RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- After making low-key declarations that each had endorsed Barack Obama in the Democratic presidential primary, the two leading Democratic candidates for governor are carefully publicizing their support, mostly to black residents.
One reason for the unusual early presidential endorsement of Obama over his opponent, Hillary Rodham Clinton, is that Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue and State Treasurer Richard Moore are struggling to get attention because so many are focused on the national election. So they have made a calculated move that could help them in the primary but could burden the winner in the November general election.
"The conventional wisdom is that you don't endorse candidates in other races," said Clyde Frazier, a political science professor at Meredith College in Raleigh, but "endorsing Obama is the way to win votes."
A mailer sent by Perdue's campaign to likely black voters features a photo of Perdue and Obama together. "Our moment is now," it reads. "I've endorsed Barack Obama, because I believe that he is truly committed - as I am - to bringing real change for our families."
And a radio commercial for Moore that ran on stations popular with black listeners pointed out that he "was the first Democrat running for governor to endorse Barack Obama for president."
Democratic gubernatorial candidates getting close to a presidential hopeful is a dramatic change in campaigning compared to the standoff attitude that has ruled in previous elections.
The presidential contender often has been considered a drag on the state ticket because they are perceived as too liberal for North Carolina voters. Jimmy Carter was the last Democrat to win North Carolina's electoral votes in 1976.
When Democratic nominee Walter Mondale flew into Asheville during the 1984 campaign, gubernatorial nominee Rufus Edmisten was on the other side of the state at a fundraiser. Edmisten later acknowledged his event was scheduled with Mondale's visit in mind.
More recently, candidate Mike Easley could never quite get around to campaigning with Al Gore in 2000. And Easley was criticized four years later for failing to campaign with John Kerry and native son John Edwards when they stopped in North Carolina.
This time, the high interest in the presidential campaign - particularly since Clinton could be the first female president and Obama the first black president - has caused Moore and Perdue to throw out the political playbooks.
Voter registration has soared in the first three months of this year compared to the same period four years ago, according to state elections data, a surge that has been attributed to intense interest in the Obama-Clinton race. The number of new registrants who are black - many of them piqued by Obama's run - is four times higher over the same period.
"It's a sure thing that there will be a dramatic increase in turnout. What that turnout looks like, we'll know afterward," Moore campaign manager Jay Reiff said. "There's certainly a level of excitement in this election that is really unprecedented in modern political history in North Carolina."
Moore announced his endorsement first in late February, although not at a news conference or through a press release. He later gushed about Obama, mentioning to reporters that he had lunch with Obama and his wife in 2004 the day after he gave a speech at the Democratic National Convention that helped skyrocket his career.
"I was struck then and what genuine and down to earth and real and incredibly intelligent people both of them were," Moore said last month.
Perdue announced her preference for Obama over Clinton in mid-March. Her choice was a mild surprise because her story - that of a trailblazer that could become North Carolina's first female governor - seemed to align more closely with Clinton.
Her decision "was something that has since evolved with her personally over time," Perdue spokesman David Kochman said. "A lot of people were thrilled to have two great candidates running, and as the elections gotten closer and a lot of the excitement that has drummed up ... she decided to endorse Obama."
Michael Lawson of Charlotte, chairman of the North Carolina Democratic Party's African-American Caucus, is neutral on the presidential race. He said he's not surprised by their endorsements of Obama. With black voters usually comprising about 30 percent of the Democratic primary vote, the two governor's candidates couldn't afford to be perceived to be indifferent to Obama.
"These two candidates aren't dumb," Lawson said.
Choosing one presidential candidate over another in a Democratic primary risks Perdue or Moore alienating some people within their own party. And it's unclear what impact an endorsement could have in November on the winner if Obama is atop the ticket.
"In the general election, there will be a very clear, defined choice for voters at the presidential level and in the governor's race," said Bob Orr, one of the five GOP gubernatorial candidates. "The Democratic nominee is going to be inevitably linked with Sen. Obama or Sen. Clinton, for better or worse."
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