2016 Governor’s Race Off to an Early Start

by | Sep 7, 2013 | Carolina Strategic Analysis, Features


This week has brought several developments in the 2016 gubernatorial race. The following Democrats have indicated interest in a bid:

Roy Cooper, Attorney General
Charles Meeker, Former Mayor of Raleigh
James Protzman, businessman and blogger at BlueNC
Kenneth Spaulding, former State Representative from Durham

Cooper has been considering higher office for years, but Meeker’s interest in a bid comes as news. If Meeker becomes the Democratic nominee, it would set off a battle between the former mayors of Raleigh and Charlotte. This is, of course, assuming that McCrory runs for a second term, which until recently was an option taken by every North Carolina governor with the ability to do so.

State Senator Josh Stein of Raleigh, considered a rising star in the Democratic Party, has said that he won’t run against Cooper, his former boss. Stein’s political future in large part depends on what Cooper decides to do. If Cooper runs for governor, Stein will probably run for Attorney General. If Cooper stays put, then a Stein gubernatorial bid is not out of the question.

Cooper hails from Rocky Mount in eastern North Carolina, and a Cooper nomination would allow Democrats to reclaim some of their old Blue Dog voters from that region. They voted overwhelmingly for Pat McCrory last time, but their affiliation with the state Republican Party is a recent phenomenon and their loyalty to McCrory is very weak. If signs of recovery are not evident in eastern North Carolina by 2016, then McCrory probably loses a lot of votes here, particularly against a Democrat with a moderate profile like Cooper.

Cooper’s running isn’t a sure thing. He’s been described by observers as “risk-averse”. He doesn’t want to make a bid unless it looks like a sure thing, which is why Cooper refused to run against Burr back in 2010. If McCrory’s approval ever returns to positive territory, then he’s likely to pass on a bid and remain in his Attorney General position.

Now for Meeker. What’s interesting about a Meeker nomination is that it would represent a clear break from the traditional, rural Democratic Party. Meeker would be the first nominee of that party from the urban, liberal wing. The state Democratic Party has changed dramatically in the last two decades and Meeker would represent the newly dominant progressive faction.

In other gubernatorial news, PPP has tweeted that Pat McCrory’s approval numbers are seeing “significant erosion” with Republican voters. If that’s the case, then expect next week’s poll to yield his lowest approval rating ever, probably somewhere in the mid-30’s. I’ve said before that McCrory has more than enough time to recover. The question right now is whether he has the ability or the political skills to do so.

Democrats who hope to challenge McCrory are getting off on an unusually early start. The first Democratic gubernatorial forum for 2016 is today.


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