A few weeks after Gov. Pat McCrory made North Carolina the first state in the nation to limit transgender bathroom use, his Democratic opponent has his biggest lead yet in the tight race.
Here's the latest from Elon University, which polled registered voters April 10-April 15, right as North Carolina was making national news for the bill -- and the wave of backlash to it. The poll shows Attorney General Roy Cooper (D) with a six-point lead.
Even before North Carolina became synonymous with bathroom bills, McCrory's reelection campaign to a second term was setting up to be one of the most competitive in the nation. Up until this point, polling has shown the race neck and neck. A February Elon University poll showed Cooper with a two-point lead in a hypothetical matchup, but well within its margin of error.
The six-point lead, in fact, is the largest Cooper has registered in any poll since 2013, according to Real Clear Politics. Back then, a Democratic-leaning pollster showed the same six-point difference.
Read one way, the poll suggests what we've posited: That the bathroom controversy has the potential to backfire on McCrory and North Carolina Republicans. At a minimum, it's put a dent in the governor's image; he signed it under the belief it wouldn't cost the state jobs and then watched as PayPal pulled out of a deal there a few weeks later and Bruce Springsteen and Peal Jam cancelled concerts there.
Cooper's game plan all along had been to slam McCrory on his job-creation record. So the near-universal big-business backlash to this bill, known as House Bill 2, played right into the attorney general's hands. On the day this poll was released, his team sent out a press release that read: "$5,661,857: NC’s Lost Tourism Revenue Due to House Bill 2."
McCrory has tried to clarify that businesses can still make their own bathroom policy -- including in a much-maligned executive order that didn't change the actual bill but expanded workplace protections to LGBT state workers. So far, though, it looks like he's been shouting into the wind. The Elon poll also shows McCrory has a 37 percent job approval rating and 49 percent disapproval rating among registered voters, which is his lowest in the survey in two years.
But read another way, this is still a very tight race. Factor in the nearly four-point margin of error, and suddenly Cooper's lead doesn't look as strong. The Elon poll also shows that a little less than half of North Carolina residents -- 49 percent -- essentially agree with the bill's premise preventing cities from passing ordinances allowing transgender people to use the bathroom of the gender they associate with (39 percent thought cities should be allowed to pass those ordinances). Plus, 30 percent of registered voters said they didn't know or didn't have an opinion on Cooper, which gives the better-known McCrory an opportunity to help them get to know his opponent -- and not in a good way.
The main factor that keeps this race tight is this: McCrory didn't sign the bill on October 1, 2016. He still has seven months to fix his image. And, as one Republican watching the controversy closely pointed out, that's a lifetime in politics, especially since throwing out an incumbent governor is one of the hardest things to do -- bathroom bill or not.