After being elected mayor of Charlotte a record seven times, Republican Pat McCrory lost the closest governor’s race in the nation in 2008 to Bev Perdue. Four years later, he moonwalked to an easy victory over Walter Dalton.
Now, after a first term peppered with controversy, McCrory faces the prospect of another tight race and Democrats are salivating at the chance to take back the governor’s mansion. It’s a very real chance if on Tuesday they nominate a candidate who can win. That candidate is Roy Cooper.
Cooper, who has been elected North Carolina’s attorney general four times, faces Durham lawyer Ken Spaulding in the primary. Both candidates are sharp, speak fluently on the issues and believe that McCrory and legislative Republicans have taken the state backward in recent years. Both have crisp intellects and progressive views. But only Cooper has the money, the experience, the name recognition and the familiarity with state government and its players to beat McCrory.
Cooper, 58, has been eyed as a potential gubernatorial candidate for decades. He spent 14 years in the legislature – chairing the House Judiciary and Ethics committees and serving as Senate majority leader – before serving nearly 16 years as attorney general. He was considered a workhorse in both roles, running important legislation such as the Smart Start early-childhood education program through the legislature and solidly filling the role as the state’s top prosecutor.
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Now on the campaign trail, he says the Republicans have taken the state “off the track” and hits most of the Democratic buttons: He wants to raise teacher pay, expand Medicaid, expand pre-K and create a state “that works for everyone, not just the select few.”
Spaulding, a land development lawyer, touts his experience working with business, including Republican businessmen, to get deals done. He alleges that Cooper uses political considerations to determine which Republican-passed laws to defend in court. Spaulding, 71, says teachers are concerned that Cooper defended the legislature’s use of public money for private school vouchers. In fact, Cooper has won the endorsement of NCAE, the state’s leading advocacy group for teachers.
Spaulding also argues that he’s a better choice than Cooper because “it’s time for North Carolina to have a black governor.”
It’s probably past time for that, but in this race Cooper is the stronger candidate and the better hope for Democrats in the fall.
Despite McCrory’s ups and (mostly) downs in his first term, Republicans should nominate him for reelection. He is clearly the most qualified choice in the primary.
McCrory faces a challenge from former state Rep. Robert Brawley of Mooresville and Randleman businessman Charles Moss.
Brawley hopes to ride anger over I-77 tolls to the nomination. But his lackluster performance as a legislator and distrust among other Republicans should give even toll critics pause. And Moss, a former member of the Randolph County Soil and Water Conservation board, has not run a credible campaign.