Hot Races to Watch: North Carolina Governor

Dems bank on bathroom bill outrage to power southern insurgency

National Democrats are hoping to channel the energy of outraged social liberals towards efforts to topple GOP governors who have taken a stand against the transgender craze. With Democrats scrambling for an impressive candidate to take on Gov. Mike Pence in Indiana, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCory has drawn most of the liberal bloodlust.

Progressive Democratic politicians and elites in the media launched a massive assault on McCory after the incumbent Republican signed legislation to overturn a local Charlotte statute that allowed men to use women’s bathrooms if they identified as women.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy, the chair of the Democratic Party’s gubernatorial campaign committee, promptly banned nonessential state employee travel to North Carolina.

“When we see discrimination and injustice, we have to act,” Malloy said regarding HB2, as the bill is known, “This law is not just wrong, it poses a public safety risk to Connecticut residents traveling through North Carolina.”

The frenzied reaction from Malloy highlights the Democratic hunger to take down McCory, even if the conservative-leaning population of North Carolina may have trouble seeing how a ban on men in women’s bathrooms constitutes a danger to tourists from New England.

The New York Times ran an April 5 headline ,”Anti-Gay Laws Bring Backlash in Mississippi and North Carolina,” after online transaction giant PayPal announced it would cancel plans to build a new facility in the state — a move Lt. Gov. Dan Forest called “corporate blackmail.”

The flurry of headlines bashing McCory have Democrats feeling bullish on taking the gubernatorial fight into red-tinged North Carolina. But Democrats felt the same twinge of confidence in 2014 when State Senator Wendy Davis fired up national liberals with a pro-abortion rights filibuster in Texas. Despite the national Democratic enthusiasm behind Davis she ultimately lost in a 20-point landslide to Republican Attorney General Greg Abbot.

The only public poll conducted on the race since the bathroom bill issue surged into the limelight found the candidates locked within the margin of error, essentially unchanged since polls conducted earlier in the year.

Another recent poll, commissioned by Time Warner Cable, may indicate why the issue has not more mortally wounded McCory. The Time Warner survey found North Carolinians are closely divided on the bathroom measure, with a 51 percent majority saying they agree with the governor’s decision. The same groundswell of outrage found in national liberal circles, may not permeate so easily into crucial voting blocs in North Carolina.

McCory also has the advantage of a strong economic record at the helm in Raleigh. On the stump McCory cites what he calls the “Carolina Comeback,” pointing to 20,000 newly created manufacturing jobs in the state, a trimmed state bureaucracy, successfully passed tax relief, and the resolution of a massive $2.5 billion unemployment insurance debt owed to the federal government.

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The governor’s strong record on the budget and jobs is predictably being bypassed by Democrat challenger Roy Cooper, who has doubled down his attacks on the bathroom bill fallout.

In a move to garner major press coverage, Cooper announced he would refuse to defend the law in court through his official position as the state’s attorney general after the Obama administration brought a lawsuit against the measure.

The continual ease for Cooper to generate headlines from sympathetic media elites will keep Democrats enthusiastic in their effort to topple McCory.

Democrats have the added incentive of ramping up their operation and offensive in North Carolina in order to be well-positioned to capitalize should the state’s Senate race get any more competitive. Despite the durable popularity of Sen. Richard Burr, and the lackluster strength of their own candidate, Democrats would love to press the Senate field by making the GOP expend crucial resources in the Tar Heel State.

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The Senate connection, coupled with McCory’s perceived vulnerability, will bring plenty of partisan firepower to the already escalating gubernatorial battle in the state.

Democrats are facing a tough climb to hold onto the governor’s mansion in West Virginia. If they also fail to unseat McCory, Republicans can chalk up the 2015 loss of the Louisiana governor’s mansion to a fluke, and declare the Democrats dead in the South. That’s a declaration that could dampen Democrat hopes of recruiting strong, viable candidates in 2018 gubernatorial contests in the region.

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