Authors: By GARY D. ROBERTSON
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- North Carolina's Democratic lieutenant governor and the former Republican mayor of Charlotte will square off in November to succeed one-term Democratic incumbent Gov. Beverly Perdue after primary race victories Tuesday.
Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton beat former U.S. Rep. Bob Etheridge in the six-candidate Democratic primary, which opened up in late January when Perdue decided not to seek re-election. With nearly all precincts reporting unofficial returns, Dalton had 45 percent compared to Etheridge with 38 percent. Dalton needed more than 40 percent to avoid a runoff.
Republican Pat McCrory cruised to his primary victory, receiving more than 83 percent of the vote in nearly complete returns. Paul Wright, a former judge, was in second place at just 5 percent. There were four other GOP candidates.
Libertarian Barbara Howe also will run in the November gubernatorial election.
The fall election race will likely be overshadowed by the presidential race in North Carolina, which is expected to be a battleground state. Obama narrowly won the state's 15 electoral votes in 2008, ending a string of Republican presidential victories that dated back to Ronald Reagan.
McCrory, who narrowly lost to Perdue in the 2008 general election, had expected a rematch with Perdue this year in the GOP's attempt to retake the Executive Mansion in Raleigh for the first time in 20 years. He had an easy primary and will have an early fundraising advantage over Dalton, who had to spend most of his money to go on television in his primary.
Speaking to supporters at a Charlotte celebration early Tuesday night, McCrory warned voters against "accepting a leader who may be my opponent who's been part of the good ol' boy system - and yes good ol' girl system - of the past decade or two."
McCrory, 55, said in an interview his decisive primary victory "gives us very strong momentum going into the general election ... Now our goal is to expand that base to more independents and more Democrats."
Dalton, 62, is a former state senator from North Carolina's mountains who was elected lieutenant governor in 2008. He attempted at his victory party to link McCrory, who hasn't been in elected office since stepping aside as mayor of North Carolina's largest city in late 2009, with education policies of the GOP-led Legislature that he said has damaged the state.
"If he wants to separate himself from the Republican leaders, I have not seen it myself," Dalton said in an interview.
Etheridge, whose four-decade career in elected office ended abruptly in 2010 when he lost his eastern North Carolina congressional seat to Republican Renee Ellmers, pledged to work with Democrats to prevent McCrory from winning.
"I got in this race to stand for a brighter future for North Carolina," the 70-year-old Etheridge said.
Dalton's campaign outraised Etheridge by a roughly 4-to-1 advantage through late April, according to records filed with the State Board of Elections.