While the majority of the Republican Party is in Tampa, Fla., officially crowning Mitt Romney as its presidential candidate this week, the GOP candidate for lieutenant governor, Dan Forest, was in Kinston Wednesday shaking hands and introducing himself to Lenoir County voters.
“The people in Tampa aren’t voting in North Carolina in November,” Forest said. “That’s why I’m here today.”
Forest, a political neophyte who emerged from a five-way Republican primary to convincingly win a run-off against Tony Gurley, said he’s excited about his first campaign.
“I really felt called to step into public service,” Forest said in a meeting with the editorial board of The Free Press on Wednesday. “I felt the country and the state were moving in a direction I didn’t want to see it move. I think, that at some level, we need people to step out of the business world and into politics to help solve some of the big challenges we have.”
Forest was the office president and a senior partner in North Carolina’s largest architectural firm, Little Diversified Architectural Consulting of Charlotte. He graduated with two undergraduate degrees from UNC Charlotte and also graduated from the UNC Charlotte College of Architecture.
“My architecture background is a good place to start; by nature, we’re trained to be visionaries, planners and problem-solvers,” Forest said. “We do that every single day with large constituencies and we work to solve complex problems.”
He recently left the business world, met with some trusted friends and advisors and decided to enter the North Carolina political realm with a run for lieutenant governor.
“The time was right and the tide was moving in the right direction for the Republican Party,” Forest said of his decision to run for the state’s second-highest office. “There’s only been one Republican lieutenant governor in modern history … things have moved into place for us to win this year.
“We feel like we have momentum on our side right now.”
Forest trailed throughout much of the initial primary in the polls before winning it and then defeated Gurley in 96 of 100 counties in the runoff. He credited his campaign’s grassroots effort and his experienced campaign manager, Hal Weatherman, for the victories.
“We said we were going to outwork everyone in the field and that’s what we did,” Forest said. “We had the strategy of getting to every county in the state and traveled 140,000 miles before the first primary. We met tens of thousands of people and got our message out in a unique way.”
Forest and Weatherman are on what the candidate called a statewide “listening tour,” the third such tour they’ve accomplished in the past 18 months. The main issues he said he’s presented with are statewide fiscal irresponsibility, the tax challenge and jobs.
Forest and his Democratic counterpart, former state representative and current state personnel director Linda Coleman, are virtually tied in statewide polls, with a huge chunk of undecided voters.
He said the statewide tour is one way he’s trying to establish name recognition.
“It’s going to take hard work and meeting a lot of people,” Forest said. “Word spreads when you go to different communities in the state.”
He is the son of U.S. Rep. Sue Myrick, a venerable Republican legislator from Charlotte who is wrapping up her ninth and final term in Washington, D.C. Forest said he was surprised Myrick didn’t tell him not to enter the political realm.
“She didn’t discourage me (from politics), which is something I thought she might do,” Forest said with a laugh. “She was encouraging even though she knows that I know the lifestyle. There’s nothing glamorous about politics; some people get into it thinking it’s something different, but I don’t have the illusion.”