Republican Pat McCrory sailed into the governor’s mansion in 2012 as a highly popular figure, beating his Democratic opponent by 11 points after winning 10 local elections in Charlotte over some 20 years. In just one term, he burned through all that goodwill and now appears on the verge of being a one-term governor.
At 1 a.m. Wednesday, he trailed Democrat Roy Cooper by about 3,700 votes, or about 0.08 percent, with two precincts still out. He should and almost certainly will request a recount.
If the current results stand, it is a stark repudiation of McCrory and his administration. As the incumbent, running in a state with a strong economy and that gave Republican Donald Trump a fairly easy victory, McCrory could have been expected to win by eight points or more. Instead, voters dumped him even as they voted for other Republicans above and below him on the ballot.
McCrory can blame only himself, and a rogue legislature against which he never figured out how to position himself. His administration made one misstep after another starting early in his term and culminating with his signing of House Bill 2. Then he steadfastly defended the discriminatory and unpopular legislation.
Those who know him best – the voters of Mecklenburg County – delivered his most damning repudiation. In 2012, they supported him over Democrat Walter Dalton by 3,000 votes. On Tuesday, they backed Cooper by more than 125,000 votes.
Those voters saw McCrory’s transformation from a moderate, business-friendly Republican mayor who worked closely with Democrats to a meandering, often-ideological governor who was in way over his head.
They knew that as mayor, he effectively led a City Council by working with them when he could, fighting them when he had to. Then they watched him as governor unsuccessfully navigating the legislature, vacillating between being its lapdog and being bullied or ignored.
In Charlotte, with an able city manager running day-to-day operations and business titans calling most of the shots, McCrory as mayor merely had to keep a steady hand on the tiller, and he did. In Raleigh, though, he surrounded himself mostly with advisers who knew as little about state government as he did, and the mistakes piled up.
The other voters that watched him most closely – those in Raleigh and Wake County – similarly fell out of love. In 2012, that Democratic county gave McCrory a narrow victory. On Tuesday, McCrory lost there by more than 110,000 votes.
In the final four weeks of the campaign, McCrory tried to change the narrative. He acted downright gubernatorial, calling in the National Guard to quell Charlotte unrest, making one job announcement after another and leading through the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew.
It was almost enough to save his political career but, it appears, not quite. The stench of HB2, a voter ID bill that judges said targeted African Americans with “surgical precision,” his tripping over ethics forms, his handling of his former employer’s coal ash spill, his former health department leader’s amateurism – all this and more gave voters the impression that McCrory was out of his league. They were right.