RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Facing sagging poll numbers, a campaign finance investigation and worries from fellow Democrats she would drag down candidates in a key battleground state, North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue announced Thursday she would not run for re-election this year.
Perdue, the state's first woman governor, rode into office on the coattails of President Barack Obama's surprise victory here. Her departure creates a wide-open gubernatorial primary in a state that is so key to Obama, Democrats are hosting their national convention in Charlotte in September.
Perdue, a former school teacher, said her decision was about protecting public education from spending cuts by the Republican-led Legislature. She said that in highly partisan times, her re-election bid would "only further politicize the fight to adequately fund our schools."
"The thing I care about most right now is making sure that our schools and schoolchildren do not continue to be the victims of shortsighted legislative actions and severe budget cuts inflicted by a legislative majority with the wrong priorities," Perdue said in a statement. "Therefore, I am announcing today that I have decided not to seek re-election. I hope this decision will open the door to an honest and bipartisan effort to help our schools."
Perdue faced a tough rematch against former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, a Republican she narrowly defeated in 2008 in the state's closest gubernatorial contest since 1972. Obama's win here was the first in 36 years for a Democratic nominee for president.
Perdue said last week she would offer a budget this spring that would seek a sales tax increase for education. Republicans let a temporary sales tax increase expire last summer, and at least one legislative leader called her proposal dead on arrival.
Perdue, 65, has struggled with a state economy hit hard by the recession and an unemployment rate persistently above the national average. Polling conducted throughout her term has consistently shown her approval ratings hovering around 40 percent.
She's had to deal with state budget problems that led her and fellow Democrats to raise the sales tax by a penny in 2009 and make deep cuts to education and health care. The first-term governor more recently clashed with the new Republican leadership in the General Assembly, which swept into power after the 2010 elections and gave GOP control of the Legislature for the first time since the 1870s. In a sign of the tension, she vetoed a record 16 bills last year.
She faced scrutiny about her 2008 campaign and more than three dozen flights that she didn't initially report on campaign filings required by state election officials. A local prosecutor has said the governor wasn't the focus of his investigation, but four people have been indicted related to the flight investigation, including her former campaign finance director.
"To those of you who have supported me throughout my years of public service, I will always be grateful for the confidence you have placed in me," Perdue said. "In my remaining months in office, I look forward to continuing to fight for the priorities we share, by putting North Carolinians back to work and investing in our children's future."
The decision marks the first time a sitting governor has failed to get elected to a second term since voters gave chief executives authority to succeed themselves in the 1970s.
"It is really uncommon for a sitting governor to have the opportunity to run for re-election to not do so, even in a harsh political climate," said Steven Greene, a political science professor at North Carolina State University. "But an objective analysis of the political situation suggests she'd have an extremely uphill fight for re-election."
Perdue's re-election campaign raised more than $2.6 million in 2011 — only slightly more than what McCrory had raised during last year — a poor showing in a state where Democratic candidates routinely outspend Republicans in statewide elections. Perdue's term runs through the end of the year.
Perdue made her decision not to run earlier this week and she alerted her top campaign staffers Thursday morning, campaign spokesman Marc Farinella.
Her decision brought several candidates into the fray for the May 8 Democratic primary. Candidate filing doesn't begin for about two weeks.
Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton, another Democrat elected in 2008, seemed poised to consider a run with nearly $600,000 in cash on hand as of Dec. 31. Democratic state Rep. Bill Faison, a Perdue critic, said he'll make an announcement soon. He said prominent leaders in the party worried for weeks about Perdue's low poll numbers and had suggested she not run.
Former State Treasurer Richard Moore, who lose to Perdue in the 2008 primary, and Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines, also are considering bids.
McCrory, who will kick off his campaign next week, made no mention of Perdue in a statement after her announcement.
"My message has been and will continue to be that we must fix our broken government and broken economy and put our North Carolina resources back to work," he said.
A native of Virginia, Perdue worked as a teacher and moved in the 1970s to the coastal town of New Bern, where she became director of geriatric services at a hospital before entering politics. She served in the Legislature and as lieutenant governor before being elected governor.
Perdue is listed as the co-chairwoman of steering and host committee membership for the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, but DNC officials said Thursday her new announcement will have no impact on the September gathering.
Associated Press writers Michael Biesecker and Tom Breen in Raleigh and Ken Thomas in Washington also contributed to this report.