RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina Democrats running for governor trumpeted their fund-raising prowess and prominent supporters Monday as they tried to muster voter awareness during early balloting ahead of next week's primary election.
Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton's campaign said he raised $648,318 in the year's first 3 1/2 months. He got a head start over main rivals Bob Etheridge and Bill Faison since he was already raising money for re-election to his current job until Gov. Beverly Perdue dropped out in late January. Dalton's campaign said he had $670,000 left as of April 21, meaning he started the year with nearly $750,000.
Etheridge's campaign said he'll report raising more than $310,000 in contributions since he entered the race Feb. 29. Faison's campaign did not release a preview of his first-quarter fundraising report, which was due Monday. Gardenia Henley of Winston-Salem, Gary Dunn of Matthews and Bruce Blackmon of Buies Creek are also seeking the Democratic nomination.
Early voting continues through Saturday ahead of the state's primary May 8.
Presumptive Republican nominee Pat McCrory's campaign said last week he raised nearly $1.7 million for the first 3 1/2 months of the year and had more than $3 million in the bank. McCrory planned a Raleigh fundraiser Monday headlined by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
Etheridge on Monday sought to balance his fundraising shortcomings by introducing dozens of political friends who would vouch for him as the right Democrat for the job at a time they said the state's public education system is under fire from Republicans. Etheridge was state superintendent of public education before serving 14 years in Congress.
"Sometimes your friends can vouch for the things you've done," Etheridge said. "Somethings, you speak to it yourself and it sounds like bragging. I don't like to do that."
Etheridge's campaign brought together former Capitol Hill colleagues to praise his character and experience: U.S. Reps. G.K. Butterfield, David Price, former U.S. Reps. Eva Clayton and Tim Valentine. State Sen. Dan Blue, D-Wake, who considered entering the governor's race himself, introduced them and former U.S. Sen. Robert Morgan.
Dalton's campaign produced its own list of endorsements, including from former state Senate boss Marc Basnight of Manteo and the mayors of Wilmington, Durham, Winston-Salem and Asheville.
Voters mostly tend to ignore endorsements and make up their own minds about candidates, said Jonathan Kappler, research director at the nonpartisan North Carolina Free Enterprise Foundation, which tracks state politics for business interests. The exception may be this year's Democratic primary — an intra-party contest featuring last-minute candidates who voters haven't gotten to know well, he said.
"I think they (endorsements) have the potential to matter just a little bit more — and I don't want to overstate that — in a situation like this where the campaign really started so late and voters aren't all that aware of any of the candidates and therefore may look to someone in their community to give them a cue as to who's the best to support," Kappler said.
A statewide poll released Monday found most North Carolina residents can't tell the leading candidates apart. The Elon University poll finds half of the state's adults said they don't know how they feel about McCrory, and that's much better than the top three Democrats. The Elon Poll does not measure eligible or likely voters, but takes a snapshot of general public opinion.
Sixty percent said they don't know enough about Etheridge to have a favorable or unfavorable opinion about him. Two-thirds don't know enough about Dalton to have an opinion about him and three-quarters say they don't know Faison.
The survey of 640 North Carolina adults conducted last week has a sampling error margin of 4 percentage points.
Emery Dalesio can be reached at http://twitter.com/emerydalesio