Cooper campaign maintains confidence as lead grows in gubernatorial race
By Josh Bergeron
SALISBURY — As Democrat Roy Cooper’s lead grows slowly in the state’s gubernatorial race, his campaign exudes confidence about the final outcome.
In a press call at 1 p.m., Cooper’s campaign, which has sent observers to watch final vote counts, said the Democrat had a 9,133-vote lead — nearly out of recount territory. Less than three hours later, the official margin was up to 9,558. By late Monday night, the lead was 9,716 votes.
The bottom line, said Cooper campaign attorney Marc Elias, is that Cooper has won the gubernatorial race. As the lead grew slowly from the initial margin of about 5,000 votes, the campaign increasingly referred to the Democratic candidate as “Governor-elect Cooper.” With the expectation that Cooper has won, his campaign last week also named a transition team.
Elias says Cooper’s lead is likely to hover around its current level. He projected the margin would not exceed the 10,000-vote threshold for a recount.
“Right now, the fact is there is very little vote left to count,” he said in a Monday conference call with reporters.
If the margin between Cooper and Republican Gov. Pat McCrory remains below 10,000 votes, a recount can be requested — something McCrory has already announced his intention to do. However, Elias, who worked on Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign, said he’s unaware of any recount that has flipped the number of votes necessary for McCrory to win re-election.
“There is no path for Governor McCrory to win this election in a recount,” Elias said.
The McCrory campaign, expectedly, sees the state of the race differently. Since election day, McCrory’s campaign has challenged ballots across North Carolina. The governor’s campaign alleged that dead people and felons voted. In other cases, people voted in two states, the McCrory campaign alleged. Local boards of elections have tossed out many of the challenges because of a lack of evidence.
Conservative-leaning Civitas Institute last week also filed a federal lawsuit that aims to delay counting ballots from same-day registrants until addresses can be verified.
The latest McCrory campaign challenge focuses on Durham County, where machines experienced problems on election day. As a result, 90,000 ballots were reported just before midnight. McCrory’s campaign on Saturday alleged “malfeasance” and demanded a recount of the 90,000 ballots.
“The malfunctions and irregularities in Durham have been extremely troubling to this campaign and the people of North Carolina, and the State Board confirmed several errors,” said McCrory campaign chairman Russell Peck in a Saturday news release.
On Monday, the McCrory campaign directed inquiries from the Salisbury Post to a Raleigh-based law firm that did not respond to calls or emails.
Elias said he’s confident final results in the North Carolina gubernatorial race will be known before the end of 2016. He said the McCrory campaign is only delaying the outcome with its various challenges.
“The fact is that these protests, though having taken up a lot of time and energy and resources of the counties, are not materially moving the count at all,” he said.
On Monday night, the Cooper campaign’s confidence ratcheted up another notch when the State Board of Elections issued an order related to protests in 52 counties by the McCrory campaign.
“A protest that does not allege an election law violation regarding a sufficient number of votes to change the outcome of a single-county contest shall not delay the county canvass procedures,” the order stated.
Individual protests that don’t affect the outcome of a race must be considered after the election, according to the order.
“This is a devastating blow to the McCrory campaign and further evidence that there is no path to victory for Governor McCrory,” said Cooper campaign manager Trey Nix in a news release. “Roy Cooper’s lead has grown to over 9,000 votes as Republican claims of voter fraud have been routinely rejected by members of their own party. It’s time for Governor McCrory to respect the will of the voters.”
Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.