The 4,500 voters representing Roy Cooper’s lead over Gov. Pat McCrory in the race for North Carolina governor wouldn’t fill Five County Stadium in Zebulon.
Statewide, voters crisscrossed party lines, appearing to vote in Democrat Cooper while rejecting Hillary Clinton’s bid for president. For Clinton’s weaknesses as a candidate and Donald Trump’s resonance with North Carolina voters, McCrory’s loss appears to be of his own making and inextricable from the fallout and doubling down on House Bill 2. But that wasn’t the case in Johnston County, where voters found purpose in the state’s controversial bathroom law and affection for the apparent one-term governor. In Johnston, McCrory took 61.81 percent of the vote, on par with the 65 percent of the vote he collected in 2012 when first elected.
Had the General Assembly not met in a special session earlier this spring to pass HB2, a law drafted to reverse transgender protections passed by the Charlotte City Council, the governor’s race might have been different. It likely would have focused on education or the State Bureau of Investigation, and it did, but by and large, the conversation centered on who can use which restroom and the estimated millions of dollars in projects, events and jobs that have pulled out of the state because of HB2.
Much of that is noise to Clayton voter Barry Barefoot, who enthusiastically supported both Clinton and McCrory. He said he has friends and family members of varied sexual orientations and “loves them dearly,” but sees HB2 as correcting a potential vulnerability.
“McCrory gets a lot of flack from the HB2 debacle, but it wasn’t his choice; he didn’t write it,” Barefoot said. “Allegations of discrimination are overblown and the whole thing has made a mountain out of a molehill. ... If that law protects just one child from a sexual assault, it will have been well worth it.”
East Clayton voter Francis Poe said he saw leadership in McCrory’s handling of the flooding of Hurricane Matthew.
“I like the way he handled the hurricane,” Poe said, adding that he hopes to see HB2 survive. “We need to keep it. But we shouldn’t have to have a bill to keep men out of the woman’s restroom.”
Beyond bathroom restrictions, HB2 prohibits local governments from passing any form of non-discrimination legislation on their own. The bill introduces certain protections from discrimination but not for sexual orientation or gender identity. Clayton voter Jasmine Wyche, who identifies as a lesbian, said she supported Cooper and has concerns about HB2.
“It’s an issue of perception,” Wyche said about transgender bathroom access. “I’m a member of the (LGBT) community and all we want are equal rights like everyone else.”
In Smithfield, voters expressed regret that the governor’s race had been so bitter and negative.
“I’m not really crazy about it,” Brunty said of the governor’s race. “I hate all the mudslinging between them.”
“I’m adamant about that race,” said 22-year-old Josie Guin, who teaches preschool at Adventure Under the Sun in Four Oaks and came out to vote despite being sick. “I don’t think we’ve had a good governor, so I definitely voted for a new one. And House Bill 2 has just been terrible. It’s like we (North Carolina) had come so far and then we just took so many steps back.”
North Carolina has lost out on businesses locating to the state or expanding, Guin added.
“And he just won’t admit it,” she said of McCrory. “I don’t know if it’s pride, but he could have just said that he made a mistake. I thought better of him before this, and I really don’t anymore. It makes me regret voting for him.”
Bobbi Vandusen, 43, who works at Walmart. agreed with Guin in her concern about the governor's race.
“I don’t like all the name calling and mudslinging,” she said. “You can’t win people over by only showing them the bad. Sometimes you have to be the bigger person, and like I tell my daughter, just walk away. Let your record speak for yourself.”