North Carolina Republicans and their allies are taking to the airwaves this week to counter loud criticism of GOP policies and offer a sunnier spin on the agenda of Gov. Pat McCrory and the legislature.
The star of one television commercial is McCrory himself.
"We are stepping on the toes of the left and the right to make tough, necessary changes," McCrory says in the 60-second ad to run Tuesday until Oct. 7 in the state's three largest TV markets. McCrory then lists Republican accomplishments and plans on taxes, education, Medicaid and unemployment insurance he says will improve the economy, create jobs and straighten out state government.
The ad is paid for by Renew North Carolina Foundation, an outside group that is led by McCrory's political friends but isn't required to disclose its donors.
State Senate leader Phil Berger began airing his own ad Monday about the new voter identification requirement approved this year. Berger's ad, which runs on cable TV covering his district, criticizes President Barack Obama and U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan for opposing photo ID.
"You need photo ID to drive, cash a check, even to buy medicine. Shouldn't you show a photo ID to vote?" the narrator in Berger's ad asks. "Liberals like Obama and Kay Hagan say no. Phil Berger fought the liberals and won."
Berger, R-Rockingham, has been considering whether to challenge the Democrat Hagan next year. He hasn't said yet what he'll do.
Hagan's campaign manager blasted Berger, saying the commercial ignored dozens of other changes in the new elections law that will make it harder for lawfully registered people to vote. Hagan previously asked U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to scrutinize the law. "Kay is standing up for access to the ballot box for all voters because she believes this fundamental right shouldn't be a political football," Preston Elliott said.
State Democratic Party spokesman Micah Beasley said the foundation's ad distorts McCrory's record. Beasley suggested the governor and his allies are "spooked" because he's running a commercial three years before the next gubernatorial election. Two Democrats already have announced they are running and others are considering it.
Berger and McCrory were heavily criticized this year for pushing several bills that Democrats and their supporters argue will move North Carolina's economy, health care and civil rights backward. There have been weekly protests by the Moral Monday movement at the Legislative Building, leading to hundreds of arrests. Protest leaders vow to keep up pressure to the next elections.
The ads are "very much an attempt to put a positive spin on what many Democrats and others thought was a very damaging legislative session," William Peace University political science professor David McLennan said. McCrory's image, he added, "really took a beating" from both Democrats and the Republicans at the legislature, who overrode his two vetoes last week.
The Renew North Carolina Foundation plans to spend more than $188,000 on the commercial on over-the-air stations in the Raleigh, Greensboro and Charlotte markets, according to documents filed with the Federal Communications Commission. That doesn't include cable television, where foundation spokesman Brian Nick said the ad would also run.
The foundation is chaired by longtime McCrory ally John Lassiter, who helped lead McCrory's gubernatorial transition team. Under Internal Revenue Service rules, it doesn't have to identify donors, unlike a campaign committee. The foundation can promote McCrory's agenda as long as the group doesn't coordinate with his campaign committee, Nick said. Nick was previously a McCrory campaign spokesman.
The foundation told the IRS it raised $571,000 through the end of last year. The organization held a June retreat featuring McCrory and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.
The ad, posted on the foundation website, has McCrory talking about how the new tax overhaul bill would "help families and create jobs." He talks about efforts to help "our most vulnerable citizens get excellent health care" and how "we have already increased K-12 funding for our schools."
McCrory's critics contend the tax law raises taxes on most residents, per-pupil public school funding is falling and Republicans failed to improve health care when they refused to expand Medicaid enrollment.
McCrory's campaign committee reported having $1.2 million as of June 30 — enough to run his own ads. Instead, McCrory decided to participate in the foundation ad because he "supports efforts to help educate the public on policies that focus on improving our economy, increasing jobs, reforming education and streamlining government," spokeswoman Kim Genardo wrote in an email.
Berger's six-week TV and web campaign totals more than $100,000, his campaign said. Three candidates already have announced their entry in the GOP primary for U.S. Senate, including state House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg.