Atlantic: How the Pandemic Silenced the Nation’s Biggest Governor’s Race

RALEIGH – Honestly, a global pandemic that upended normal life and extinguished livelihoods for North Carolinians is the best thing that could have happened for Governor Roy Cooper’s reelection chances. Instead of feeling the heat of corruption investigations or having to defend the AOC/Bernie Sanders agenda, Cooper is taking a microphone as crisis response leader several days a week in a manner that obscures partisanship and elicits the confidence that comes from ‘doing something.’

But North Carolina is a swing state of massive importance in 2020; the Republicans will host the 2020 RNC here (well…); and, our Republican lieutenant governor has spent years gaining the confidence of grassroots Republicans across the state after Cooper barely one in 2016. All eyes were on this governor’s race pre-COVID; Atlantic wonders if it will return to the national spotlight.

From the Atlantic:

“The conservative vying to be North Carolina’s next governor has found an unlikely kindred spirit while stuck in a campaign on pause.

“It’s probably the first time Joe Biden and I have had anything in common,” Dan Forest says with a laugh. Forest is North Carolina’s lieutenant governor and the GOP’s nominee against Democratic Governor Roy Cooper this fall. Four years after Cooper won by a razor-thin margin, his bid for a second term is the marquee governor’s race in the nation this year—the only one, aside from New Hampshire, occurring in a major presidential swing state. Like the Democratic former vice president, Forest is struggling to reach voters from the confines of his home. He’s facing an incumbent with a bigger job, a deeper war chest, and a crisis that puts him in front of locked-down constituents nearly every day.

But Forest’s challenge in North Carolina is far greater than Biden’s across America. Although President Donald Trump’s bounce in the polls has already faded, Cooper is enjoying strong public approval for his handling of the coronavirus outbreak. As many as seven in 10 North Carolina voters approve of Cooper’s performance, and they seem to back both his decision to shut down North Carolina’s economy in mid-March and the slower, more cautious approach to reopening that Cooper has taken compared with Republican governors in the surrounding states of South Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee. Forest has aligned himself with those GOP leaders and pushed Cooper to lift restrictions faster. “I think everything should be open,” he told me when we spoke by phone last week.

Yet Forest appears to be in the minority on reopening, and with recent polls giving Cooper a double-digit lead, a race once expected to be close is looking—for the moment—more like a romp.

“As it stands today, I think everyone would say Cooper is comfortably in the lead,” Pope McCorkle, a longtime Democratic consultant who now runs Duke University’s Polis: Center for Politics, told me.

Cooper, 62, served as North Carolina’s attorney general for 16 years before narrowly defeating GOP Governor Pat McCrory in 2016. He won by just 10,000 votes; Trump carried the state by 3.7 percent the same year. Cooper had benefited from the blowback against a bill that McCrory signed—and Forest pushed—to prevent cities in North Carolina from banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. After rushing to strip Cooper of executive powers before he took office, the state’s Republican-dominated legislature largely blocked his agenda during his first years in office, regularly overriding Cooper’s vetoes until Democrats broke the GOP’s supermajority in 2018. Deprived of signature accomplishments such as an expansion of Medicaid or big raises for teachers, Cooper had been planning instead to run, in part, as a check on the Republican legislature. The governor “reined in the crazy, and reined in the extremists,” a person close to Cooper told me, summing up the pitch.

The pandemic, however, has given him an opportunity to govern with a freer hand, allowing voters to see him as an executive leading the state and not merely a combatant in battles with the legislature. “The whole election is going to be a referendum on Cooper’s handling of coronavirus,” Carter Wrenn, a veteran GOP political consultant in North Carolina, told me. “He’s got a big advantage in that he’s got a microphone. Forest has nothing compared to that.” [CONTINUE READING]

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