North Carolina Democrats and operatives are aggressively pushing the narrative that Gov. Pat McCrory is in trouble in his hopes for a second term in 2016.
And they have ammunition – namely that Attorney General Roy Cooper, the favorite to win the Democratic nomination to challenge McCrory, raised more money in the first half of the year and that Cooper is faring well in some early polls.
But the first-term governor is positioned to steer that narrative in his direction with wins for his agenda in the final weeks of the 2015 legislative session. But in no small measure, that depends on whether the General Assembly supports McCrory-backed proposals to put a bond referendum on the ballot for state infrastructure and transportation projects next year and to enact a new incentives program to encourage the redevelopment of historic buildings across the state.
When campaign-finance reports came out recently, they showed McCrory trailed Cooper both in money raised in the first half of the year and the amount of money on hand for his campaign. McCrory’s campaign collected $1.3 million in the first six months, while Cooper brought in nearly $2.2 million. That left Cooper with more than $3 million in the bank, to $2.4 million for McCrory. Many political observers say it’s unusual for a challenger to outraise the incumbent in such a high-profile race.
Democrats also point to a recent Public Policy Polling survey that gave Cooper a slight edge – although within the margin of error – against McCrory. Republicans deemed the left-leaning PPP poll “Democrat propaganda.”
But the McCrory camp might have reason for optimism as senators and House members prepare for one last flurry of lawmaking before heading back to their districts for the year – probably in mid- to late September. Senators had given a cool reception to McCrory’s bond referendum proposal, but key members of that chamber are now saying they are debating details of how much money to borrow and for what projects, a sign the General Assembly will put McCrory’s bonds on the ballot. And if voters approve them, McCrory could campaign on seeing those projects through to completion during his next four years.
Also, Senate leaders have been clear that they don’t like tax credits for historic preservation. But Senate leader Phil Berger, an Eden Republican, has said lately that if a new program becomes law, it would be part of the final budget. That means senators might give in to House wishes on that issue if they get something in return during budget negotiations.
Susan Kluttz, McCrory’s cultural resources secretary, has made at least 73 stops in 52 cities and towns since the first of the year pushing the historic-preservation program. That’s one of the governor’s cabinet secretaries clearly spending a significant number of work hours on that issue. A loss there for the governor wouldn’t look good.
But big wins for McCrory in the legislature would mean a softening of the perception that he hasn’t been able to convince the Republican-led General Assembly to see things his way. It would also give him significant accomplishments to tout across the state and on the airwaves as 2015 turns into 2016.
He might just need them.
Patrick Gannon writes about state government and politics.