Gannon: In debate, McCrory focused on economy, Cooper on leadership

Published 12:04 am Saturday, July 2, 2016

RALEIGH – In the days following North Carolina’s first gubernatorial debate of 2016, polls show Gov. Pat McCrory and Attorney General Roy Cooper neck-and-neck in one of the most closely watched governor’s races in the country.

A Public Policy Polling survey released in late June showed the candidates deadlocked at 41 percent. The Republican McCrory’s approval rating stood at 43 percent, while 35 percent of registered voters have no opinion of Cooper, signaling a challenge for the Democrat to become a household name over the next few months.

The race is expected to remain close.

“There doesn’t seem to be much of anything that could blow this race open in one direction or another,” the pollsters opined in a news release.

The first debate didn’t do much, if anything, to change that. Both McCrory and Cooper remained professional throughout but traded jabs on various issues. From an outsider’s perspective, there was no clear winner, even though both sides claimed victory.

In roughly four months, North Carolina voters will have two viable candidates for governor to choose from, and that’s a good thing. Hopefully, they’ll debate at least a few more times.

During the first debate, the incumbent McCrory – seeking a second, four-year term – was at his best when he touted positive economic trends since he took office. Cooper was at his best when he raised questions about McCrory’s leadership on House Bill 2 and other issues.

McCrory, in his opening statement, said when he took office, North Carolina had the fifth highest unemployment rate in the country, and now boasts one of the country’s fastest-growing economies. The governor mentioned the fact that Republicans in charge of state government have lowered the corporate and personal income tax rates to be more competitive with other Southeast states in job recruitment. And he touted the 200,000-plus new jobs since he took office.

“The cranes are back right here, and many jobs are returning to even the small towns throughout North Carolina. …This is the Carolina Comeback,” McCrory said, mentioning a campaign mantra.

Cooper responded there’s been a “national economic recovery” but that everyday North Carolinians are working harder, while wages are stagnant. He also brought up McCrory’s support for HB2, which has led musicians, corporations, film producers and others to boycott North Carolina. “The governor continues to hurt our economy with his doubling and tripling down on House Bill 2,” Cooper said.

Cooper said the state needs a leader who will take responsibility and try to find solutions when things go awry.

He pointed out that McCrory has blamed the Charlotte City Council, the media, President Barack Obama and the musicians and performers who have canceled shows in the wake of HB2, which McCrory signed and continues to defend. Cooper wants to repeal HB2.

“The governor’s idea of leadership is to take credit for every success, and then to point a figure of blame for every failure,” Cooper said.

McCrory, in turn, mentioned backlog problems at the state crime lab under Cooper’s watch, and what he called the “good old boy system” of roadbuilding under previous Democratic governors. “They built roads in North Carolina not based upon where the need was, but based upon where the powerful politicians happened to live,” McCrory said.

Since McCrory took office, Republicans have changed the formula for choosing which road projects get funded, saying it focuses on congestion, safety and economic development, rather than politics.

The governor’s race is off to a good start. The country is watching. This might be the most important vote on your ballot this fall.

Patrick Gannon is editor of The Insider State Government News Service.