- Associated Press - Saturday, June 6, 2015

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - His 2016 re-election campaign soon to begin in earnest, Gov. Pat McCrory framed his address to the state GOP convention Saturday around the economic recovery and policies on which he says all North Carolina Republicans agree.

McCrory highlighted efforts by him and legislative Republicans he contends helped cut in half the state’s unemployment rate and for passing legislation that eliminated more quickly $2.5 billion in unemployment insurance debt owed the federal government. But there’s more that needs to be done to improve North Carolina, the governor said.

“We’ve had this great success for the past 2½ years and we should be proud of that success,” McCrory told the convention, which was expected to bring roughly 2,000 Republicans to Raleigh. “But we have a lot of work to do together.”

McCrory said critics who have protested the Republican policies routinely would want to “turn back the clock” away from economic success. Democrats who held the Executive Mansion for 20 years before McCrory was re-elected in 2012 are closely aligned with the demonstrators and want the same results, the governor said. North Carolina is expected to be another presidential battleground state next year.

“They’re all working to stop the Carolina Comeback,” McCrory said, referring to the label he’s attached to his term in office. “They and the North Carolina Democrats will stand hand in hand with Hillary Clinton and other liberals and try to take our state.”

The governor avoided discussion of social issues such as abortion and gay marriage. Some social conservatives are unhappy with McCrory’s veto of a bill late last month that would provide religious exemptions to court officials on performing gay marriages. Efforts to override the veto are pending.

“We don’t always agree on everything,” McCrory told fellow Republicans, but he said GOP members are willing to discuss their differences and aren’t in lockstep.

Other differences within the party between McCrory and rank-and-file activists were on display later Saturday after McCrory’s departure. The choice of McCrory and other top elected Republican officials to lead the party organization for the next two years lost to the preferred candidate of local activists. Hasan Harnett of Cabarrus County defeated Craig Collins of Gastonia for the chairman’s post.

McCrory talked about school choice, pay raises for public school teachers, transportation and veterans’ issues. He got cheers while mentioning his continued support of photo identification to vote and for entering a multistate lawsuit challenging actions taken by President Barack Obama on immigration. McCrory put his name to the lawsuit led by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat, has declined to add the state as a plaintiff. Cooper is preparing for his own run for governor in 2016.

Lawsuits challenging North Carolina’s voter ID law will be heard this summer. McCrory signed the requirement into law in 2013, but it doesn’t take effect until 2016.

Also on the ballot next year is the seat held by U.S. Sen. Richard Burr. He didn’t attend the Saturday convention because of a long-scheduled campaign fundraising event, spokesman Paul Shumaker said.

U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, the former state House speaker, also addressed the convention Saturday. He said McCrory needs to keep talking about the economy if he wants to get re-elected.

“Like virtually every other election, it’s going to come down to the economy,” Tillis said in an interview, saying Republicans should “continue to build on the success in North Carolina and show how we’re different, how we’ve improved our situation over other states.”

The three-day convention featured speeches by Republican presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Ben Carson, as well as Donald Trump and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who are also considering bids.

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