By Rob Christensen and John Frank
The (Raleigh) News & Observer
Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue has long had a reputation for shoot-from-the-hip remarks that leave her audiences shaking their heads, part of her folksy, I'm-just-a -coal-miner's-daughter persona.
But none of her previous comments hit a political nerve like her startling suggestion this week that Congress suspend its elections next year to concentrate on fixing the economy.
In the connected digital age, her remarks - made in response to an audience question at the Cary Rotary Club and reported online by The News & Observer - leaped across the Internet and were soon the subject of a provocative headline on the Drudge Report, scathing commentary by Rush Limbaugh, and dark warnings in the blogosphere by the conspiratorial minded of the coming of a "Banana Republic."
On Wednesday, Perdue continued to try to walk back her comments, which her staff initially described on Tuesday as hyperbole.
"My point was one of sarcasm," Perdue told reporters in Thomasville. "We really just need to encourage our leaders who are elected to work together and solve America's problems."
She added: "It was taken out of context from my perspective. But honest to goodness, who would think something like that would be said seriously. It's ridiculous to have this kind of discussion about it."
But Republicans and other critics were not going to let her off the hook so easily.
"In light of Gov. Perdue's support for suspending Congressional elections, I want to state clearly, on the record, that I do NOT support suspending our next gubernatorial election," said Republican Senate leader Phil Berger.
"The next time they tell you how stupid Sarah Palin is or Michele Bachmann, just think back to this day and North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue," said Limbaugh, the conservative talk show host.
Former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, who is expected to challenge Perdue next year, said the governor should admit she made a mistake and apologize. But he now is using the remark to raise money for his forthcoming campaign.