- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 2, 2015

KERNERSVILLE, N.C. (AP) - Gov. Pat McCrory has embarked on his 2016 re-election bid, telling supporters Wednesday he needed their help to win again to prevent reversals of improvement to North Carolina’s economy and state government since taking office three years ago.

Holding a campaign kickoff event at a Forsyth County small business, the Republican governor highlighted lower tax rates, the elimination of $2.6 billion owed the federal government for unemployment benefits during the Great Recession, and teacher pay increases. He said North Carolina state government and business climate were in poor shape when he arrived in Raleigh in early 2013.

“We became more efficient, we prioritized. We solved problems,” McCrory told the crowd of 200 inside a warehouse at a Kernersville industrial park. “We made the tough decisions and we took action. We led and we’ve gotten results that have been positive for the people of North Carolina.”

The event came a day after McCrory, a former Charlotte mayor, made the announcement via video and social media that he would seek another four-year term.

Now more needs to be done, McCrory said, mentioning continued efforts in transportation funding, education, energy exploration, mental health treatment and the economy.

“We still have a lot of work to do, because there are still some people that are suffering in this state,” he said.

This marks McCrory’s third gubernatorial campaign, and his first as the incumbent. He still tried to present himself as an outsider to state government, warning supporters about “shadowy left-wing” advocacy groups in the state pushing a “radical agenda that does not meet North Carolina values.”

Yet he also was critical of “professional politicians” - apparently some within his own party - for standing in the way of reform.

“We cannot and we will not accept these permanent insiders to take our state backwards and reverse the gains we’ve made in a short three years,” McCrory said to cheers inside the Salem ONE business complex, a site chosen to exemplify a recovering state economy.

McCrory’s gubernatorial record has provided Democrats scores of opportunities in which to criticize him and turn the 2016 race into a referendum on Republican governance. Attorney General Roy Cooper and Durham lawyer Ken Spaulding have already announced they’re running for the Democratic nomination.

Democrats argue McCrory misled voters about offering a moderate governing style when taking office, agreeing instead to sign hardline conservative bills from the Republican legislature.

Those bills cut unemployment benefits to accelerate the debt repayment and prevented the state from expanding Medicaid to more low-income working individuals. The number of items subject to sales taxes has increased to include movies and car repairs, state Democratic Party spokesman Ford Porter said.

“Middle-class families were promised a comeback, but for most, that promise has rung hollow,” Porter said in Kernersville before the McCrory event. “For hard-working North Carolina families, life has gotten more expensive and Gov. McCrory has taken even more money out of their pockets.”

Critics also point to McCrory’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns in which he vowed to rid state government of a “culture of corruption” following a run of investigation of Democratic politicians. This year, federal subpoenas issued to McCrory’s Department of Health and Human Services seek information about high-priced work agreements with contractors. The FBI also is examining activity surrounding prison maintenance contracts held for years by a McCrory donor and friend. No one has been charged with crimes, and McCrory has said he handled the contract issues properly.

McCrory clearly considers Cooper as his chief rival.

Cooper, who has been preparing for a gubernatorial run since late 2013, actually raised more money than McCrory did in the first half of this year. No Republicans have yet announced they intend to challenge McCrory in the March 15 primary, although former state Rep. Robert Brawley of Iredell County has said he’s considering a run. The campaign filing period ends Dec. 21.

McCrory has held all of his gubernatorial campaign kickoff events in the Triad, which is where he grew up and considered a voter-rich area for Republicans. Wednesday’s event, held in the middle of the day, was more subdued than his 2012 campaign kickoff.

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