One of the biggest winners in the midterm elections in North Carolina wasn’t even on the ballot. Governor Roy Cooper, with more than a little help, built the political machine that put Democrats in a position to sustain his veto and prepare them for the Battle Royale that takes place here in 2020. Cooper never stopped campaigning in the wake of his election as governor in 2016. On Tuesday, his work paid off.

Cooper served as attorney general from 2000 to 2016, passing up numerous opportunities to run for higher office despite calls for his candidacy. I used to joke that we knew election season was upon us when Cooper officially announced that he wasn’t running for whatever particular position was looking for a Democratic nominee. Pundits and political insiders speculated that Cooper lacked the ambition to run or was too cautious. In fact, he was just savvy enough to stay out of losing battles.

Once Cooper announce he was running for governor in 2013, he campaigned relentlessly. He believes that our state is under assault by forces that will, and have, set us back. He’s been at it for five years now and he’s not even half way through his first term. His victory in 2016 clearly wasn’t about him; it was about North Carolina and the progressive vision that drove the state for 50 years prior to Republican control.

He continued the fight throughout his battles with the General Assembly in the long session of 2017, setting up a political infrastructure and traveling the state to make sure it was funded. Throughout 2018, he showed up at events across North Carolina to help candidates up and down the ballot, despite two major hurricanes in the final weeks of the midterm election. He had a growing army of activists behind him and provided the leadership that a successful insurrection campaign needs.

He begins his re-election campaign with remarkably high approval ratings for a sitting governor in a swing state. He now has a campaign organization that has been through two highly contested election cycles heading into 2020. And nobody doubts he’ll continue to raise money to fund an organization that can compete in legislative, Council of State and Congressional races in two years.

Cooper provided the leadership Democrats needed after several years in the wilderness. He’s been tireless in his effort to rebuild the party. Last Tuesday, his work paid off. However, he knows that the victory was incomplete. While Democrats can now sustain his veto, they are still in the minority in both legislative chambers. They need to be able to redraw legislative districts if they want to seriously influence policy. Cooper is certainly up for the fight.

Thomas Mills is the founder and publisher of PoliticsNC.com. Before beginning PoliticsNC, Thomas spent twenty years as a political and public affairs consultant. Learn more >

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