North Carolina’s gubernatorial race broke wide open this week as Democrat Roy Cooper galloped to a 9-point lead ahead of his rival, current Republican Gov. Pat McCrory. A Monmouth poll released on Wednesday suggests the race continues to break the Democrat’s way, with Cooper solidifying the lead he has been steadily building for months. Several factors contribute to Cooper’s ascendance: Independents have a slight preference for him over McCrory, while Cooper boasts higher favorability ratings than the incumbent governor. (More voters view McCrory unfavorably than favorably.) And Hillary Clinton is polling ahead of Donald Trump in the state, likely pulling Cooper along with her.
The biggest drag on McCrory appears to be HB2, the anti-LGBTQ law the governor signed in March and has vigorously defended since. According to the Monmouth poll, 55 percent of voters disapprove of HB2, while only 36 approve of the measure. Seventy percent of voters believe the law has harmed North Carolina’s reputation nationally, while just 9 percent say it has improved the state’s image. Among those who approve of HB2, 41 percent say it has been bad for North Carolina’s reputation; only 21 percent say it has been good for the state’s image nationwide.
Cooper has run on an anti-HB2 platform, sharply criticizing McCrory for signing and supporting a law that revokes municipal LGBTQ nondiscrimination ordinances and prevents trans people from using certain bathrooms. (In his role as attorney general, Cooper refused to defend the law against court challenges.) This strategy seems to be quite wise, given the statewide unease over HB2 and its effect on North Carolina’s image and economy.
Despite his trouncing in the polls, McCrory has not learned any lessons about HB2’s toxicity. His latest approach is to depict himself as a martyr being crucified by political correctness. A recent McCrory ad implied that Cooper’s support of trans rights would make children vulnerable to sexual predators. McCrory, the ad declares, is “standing up for us under extreme pressure and doing what’s right.” In his heart, McCrory may sincerely believe that demoting LGBTQ people to second-class citizenship qualifies as “doing what’s right.” But the voters of North Carolina appear to disagree.