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McCrory vs. Cooper race is on

For N.C. governor in 2016

Gov. Pat McCrory, Republican

Gov. Pat McCrory, Republican

N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper, Democratic candidate for governor

N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper, Democratic candidate for governor

We see a pattern.

Gov. Pat McCrory takes a position on a hot-button issue. Republicans challenge his Democratic challenger, Attorney General Roy Cooper, to state his position. Cooper parrots McCrory’s stand or else launches a counter-attack.

Is this how the 2016 campaign for governor is going to play out?

First it was refugees from Syria. McCrory said not a single one should be let into the state until assurances can be made that no terrorists are lurking among them. The governor’s surrogates then goaded Cooper into supporting McCrory’s position.

Next, the subject was transgender students and school bathrooms. McCrory announced his opposition to a legal bid by a Virginia teenager, who was born female, to use school bathrooms for boys. The Obama administration took student Gavin Grimm’s side, submitting a legal brief in federal court that accused Grimm’s school of sex discrimination. McCrory urged Cooper to submit a contrary legal brief on behalf of North Carolina, warning that a federal directive could force the state to comply. He gave Cooper a deadline with just four days’ notice.

This time, Cooper refused. His campaign spokesman tweeted that McCrory had “found another group to politicize.”

This is an emotional issue, and a complex one. There are people who are born into the wrong gender. Some have physical characteristics of both genders. Some identify with the opposite gender, and some may be very confused.

School officials can be confused, too. Where Grimm attends high school, in Gloucester County, Va., private, unisex bathrooms were created for Grimm, who still objected.

A federal district judge, however, ruled in September that the school made a reasonable accommodation. Judge Robert G. Doumar said privacy concerns and student safety were overriding considerations. Furthermore, federal Title IX requires “schools to provide sex-segregated restrooms, locker rooms, shower facilities, housing, athletic teams, and single-sex classes under certain circumstances.”

The case was appealed to the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. Whatever ruling it issues will bind federal courts in North Carolina. Yet, it likely can decide the case without political posturing from McCrory or Cooper. For now, North Carolina is still free to set its own policies.

It’s inevitable that politicians will feed on red meat during campaigns. Donald Trump might get elected president on that diet. In his case, he’s using outright demagoguery to appeal to the worst instincts in voters — those who want to hear tough talk about any subject and don’t care about complexities or bruising anyone’s feelings. Other candidates see Trump’s success and try similar tactics — although none can match his bulldozer-in-a-china-shop style.

McCrory isn’t suited to that approach. Unlike Trump, he couches his positions in softer words. He wants to welcome refugees, he says, but has to make sure North Carolina residents will be safe. He’s sensitive to the needs of transgender students but only wants to protect those around them, he claims.

Meanwhile, his surrogates are waiting to pounce if Cooper says the wrong thing.

But the campaign should be about roads, education, the economy, the environment and other critical issues. Instead, it’s starting to look like it will hinge on a series of gotcha moments.

— News & Record

Greensboro

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