RALEIGH – The Republican contest to decide the party’s candidate for lieutenant governor is the highest profile race on the statewide ballot for this month’s second primary election, but it’s drawing little interest from voters focused on vacations and sweltering heat.
The contest between former architect Dan Forest, 44, and pharmacy owner Tony Gurley, 56, both of Raleigh, has been a quiet, clean campaign lacking the spice of a name-calling battle of television ads. The two rivals have an informal agreement that they’re running for the same office, not against each other.
“I consider Tony a friend and I always abide by Reagan’s philosophy” that Republicans shouldn’t speak ill of fellow Republicans, Forest said. “We’re just both running for lieutenant governor. We’re not running against each other.”
The top campaign issues for both men are jobs, the economy and education. Forest adds illegal immigration, an issue that his mother — former Charlotte mayor and retiring U.S. Rep. Sue Myrick, R-N.C. — has stressed for years.
Both are targeting the 24 percent of the voters who backed third-place finisher and state Rep. Dale Folwell in the May 8 primary. The July 17 runoff between Forest and Gurley was needed because none of the five Republicans seeking the job captured at least 40 percent of the vote. Early voting in the runoff is already under way.
Forest is playing off the 1994 Tom Hanks movie “Forrest Gump,” passing out bumper stickers urging the candidate, like the film’s hero, to “Run Forest, Run.” His route from Tea Party forums to the doorsteps of primary voters asking for support is aboard a red campaign bus he calls “Bubba 1.”
“We’re having some levity to what otherwise is a serious, dry business,” Forest said.
Gurley, a commissioner in Wake County since 2002, said what Forest doesn’t have is experience as an elected official. GOP voters should consider when making their choice that he has a decade in the public eye and what he’s done in office points to how he’d act as lieutenant governor, Gurley said.
“I am the clear conservative choice not based on rhetoric but on service exhibited,” he said. “I think this is a race that should focus on leadership abilities and experience.”
Lieutenant governors are elected independently from governors and the two offices can be held by members of opposing political parties.
The job has limited authority and exists mainly to identify who takes over if something happens to the governor, which has happened five times. The lieutenant governor also presides over the state Senate, sits on the state’s community college and school boards and can be assigned other duties by the governor. The job pays $123,198 a year and is considered a stepping stone to higher office.
Democratic Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton is his party’s candidate for governor, so the winner of the Forest-Gurley race will face Linda Coleman of Knightdale in November. Coleman served as a Wake County commissioner, a state representative for three terms, and was the state personnel director until stepping down to campaign earlier this year.
The big job for both Gurley and Forest is attracting supporters for a mid-summer contest when turnout in most precincts across North Carolina is expected to be less than 10 percent.
“I can promise you that one vote in a Republican statewide runoff in the summer is very important,” Gurley said. “If you ever wanted to have your vote count, this is it.”