RALEIGH — North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory and Democratic challenger Roy Cooper are preparing for their first debate this week, and they’re already throwing jabs about how many more they’ll have before November.
McCrory’s campaign said Tuesday the Republican incumbent wants to debate seven times, beginning with Friday’s forum in Charlotte at the North Carolina Bar Association annual convention.
Cooper, the state’s attorney general, is participating in the Bar Association event and recently proposed three more joint appearances, although one has since occurred. The two candidates appear to agree on a not-yet-scheduled debate by the North Carolina Association of Broadcasters.
McCrory’s campaign accused Cooper of dodging additional debate invitations — in keeping with its narrative of portraying Cooper as someone who won’t talk publicly about issues.
“North Carolinians deserve to hear directly from the candidates on the issues that matter most and their plans for the future of our state,” McCrory campaign manager Russell Peck said in a news release. “But while Governor McCrory has agreed to debate Roy Cooper at least seven times, Roy Cooper has gone into hiding.”
But Cooper spokesman Ford Porter said McCrory’s request for many more debates shows the incumbent is desperate less than five months before the election and a month after Cooper made public his debate offers.
McCrory has been outraised by Cooper during each of the past three campaign finance reporting periods, and the governor took a public relations hit starting in March when he signed House Bill 2 into law. The legislation created a state anti-discrimination law that excludes LGBT protections and required transgender people to use bathrooms in government buildings and schools that match the sex on their birth certificates.
The governor, however, is benefiting from an unemployment rate that’s dropped to 5 percent and from flush state government coffers.
Porter pointed to criticism that McCrory’s campaign made about 2012 rival Democratic Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton when he proposed eight debates with McCrory. McCrory’s spokesman at the time called the offer a “desperate attempt to change the subject” by Dalton. He was getting compared to Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue, who chose not to seek re-election that year.
In 2008, it was McCrory who tried to prod Perdue into holding more joint appearances. McCrory was considered an underdog in 2008 and the front-runner in 2012.
McCrory’s proposed debate schedule this year includes a second N.C. Association of Broadcasters event, along with appearances on Time Warner Cable News; WTVD-TV in Durham; WGHP-TV in High Point and an unnamed Charlotte TV station.
Cooper’s offer included an appearance on WRAL-TV in Raleigh and at an economic innovations conference last month.