Five leading candidates for North Carolina's governor prepared for their first statewide televised debate Thursday night, while Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory sat on the sidelines after taking steps this week to join the race.
Republicans Bill Graham, Bob Orr and Fred Smith have been actively running for their party's nomination for months and were to participate in the GOP half of the hour-long forum on the economy aired by University of North Carolina Television.
State Treasurer Richard Moore and Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue, who have been engaged in a sharp exchange of words since the fall, were to take questions in the second half for Democrats. Democratic Gov. Mike Easley is barred by state law from running for a third consecutive term.
McCrory, a seven-term Republican mayor, appears ready to become a late entry into the race.
He filed with the state paperwork needed to raise campaign money for governor, while a leading Republican in Guilford County said McCrory told him he would announce something next Tuesday in Jamestown, where he went to high school. McCrory declined comment Thursday on his future.
By not deciding sooner, McCrory may have missed a chance to raise his profile outside the Charlotte television market — for free — and let his potential challengers make positive impressions first before the May 6 primary.
Since stepping down from the state Supreme Court in 2004, Orr has focused on opposition to taxpayer-funded economic incentives for individual companies to create jobs in the state.
Graham, a Salisbury attorney and entrepreneur, and Smith, a Johnston County state senator and residential developer, have said targeted financial assistance to companies can be useful at times to attract new business.
Moore won favor nationally for his efforts at corporate accountability on Wall Street.
Perdue's campaign, however, has criticized Moore's leadership on a state panel that approved debt used by Roanoke Rapids to build a music theater for Dolly Parton's brother that town leaders hope will serve as the cornerstone of a regional entertainment complex. Moore's camp said it wasn't the job of the Local Government Commission to determine whether Roanoke Rapids should work with Randy Parton.
UNC-TV, which did not invite announced Democratic candidate Dennis Nielsen and Libertarian Mike Munger, planned two additional televised forums Feb. 7 on health care and April 24 on education.
Earlier Thursday, Moore campaign manager Jay Reiff complained that Perdue has failed to agree to debates offered by WRAL-TV in Raleigh on Jan. 24 and cable's News 14 Carolina in March or April. Perdue spokesman David Kochman said the lieutenant governor couldn't fit the WRAL offer into her schedule and couldn't commit to News 14.
Moore, meanwhile, scheduled a news conference Friday to unveil the first statewide television ad for the Democratic primary.