Will Etheridge run to the right of Dalton on marriage and taxes?

At a press conference Friday outside the state Democratic Party headquarters in Raleigh, former congressman Bob Etheridge dodged questions on same-sex marriage and tax increases:

Etheridge skirted two difficult issues on his first day as a gubernatorial candidate.

He declined to take a position on the constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages and civil unions that will appear on the ballot in May, saying it is an issue that he will have to deal with later.

“The nice thing is it is before the people and they will make the decision,” Etheridge said. “I always believe the people in the state make the right decision.”

Republican Rep. Renee Ellmers, who defeated Etheridge in 2010, has said she plans to vote against the amendment – even though she opposed gay marriages – because she thinks it is worded too broadly and would preclude civil unions.

Representing the conservative-leaning second district, Etheridge voted twice for a federal constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages in 2004 and 2006. But he also voted for a law in 2007 banning job discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation.

He also declined to endorse a proposal by Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue to raise the sales tax 3/4ths of a cent, although he admonished the Republican legislature for repealing a temporary sales tax increase last year.

“They shouldn’t have done away with it,” Etheridge said.

“They (the schools) are going to need resources,” Etheridge said. “That is going to be the thing that the legislature is going to have to deal with when it comes to town.”

Is Etheridge trying to differentiate himself from the other two contenders in the Democrats’ gubernatorial primary by fleeing to the right? Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton has publicly supported the sales-tax hike and his opposition to the marriage amendment. N.C. Rep. Bill Faison, D-Orange, has done the former (in fact, he claims it was his own idea). I can’t find any evidence that he’s commented on the marriage amendment so far, but he voted against it in the House.

So, could Etheridge be establishing himself as the more moderate alternative? My two cents is that the Democrats’ liberal base will eat Etheridge alive if he doesn’t take a firmer stance. The sales-tax increase will be the No. 1 fiscal issue of the Democrats’ primary and the marriage amendment will be the No. 1 social issue. It strikes me as surprising that he would be waffling on the orthodox Democrat-base belief on either.

As an aside, it would indeed be ironic if Etheridge ran to the right of Ellmers on the marriage amendment by not explicitly opposing it.

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