Tolls – and HB2 – became roadblocks for Pat McCrory

McCrory: 'We're going to check everything'

Governor Pat McCrory tells supporters that they will go through the process of checking everything, including provisional ballots, after his challenger Roy Cooper edged ahead by a slim margin late on election night.
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Governor Pat McCrory tells supporters that they will go through the process of checking everything, including provisional ballots, after his challenger Roy Cooper edged ahead by a slim margin late on election night.

Republican Laura Graeber voted for Pat McCrory in 2012 and supported him when he was elected mayor of Charlotte a record seven times.

But not on Tuesday.

For her, House Bill 2, the law involving LGBT rights,was “a big deal-breaker.”

“I just think that he’s over his head,” said Graeber, 35. “I just don’t think he thought that all the way through the repercussions.”

HB2 and voters like Graeber likely were one reason McCrory finished about 5,000 votes behind Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper out of nearly 4.6 million cast.

He also ran into a roadblock on the Interstate 77 toll project.

The governor’s race is stretching into overtime. County elections officials plan to count remaining absentee and provisional ballots by Nov. 18. The state board will certify results Nov. 29. A recount also is possible.

But if Tuesday’s results stand, McCrory would be one of few statewide Republicans who lost in a night where presidential candidate Donald Trump swept to victory in North Carolina and across the country.

Though McCrory carried suburban and rural areas, he lost big in Mecklenburg, Wake and other urban counties. That was an abrupt reversal for a candidate who in 2012 withstood the tidal wave of urban support for Democrat Barack Obama.

While Obama carried Mecklenburg by 100,000 votes, for example, McCrory won his home county by 3,000. And though Obama took Wake County by nearly 56,000 votes, McCrory survived by several hundred.

On Tuesday, however, McCrory lost Mecklenburg by 135,000 votes, and Wake by 114,000. He also lost Forsyth and New Hanover counties, which he’d won in 2012.

Democrats say a big reason was HB2.

HB2 impact

Passed in March, the law overturned a Charlotte ordinance that would have extended anti-discrimination protections to the LGBT community and allowed transgender people to use the bathroom of the gender with which they identify.

The law bars communities from passing LGBT protections and requires transgender people to use the restroom of the gender on their birth certificate in government-run buildings.

The NCAA and the Atlantic Coast Conference pulled championship games from the state in protest. Concerts were canceled and business expansions scrapped, including one that would have brought 400 jobs to Charlotte.

According to an exit poll Tuesday, 66 percent of North Carolina voters said they oppose the law.

Asked for reasons for Cooper’s apparent win, his consultant Morgan Jackson said, “There’s a ton of stuff (but) nothing bigger than HB2.”

Chris Sinclair, a Republican consultant, said the effects of HB2 in Wake County races were overblown. The reason Cooper won Wake is because McCrory was outspent, Sinclair said.

“Being outspent is a huge factor in that race,” he said. “This is the race that the Democrats pinned their hopes on.”

Through late October, Cooper had spent $21 million to about $14 million for McCrory.

In Mecklenburg, Cooper flipped more than 50 precincts from Republican in 2012 to Democrat on Tuesday. He won dozens of north Mecklenburg and south Charlotte precincts that voted for Pat McCrory four years ago.

I-77 fallout

One reason: the I-77 toll project.

This fall a business group in the heavily Republican Lake Norman area endorsed Cooper, saying McCrory had failed to cancel the controversial project when he had a chance.

While McCrory won all 15 north Mecklenburg precincts in 2012, on Tuesday he lost five of them. His votes in the 15 precincts were about 8,000 fewer than four years before while Cooper took about 14,000 more than Democrat Walter Dalton got in 2012. That’s a swing of 22,000 votes.

“I wasn’t at all surprised,” said Republican Mecklenburg Commissioner Jim Puckett, who represents the area. “I said this is an issue that is going to trump every other issue in this election. Compared to tolls, HB2 is a non-issue in north Mecklenburg.

Anti-toll leader John Hettwer, a former chairman of the Lake Norman Chamber, said he voted nearly straight Republican – except for McCrory.

“How can you vote for a person who ignored the people and damaged the quality of life for those individuals?” he said Wednesday.

For Cooper, it all added up. “At the end of the day … HB2 was a huge factor, tolls were a huge factor,” said Jackson, Cooper’s consultant.

Republican Sinclair cautioned that with thousands of votes left to count and certify, the race isn’t over. That’s before any recount. In other large recounts, results have rarely changed.

“It’s far from over,” he said. “There are a host of lawyers from all over the country on the ground here, who have come in to support McCrory.

“It’s the North Carolina version of Bush v. Gore without the hanging chads.”

Staff writer Gavin Off and Lynn Bonner of the (Raleigh) News & Observer contributed.

Jim Morrill: 704-358-5059, @jimmorrill