significantly.

Also: Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee appears to be the top choice of Republicans for the presidential nomination next year, PPP says.  Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin remains popular but is running fourth.

Here's what Public Policy Polling has to say:

It's being treated as almost inevitable that Pat McCrory will be the Republican nominee for Governor of North Carolina next year but there's one thing that could trip him up: a Tea Party challenger. 43% of Republican voters in the state say they'd like their nominee next year to be someone more conservative than McCrory to only 29% who say they'd firmly support him for the nomination. It would take a strong well funded opponent to do it but McCrory is definitely vulnerable to a challenge from the right.

That shouldn't come as any great surprise. McCrory earned less than 50% of the primary vote in 2008 against a weak field of opponents and the reason he didn't get a majority of the votes was concern that he was too liberal, particularly on issues like bringing light rail to Charlotte and building the Bobcats Arena without taxpayer approval. He's tried to build up his conservative credentials over the last couple years by appearing frequently at events for Americans for Prosperity and speaking out against the health care bill but there's still a sense among a lot of GOP voters that they could get someone else more in tune with them ideologically.

McCrory's popular at this point with Republican voters- 47% have a favorable opinion of him to 12% with an unfavorable one. But the 41% with no opinion of him leaves a lot of voters an opponent could define McCrory in a negative light with. And McCrory's numbers aren't nearly as strong as Lisa Murkowski's were in Alaska and Mike Castle's were in Delaware before they were defeated by further right primary challengers last year. It'll be interesting to see whether a serious one pops up or not.

Mike Huckabee continues to be the top choice of Republicans in North Carolina to be their Presidential candidate next year at 24%. Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich are tied for second at 18%, and Sarah Palin comes in fourth at 16%. Leading the second tier of candidates at 6% is Ron Paul, followed by Tim Pawlenty at 5%, Mitch Daniels at 2%, and the now departed from the race John Thune at 1%.

The North Carolina numbers show one of the major perils ahead for Sarah Palin if she ends up deciding to run. She has the highest favorability of the Republicans in the state at 69%, followed by Huckabee at 68%, Romney at 56%, and Gingrich at 55%. But she's fourth place for Presidential preference anyway, indicating a significant disconnect between her popularity and the willingness of the folks who like her to support for President. Getting voters to take that next step from liking her to thinking she's White House material is going to be a big challenge if she jumps in the race.