Reading the tea leaves on NC’s top elections

Now that former Gov. Pat McCrory says he will not enter the race for North Carolina’s 9th Congressional district, the Republican who lost his run for a second gubernatorial term to Roy Cooper might try a rematch in 2020. Or he could wait until 2022 and seek the open U.S. Senate seat currently occupied by Richard Burr, who has said his current term will be his last.

If McCrory, now a radio show host in Charlotte, runs for governor is 2020, he’ll face strong primary opposition in current N.C. Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, who has been running for governor since before he was elected lieutenant governor in 2012. A rematch between McCrory and Cooper would dredge up the bad vibes of 2016, when Cooper won in a state carried by Donald Trump. McCrory should sit out the 2020 elections, keep his radio forum going, and focus on the 2022 Senate race.

As for Cooper, he’s running for re-election in 2020 and will not challenge incumbent Sen. Thom Tillis, who will be completing his first term in the U.S. Senate. But Cooper’s political ambitions beyond being governor could include running for the Burr Senate seat in 2022. He would do so as a sitting governor with two years remaining on his term. In a way, Cooper would be in a win-win situation, either win the Senate, race or, if he were to lose, serve two more years as governor.

Contemplating Cooper’s political future, if re-elected in 2020 and if he serves the entire term, Cooper’s next chance to run for the U.S. Senate would be in 2026, either against Tillis (if he wins in 2020 and runs again in 2026). Cooper would have been out of office for two years, an eternity to be away from elective office (also an issue for McCrory). Or in 2024, after eight years as North Carolina’s governor, Cooper could run for president or vice president, unless a Democrat wins the White House in 2020.

Whatever Cooper decides will have a domino effect on North Carolina politics, especially among Democrats.

In North Carolina, if the governor resigns before the end of the term, the lieutenant governor becomes governor, serves the remainder of the current term and can run for two additional terms. That could be 10 years if serving Cooper’s last two and winning two four-year terms.

Which brings us to the political ambitions of Attorney General Josh Stein, among others

If Stein, a Democrat, aspires to be governor, he should run for lieutenant governor in 2020 instead of re-election, and be in a position to ascend to governor if Cooper is re-elected in 2020 and successfully runs for Senate in 2022. If Cooper runs for Senate in 2022 but loses, Stein would run for Governor in 2024 which is what he’s probably thinking anyway without the Cooper for Senate scenario.

Of course, lots of this talk of 2020 and 2022 is conjecture, but speculation and assumption is much of what politics is about.

The next election and jockeying for the right position is closer than you think. Just ask Charlotte radio show host Pat McCrory.

Jim Pomeranz, a native North Carolinian, is a Cary writer and an observer of North Carolina politics since the early 1960s.