Despite eight years of exile from the White House, Republicans have done quite well down the ballot — garnering political control of the Senate, House and many governor’s mansions and state legislatures.
Now, one of their marquee victories from 2012 will be put to the test in the Tar Heel State. Incumbent Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, who cruised to an 11-point victory four years ago, now faces a much tougher test in Roy Cooper, the longtime state attorney general. The forecast for McCrory has become increasing pessimistic since June.
The controversies during McCrory’s tenure are many. Early on, a spate of conservative legislation sparked the “Moral Monday” protests by some religious leaders. Most recently, HB2 (a.k.a. the “bathroom bill”) made headlines for requiring that in government buildings people use the bathroom corresponding to the sex on their birth certificate.
Since that bill’s passage, three different sports organizations have pulled major events from North Carolina — including the 2017 NBA All-Star Game, NCAA championship events and, last week, ACC tournament events. By one estimate, the state has already lost $400 million in revenue.
Now, McCrory is neck-and-neck with Cooper in the polls. And McCrory’s reelection prospects are much worse than they were.
Early on, forecasters thought the race was a toss-up. But over time, McCrory’s chances have dropped to 30 percent. Even though McCrory trails Cooper by about 1 point in the poll averages, forecasters are not optimistic about his chances on Election Day.
Of course, that 30 percent figures hardly makes Cooper a shoo-in, but it illustrates the challenges McCrory is facing in a purple state that has a long tradition of moderate Democratic governors (Terry Sanford, Jim Hunt, etc.).
A GOP loss here would likely bring about the slow grind of divided government, since there is little chance that Republicans will lose their state legislative majorities.
The bigger question is how it would be interpreted by politicians and political observers, and whether that interpretation would lead the state GOP to shift away from culture war battles.