- Associated Press - Monday, October 12, 2015

ROCKY MOUNT, N.C. (AP) - North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper began his long-planned bid to become governor Monday evening, telling a crowd of supporters the state has traveled down a path of income inequality and poorly-funded public education under Republican Gov. Pat McCrory’s leadership and it’s time to turn things around.

Speaking to several hundred Democratic luminaries, friends, relatives and interest group advocates at a kickoff event in his native Nash County, Cooper said if elected he would re-stake North Carolina’s claim to be a leader in the South, particularly in education and raising up the middle class.

“It’s time for a governor who measures our state by the success of regular working folks,” Cooper said at Nash Community College. “The truth is Gov. McCrory has the wrong priorities for North Carolina, giving away the store for those at the top at the expense of the middle class and our schools.”

Cooper has discussed a likely run for governor for two years, frequently criticizing the policies of McCrory and the Republican-led legislature. The GOP won General Assembly majorities in the 2010 election after more than a century of largely uninterrupted Democratic rule in state government, and McCrory won two years later.

Within months of McCrory’s arrival, Cooper began talking like a potential 2016 rival. His political committee collected online petition signatures calling on McCrory to expand Medicaid under the federal health care law and he complained about GOP-backed income tax cuts that benefited the highest wage earners and corporations the most.

“It is time for our state to work for everyone, not just a few,” Cooper said in a speech that lasted about 15 minutes. “We need a new set of priorities,” he added, pointing to efforts to raise stagnant incomes, help small businesses and make higher education affordable.

With longstanding ties to North Carolina and the Democratic establishment, Cooper, 58, could be a formidable candidate. Four-term Democratic Gov. Jim Hunt attended the event. Cooper’s campaign committee outraised McCrory’s committee in the first six months of 2015.

Earlier Monday at a Wake County DMV office, McCrory avoided directly responding to reporters’ questions about Cooper’s entry into the race and said he’d kick off his own re-election bid soon. He talked instead about fulfilling a promise to improve Division of Motor Vehicles operations.

“There’s going to be an election down the road, but my job is to govern North Carolina and to improve customer service,” he said.

McCrory left the retorts to the state Republican Party, which has been slowly ramping up its attacks on Cooper. Based on the GOP’s comments, the Democrat will have to defend both his legislative record - he served in the General Assembly for 14 years through 2000 - and actions by Cooper’s Department of Justice.

“From higher taxes to bigger government to unchecked corruption, Roy Cooper represents the worst of the broken system and the broken policies of the past,” state GOP Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse said on the college campus before Cooper’s announcement. “Roy Cooper isn’t the future. He is the past.”

Cooper first must win the March 15 Democratic primary before he can take on McCrory.

Ken Spaulding of Durham, a former legislator and state Board of Transportation member, announced he was a Democratic candidate for governor in August 2013.

In a statement, Spaulding called Cooper “the establishment’s hand-picked career politician” and the “status quo.” Spaulding mentioned Cooper’s work as attorney general defending a 2013 GOP-supported election law that scaled back early voting and ended same-day registration.

Cooper abandoned the state’s defense on the 2012 constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in summer 2014, calling it “futile” when a federal appeals court overturned Virginia’s similar ban.

Cooper already has hired Virginia U.S. Sen. Mark Warner’s 2014 re-election campaign manager as his own. Cooper has worked the Democratic banquet circuit in the past two years, seeking to build support.


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