Updated at 1:06 p.m.
North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue (D) announced today that she will not seek reelection in 2012, setting the stage for a key open seat governor’s race this year.
In a statement released by her campaign, Perdue said she wanted to focus on education reforms rather than an all-comsuming reelection campaign.
“It is clear to me that my race for re-election will only further politicize the fight to adequately fund our schools,” she said. “A reelection campaign in this already-divisive environment will make it more difficult to find any bipartisan solutions.”
Perdue has struggled recently with reports about campaign finance violations, and some top aides to her 2008 campaign have been indicted . Perdue has not personally been implicated in any wrongdoing.
Names that are likely to be bandied about as possible Democratic replacements include Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton, Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx, former White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles, and former congressman Bob Etheridge.
Dalton appears to be the obvious choice, but Foxx’s profile is rising after an easy 2011 reelection win in a traditionally Republican city. And a former aide to Etheridge, who lost his 2010 reelection race, said he should be considered possibility.
Attorney General Roy Cooper immediately withdrew his name from consideration Thursday, saying he will run for reelection.
State Rep. Bill Faison was already threatening to challenge Perdue in a primary and is expected to run. He is already running TV ads.
Also, Rep. Brad Miller (D-N.C.) announced today that he won’t seek reelection, though it’s not clear whether he would have any interest.
McCrory, who is an all-but-official candidate, said after Perdue’s announcement that he will formally launch his own campaign next week.
Democrats argued that their odds in the race may improve now that Perdue is no longer running, provided that they get a capable candidate.
A poll conducted for Perdue’s campaign just before Christmas showed her trailing McCrory by six points, though her approval rating had risen to 45 percent. The Fix has consistently ranked North Carolina as the GOP’s best chance to win a Democratic-held governorship this cycle.
Republicans said Perdue’s exit shows that the state’s move toward Democrats in recent years hasn’t panned out.
“North Carolina’s lost ground to its neighbors, and now has the worst unemployment rate in the region,” said Mike Schrimpf, a spokesman for the Republican Governors Association. “It’s never been more clear that North Carolina needs a Republican governor who will bring fresh ideas and a new perspective to the governor’s office.”
Perdue was first elected in 2008, the same year President Obama carried North Carolina in one of his most surprising state wins.