GREENSBORO, NC (WBTV) - Something unexpected happened on the way to North Carolina's vote this May on banning same-sex marriage.
The constitutional amendment, if approved, would make North Carolina the last state in the Southeast to ban gay marriage.
Already the state defines marriage as between a man and a woman.
Supporters say it would help the state against legal challenges from same-sex couples who've been able to get married in other states.
Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue unexpectedly announced last Thursday that she won't seek re-election. That means more Democrats could turn out to the polls for the May 8 primary to pick a new candidate for governor.
Before that, mostly Republicans were expected to show up to pick their candidates for governor and president. They were expected to approve the ban.
"When the Republicans decided to use the primary election instead of the general election..they were probably thinking boy this is going to be a nice, quiet sleepy little election..not many folks are going to be showing up..this is going to be the time for us to try and get this passed," Michael Bitzer, a professor of politics at Catawba College said.
Now supporters of gay rights hope that an influx of Democratic voters could defeat the ban.
Opponents of gay marriage say they have the victory sewn up anyway and it won't make much of a difference.
"It's really up in the air as to how this ballot issue could go," Bitzer said.
Perdue calls her decision not to seek re-election this year the "most selfless decision that I've ever made."
Perdue made her first public comments Saturday night about her announcement two days earlier not to seek a second term. She spoke in Greensboro, where she is to give a speech to several hundred Democrats at a fundraising dinner later in the evening.
To a crowd of her colleagues, the governor said "I'm not on my way out," vowing to continue to fight for the Tarheel state, mentioning most her fight for education.
She says she's had to make horrific decisions to help the state move forward, saying she never thought she would use a veto stamp like she has and calls the next 10 months the most important time in history for democrats.
The state's first woman governor calls her decision not seek reelection a personal, family decision.
It's a far cry from what we heard just two months ago from her campaign spokesperson who said, "Governor Perdue is running for reelection. I can say that unequivocally."
And now just days after she made a different decision, we've seen others clambering for the job.
Campaign signs for Lt. Governor Walter Dalton were seen at Saturday's dinner. The same day Rep. Bill Faison announced his bid.
"So I've heard the requests to step up and assume the position of leadership in the state..of stepping out on the issues that matter and not just listening and just not working through the solutions to the problem but then implementing those solutions," Faison told reporters before Saturday's dinner.
"They want to think about gosh who's going to be our nominee and there are going to be sides in all of this..so that just creates a different kind of excitement," Exec. Dir., NC Democratic Party Jay Parmley said.
"I think there is really an energy and enthusiasm and a sadness as well because I think Gov. Perdue did a very good job," Rep. Rick Glazier (D) Cumberland County, NC said.
Perdue told reporters she cares more deeply about children and education than any election and didn't want her recent proposal to raise sales taxes to become a wedge in a re-election campaign.
Perdue likely faced a tough rematch with former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, a Republican.
Copyright 2012 WBTV. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved.
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