RALEIGH – We are still a few months away from 2018 elections, but the opening bell may have just been rung for the 2020 race for governor of North Carolina, and the first to the center of the ring is conservative Lt. Gov. Dan Forest.
“The I-77 toll road contract was a colossal mistake started by the Perdue Administration, signed by the McCrory Administration, punted by the Cooper Administration and would be fixed by a Forest Administration.”
— Lt. Governor Dan Forest #ncpol
— Dan Forest (@DanForestNC) August 16, 2018
Forest 2020 has been perhaps the biggest open secret in North Carolina politics for quite some time, but the two-term lieutenant governor has held back from making it official nevertheless. This tweet seems to depart from that reserved approach.
And just in time, too. The hypothetical field of primary candidates is starting to coalesce and there are a couple of familiar faces that could enter the fray to challenge Forest.
One is former Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, who Forest served his first term with. McCrory has been rumored to be mulling a rematch with Roy Cooper after his very narrow defeat in 2016.
He got a lot of press earlier this week when he joined four other former governors to blast two constitutional amendments that would direct more authority for appointing boards, commissions, and judicial vacancies away from the governor and to the legislature.
That got him some praise by the Left-leaning media that loves to hate the Republican legislature, and it also cast him a very ‘purple’ light. Some politicos think North Carolina is a purple state and requires a purple candidate to win.
But McCrory has some clear sore spots, and the I-77 toll road debacle is definitely one of them. Despite all the focus on H.B. 2 during the 2016 contest, the election data revealed the toll road issue to be a critical vote loser for McCrory in that race.
Speaking of purple candidates, U.S. Senator Thom Tillis (RINO-NC) is another contender that many think has an interest in making a run at Cooper in 2020. Tillis consistently shuns the “far left and the far right” on many pivotal issues, and has said explicitly that the Old North State is a purple one, and that Republicans should not make the mistake of thinking it is red (and therefore should not expect Republicans to actually be conservative).
Tillis has stated he has not decided whether he will run for reelection to the senate, or seek out other opportunities, but he has a habit of looking for cameras and presenting himself as a ‘sensible Republican’ that loves to cross the aisle (and promote the Democrats’ agenda).
Despite their big names and funding networks, if those are the two alternative contenders for the Republican challenge to Cooper in 2020, then Dan Forest should be in a good position.
For one, even if McCrory was much preferable to Cooper from the Republican standpoint, his appeal is limited because of select issues that caused pockets of Republican primary voters across the state to sour on the former mayor of Charlotte. Addditionally voters may not be ready to enthusiastically support him so soon after an election loss that was contrasted with Republican wins up and down the ballot.
Tillis, too, is unpopular. He may not like being a small fish in a big pond up in D.C., but to conservative Republican primary voters he seems right at home in the Swamp. His approval numbers rank near the bottom for senators, and up to a third of voters don’t even know who he is after years as Speaker of the N.C. House and a trip to D.C. He has won a statewide race, but his victory over a very unpopular Democrat in Kay Hagan was way closer than it needed to be.
Assuming no other conservatives file, that would leave Forest to come at the race from the Right. He’s conservative and principled, but also endearing and non-abrasive. And he has utilized his post as lieutenant governor, a role that is essentially a ceremonial one in our state, into a platform to spearhead education initiatives and get in touch with the people from Murphy to Manteo.
He has also taken his role as president of the N.C. Senate seriously, helping to champion conservative reforms, led the way on free speech issues, and presented himself as someone that could work effectively with the legislature.
There is no telling when others may make their intentions clear when it comes to 2020, but, make no mistake, the 2020 race for governor is officially on.