Gov. Pat McCrory finally conceded the election on Monday, Dec. 5, congratulating North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper on being elected the 75th governor of North Carolina.
But the big question that remains is how did a Republican governor running for reelection manage to lose in a state that Donald Trump easily won, and where Republican Sen. Richard Burr was reelected despite starting his campaign in October. Where Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest was reelected by a much larger margin than he won by four years ago. And where 10 Republicans were elected to the US Congress and veto-proof Republican majorities were elected to both the state Senate and the state House. This year the Republicans even won some little known council of state offices like state treasurer, commissioner of insurance and superintendent of public instruction that Republicans had never won.
So how did McCrory lose?
According to Guilford County Sheriff BJ Barnes, who knows a few things about politics, the Democrats targeted three races in North Carolina – governor, attorney general and Supreme Court justice – and they won all three.
Barnes said that McCrory got the blame for the bathroom bill, House Bill 2 (HB2), whether he deserved it or not, and that he also got hurt by the Duke Energy coal ash spill because McCrory was a long-time Duke Energy employee.
Trump originally said he was against the bathroom bill. He later modified that position, but that didn’t get as much press as when he made a statement against it. Burr said HB2 went too far.
Some political pundits have noted that the I-77 toll road really hurt McCrory in a part of the state he should have easily carried.
Several political insiders suggested to me before Nov. 8 that the vote totals would be lower for president than down ticket races because people didn’t like Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump and wouldn’t vote for either. It turned out the opposite was true for McCrory, who received almost 64,000 fewer votes than Trump. Cooper, however, received about 120,000 more than Hillary Clinton.
Some have said that McCrory should have spent more time explaining what HB2 was and why it was passed.
What seemed to upset people the most was not who went to which bathroom but the fact that businesses and events were not coming to North Carolina because of HB2. The majority of people who talked to me about it didn’t really care what the bill did or didn’t do, but they didn’t want the ACC tournaments to go away.
That was an issue where Cooper outmaneuvered McCrory at every turn. At one of the debates McCrory accused Cooper of instigating the Charlotte ordinance that got the whole controversy started, and Cooper didn’t deny it.
According to state legislators, twice the legislature and the Charlotte City Council had deals where both were going to repeal their bills. In both instances, Cooper stepped in and killed the deal.
Politics is not fair, and in this case the whole HB2 thing was not an issue McCrory wanted, and not one that he could do much about. McCrory knew that if vetoed HB2, the legislature would override his veto, and if he vetoed the bill the religious right would likely desert him. Plus it would make him look weak since the bill would become law anyway. So for a Republican governor there really didn’t seem to be much he could do other than sign the bill.
And it wasn’t the bill that mattered that much but rather what happened after HB2 passed, when several companies announced they weren’t moving here. The ACC and the NCAA canceling events was probably the biggest blow, and McCrory got the blame for that.
It was a brilliant political move by Cooper and it worked. It gave Cooper the issue he needed, although just barely.
McCrory found himself in a difficult governing position from day one because McCrory is a moderate, and was a moderate mayor of Charlotte, but he was faced with a legislature that was far more conservative.
McCrory and the state legislature didn’t get along, but since North Carolina has a constitutionally weak governor, it didn’t make much difference. The legislature did pretty much what it wanted, daring McCrory to veto bills, and McCrory spent his time running around the state working on economic development, which was probably the best thing he could do.
Then there was the whole Duke Energy coal ash spill. The mainstream media made a huge deal out of coal ash. The coal ash should have been kept out of the Dan River, there is no doubt about that. But it hardly seems like it was McCrory’s fault that a coal ash pond sprung a leak. And since in some states farmers are allowed to spread a certain amount of coal ash on their crops, it can’t be as dangerous as the mainstream media would have you believe.
Because McCrory was a long-time Duke Energy employee there was nothing he could do that would have satisfied the environmentalists. It was simply another losing issue for him.
McCrory lost some moderate supporters because they thought as governor he was too conservative. He lost some conservative voters because they thought he was too moderate. It would be hard to prove that he had any environmentalists’ votes to lose, but he may have caused some who wouldn’t have voted at all to go to the polls to vote against him.
Then there was money. As Barnes noted, the Democrats really targeted the governor’s race and Cooper spent about $21 million to $14 million for McCrory. Republicans usually have to outspend Democrats to win close races because the Democrats get so much free press from the mainstream media.
The mainstream media routinely misreported the facts on HB2. It does not single out transgender people for special treatment, as the media has reported. In fact, HB2 treats transgender people similarly to the way the NCAA deals with transgender student athletes. The only difference is that the NCAA starts treating transgender students in accordance with their chosen gender after a year of hormone therapy. In HB2, a person has to have their birth certificate changed in order to be treated in accordance with their chosen gender. What the NCAA doesn’t do is treat someone in accordance with the gender they have chosen simply because they have chosen it, which is what the activists are demanding.
Even after McCrory was behind by about 5,000 votes on election night, there was a clear path to victory for McCrory. All he needed to do was contest the election, and in the case of a contested election the state legislature gets to make the decision. The Democrats did it in 2004, when the courts had essentially ruled that Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson had lost. The legislature stepped in, changed the criteria for a valid vote and declared that Atkinson won.
In an election where nearly 5 million votes were cast, it is certainly possible to raise questions about 5,000 votes. I’ve sat for hour after hour when a Democratically controlled Board of Elections found every way possible to count Democratic votes and throw out Republican votes that appeared to be just as valid.
I haven’t been able to find out if McCrory chose not to go that route or if the legislative leaders told him not to bother.
It would have tied the governor’s race up in the courts for months, if not years, and McCrory may have decided that it wasn’t worth the damage to the state.
Or it could be that the leaders in the legislature decided they wanted to do something other than argue about who should be governor in the next session.
Although McCrory appointed a Republican majority to every county board of elections in the state and to the State Board of Elections, it didn’t appear he had a lot of support at the county or the state level from those boards.
Whatever the reason, McCrory chose to concede rather than contest the election, so for at least the next two years, and most likely the next four, North Carolina will have a Democrat for governor and Republicans running the state House and state Senate.
The next big political battle likely to erupt is whether or not the Republicans will create two new state Supreme Court seats and keep control of the state Supreme Court. The downside is bad publicity and the upside is control of the judicial branch of government. It doesn’t appear to be a difficult decision, but we shall see.
One thing in the reporting by the mainstream media about McCrory that is true but unfair is that he is the first North Carolina governor ever to run for reelection and be defeated. It is true, but the rest of the story is that only three other men in the history of the state have run for reelection as governor. Jim Hunt ran for reelection twice and won both times. Jim Martin ran and won, and Mike Easley ran and won. Bev Perdue could have run for reelection but chose not to. Before 1980, the governor of North Carolina couldn’t run for reelection.
McCrory is the first, but if he had won he would have only been the fourth man to be reelected governor.