RALEIGH – As the brief Democratic primary campaign for governor neared its possible finish, former U.S. Rep. Bob Etheridge blasted Lt. Governor Walter Dalton on Saturday for sending out campaign mailings that Etheridge said reminded him of tactics used by the late Republican Sen. Jesse Helms.
Etheridge responded with a television ad and accused Dalton of picking and choosing votes from his 14 years in Congress without telling the whole story.
“He only chose to give half the truth, and when I was growing up my mother reminded me if you only tell me half the truth, you’re lying,” Etheridge said Saturday in an interview at an early-voting site in Raleigh. The Democratic primary is Tuesday. There could be a runoff if the leading candidate fails to get more than 40 percent of the vote.
Dalton shot back that Etheridge’s voting record was fair game and that comparing him to Helms was an attempt by Etheridge to “flame racial passions” in the campaign’s final days. Etheridge’s campaign said the Dalton mailings targeted black voters likely to vote in the Democratic primary, but Dalton said the issues he’s addressed in mail resonate with all voters.
“I’m trying to win everybody’s vote,” Dalton said in an interview.
Dalton and Etheridge are among six candidates seeking the Democratic nomination Tuesday. State Rep. Bill Faison, another of the leading candidates, began running radio ads this weekend critical of both Etheridge and Dalton and recalled the 2010 viral video of Etheridge grabbing a young adult around the neck. The video contributed to Etheridge’s 2010 congressional defeat.
“Bill’s opponents just aren’t leaders,” the narrator in one of Faison’s ads says.
All three candidates were expected to attend a local Democratic party dinner in Asheville on Saturday evening after a day of campaigning on the final day of early voting.
Etheridge’s campaign pointed to three mailings that they said Dalton’s campaign sent to residents in Mecklenburg and Wake counties late this past week. Dalton’s campaign staff confirmed they have sent out mailings contrasting Etheridge’s votes with the record of Dalton.
“While Walter Dalton was here in North Carolina fighting the Tea Party Republicans’ extreme agenda,” one mailing reads, Etheridge “was in D.C. voting with George W. Bush on bad trade deals, for tax breaks for the rich and against expanding children’s health care.”
Etheridge sounded most perturbed about Dalton calling him out on his 2010 vote on a bill that allowed the Bush-era tax cuts on the highest wage-earners to stay in place for two more years. Etheridge said the bill was a compromise reached between President Barack Obama and the Republicans that also allowed middle-class tax cuts to remain in effect and extended unemployment benefits.
“Walter Dalton is attacking Bob Etheridge for supporting Barack Obama in Congress,” the narrator in Etheridge’s new ad says, which ends with “Walter Dalton, tell the truth.”
Dalton said in an interview he doesn’t know how he would have voted on the same bill because he was not in Congress at the time. He pointed to an Etheridge vote in 2008 — when George W. Bush was still president — against an amendment that would have repealed the high-end tax cuts from 2001 and 2003 as proof Etheridge aligned with Bush.
Etheridge’s campaign said the mailers appeared designed to target black households. The mailings it released to the press included photos prominently featuring black residents. Etheridge said it reminded him of Helms, a five-term U.S. senator known for racially-tinged campaigns.
“They made (Helms) proud with the kind of thing they’re doing,” Etheridge said.
Dalton said it’s “absolutely ridiculous that he is taking that attitude,” adding that it wasn’t a personal attack and that “any time that you’re in a campaign, your voting record is being called into question.”
Dalton and Etheridge both have television commercials running in the campaign’s final days, but Dalton’s campaign has benefited from a significant fundraising edge over Etheridge. Dalton’s campaign reported receiving $1.4 million through April 21, compared to nearly $337,000 by Etheridge, campaign records show. More than half of Dalton’s money was raised while he was still planning to run for re-election as lieutenant governor. Facing a tough re-election fight, Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue announced Jan. 26 she wouldn’t seek re-election.
The Democratic primary winner will likely take on Republican Pat McCrory, the former Charlotte mayor who is one of six GOP primary candidates for governor. McCrory wasn’t on the campaign trail this weekend so he could attend a funeral, campaign spokesman Ricky Diaz said.