Politics & Government

Big issue in NC legislative races: McCrory

A TV ad for N.C. House candidate Mary Belk targets incumbent Rob Bryan by linking to Gov. Pat McCrory.
A TV ad for N.C. House candidate Mary Belk targets incumbent Rob Bryan by linking to Gov. Pat McCrory. N.C. Democratic Party

Despite narrowly losing North Carolina in 2012, President Barack Obama easily carried the state’s two largest counties, winning by 100,000 votes in Mecklenburg and 56,000 in Wake.

But bucking that blue tide was Republican Pat McCrory, who won both counties on his way to becoming the state’s first Republican governor in two decades.

Now Democrats hope McCrory helps them win in both counties.

Democratic legislative campaigns are using the governor’s name and image in ads that seek to tie him to their Republican opponents.

That includes Democrat Mary Belk, who’s running against GOP Rep. Rob Bryan in a Charlotte district that includes McCrory’s Myers Park home. A TV ad features pictures of McCrory and her opponent.

“Politicians like my opponent Rob Bryan aren’t doing what’s right…” she says in the ad. “Instead they are pushing a divisive social agenda costing our state millions of dollars and thousands of jobs.”

Belk is among a dozen or so candidates Democrats hope will help them crack the Republicans’ supermajorities in the General Assembly.

It’s not uncommon for candidates to tie their opponents to unpopular incumbents. Two years ago, a Richmond County Republican aired a picture of his opponent’s face slowly morphing into a picture of Obama. The Democrat lost.

But Democrats this year are trying to demonize their opponents with somebody who not only won their counties and the governorship but was re-elected mayor of Charlotte seven times.

McCrory spokesman Ricky Diaz dismisses the attacks.

“It’s Politics 101 to do this kind of thing in down-ballot races whenever there’s a more well-known incumbent – regardless of the candidate or the party – so I don’t really read too much into it,” he said. “But what’s more revealing is that the Democrats aren’t putting their state legislative candidates on mailers with (Democratic presidential candidate) Hillary Clinton and Roy Cooper.”

The facts are clear, he and (Republican presidential candidate Donald) Trump are both doing worse in suburbs than in rural areas and small towns.

Carter Wrenn, Raleigh Republican strategist

Blaming HB2

McCrory is locked in a tight race with Cooper, the attorney general. A Monmouth University poll released Monday showed McCrory up by a point, while Real Clear Politics’ average shows Cooper with a half-point advantage.

But Casey Wilkinson, director of the Democratic House Caucus, said there’s a wider gap in the state’s largest counties.

“In Wake and Mecklenburg counties, Gov. McCrory is deeply unpopular,” Wilkinson said. “And a lot of that I would attribute to HB2.”

House Bill 2 is the law that overturned a Charlotte ordinance that extended anti-discrimination protections to the LGBTQ community and allowed transgender people to use the bathroom of their gender identity. HB2 bans local governments from passing measures like Charlotte’s and requires transgender individuals to use the restroom of the gender on their birth certificate in government buildings.

Cities like Charlotte and Raleigh have grown increasingly Democratic. Two Republican strategists said McCrory is not faring well in GOP-leaning suburbs either.

“The facts are clear, he and (Republican presidential candidate Donald) Trump are both doing worse in suburbs than in rural areas and small towns,” said Carter Wrenn of Raleigh. “It’s not one thing you can point to, it’s an accumulation of things (McCrory) has had to dig out from. And it’s pretty tough for him.”

For Democrats, a twofer

In Mecklenburg, Democrats and their allies have targeted Republican Reps. Bryan and John Bradford as well as Beth Danae Caulfield with ads invoking McCrory.

In Wake County they’re using the tactic against GOP Reps. Chris Malone and Gary Pendleton and Sens. Chad Barefoot and Tamara Barringer.

“When Chad Barefoot and Tamara Barringer helped Gov. McCrory pass HB2, businesses started looking for the exit,” a TV ad paid for by the state Democratic Party says. “Thousands of jobs, gone. Even the ACC tournament, gone.”

“Democrats have a problem motivating their base voters,” said Jonathan Felts, a North Carolina native who was President George W. Bush’s political director. “Since they’ve spent millions of dollars trying to demonize Pat McCrory for the past four years, it’s not surprising that they are continuing that effort now by using him in negative mail pieces.”

Republican Rep. Bill Brawley of Matthews said such ads are aimed not only at GOP legislative candidates but McCrory. “The ads are designed to damage the House candidates and McCrory with the same attack so they can get two hits for the price of one,” he said.

In any case, being associated with the governor doesn’t bother Pendleton.

“I think McCrory’s done an excellent job, but he’s running his own campaign and I’m running my own campaign,” Pendleton said. “I don’t mind being tied to Gov. McCrory at all.”

Jim Morrill: 704-358-5059, @jimmorrill