Yesterday came word that Governor Pat McCrory’s poll numbers are in perpetual decline. His approval rating has fallen to 35%, compared to a 53% disapproval rating. That is not good.
In a hypothetical match-up, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper leads McCrory 48-42%. It is still early. McCrory has yet to complete is first year in office. But there is cause for concern. When a president overextends himself, the voters take out their aggression on his party during the midterms. It happened to Bill Clinton in 1994, and Barack Obama in 2010.
But in North Carolina, the legislative districts are so red that even a huge Democratic statewide victory in 2014 (Hagan over Tillis/Berger) will not likely disturb the balance of power. Republicans will lose seats in the North Carolina General Assembly. But they will maintain control.
Which means they will still be passing controversial bills throughout McCrory’s first term. And with North Carolina’s unemployment rate still one of the worst in the country, Republicans will be the party catching the blame. The best political hope for our governor is that the GOP candidate for U.S. Senate next year gets painted as the real villain. That his party loses veto-proof majorities in the general assembly. And that he can forge a new path, distancing himself from lawmakers, and regaining the trust of voters.
Here are 10 things the governor can do to regain that trust, and change the course of this administration. We offer this advice, because these steps would also be good for the state:
- Fire Matt McKillip and Ricky Diaz. You placed two former campaign staffers in positions at the Department of Health and Human Services they weren’t qualified for. Neither are 25-years-old yet. Both make over $85,000 a year. It is killing your poll numbers. You have to stop the bleeding. You might like those guys. They helped you out in the biggest victory of your life. But if you don’t do something, it will be your last. The best thing you can do is ask them to put in their resignations.
- Quietly push Art Pope out of your administration. Get a new Chief of Staff. And build your own brand. You are the Governor of North Carolina. The deputy budget director works for you. Yet Art Pope is sucking up much of the news coverage, and most of the critique. You can find a talented individual to come in and manage your budget. If you want to regain popularity, you have to start building your own brand. You are not a libertarian leaning ideologue. You are a moderate Republican, inspired by the optimism of Ronald Reagan. Your brand is efficient, moderate, business friendly Republican politics. Instead you staffed your administration with true-believers from Raleigh think-tanks. What’s more, you don’t need Art Pope anymore. You needed his support to avoid a primary in 2012. But you will be the Republican candidate for governor in 2016. You will have plenty of campaign money, even without Pope’s. But you won’t be reelected without independents, and they’re not going to forgive you until you lose your Pope. Then you should replace your COS with someone more loyal to you. How about Richard Vinroot? A moderate Republican from Charlotte who will reinforce that image.
- Have a plan for phasing out the other political appointees. It would bring too much bad attention to do it now. But if Aldona Wos keeps making the news for the wrong reasons, you’ll have to do something. If you’re going to win reelection you will need to control the news cycle. That means no unforced errors coming out of the administration. By 2015 the donors and political appointees need to be gone from your cabinet, and replaced by professionals.
- Meet with those pesky protestors. It is not a good public relations move to continually dodge the throngs of protestors descending on Raleigh. And sending them baked goods comes off as insincere, especially when the protestors are women. Hear them out. As long as it takes. President Lyndon Johnson ignored the Vietnam protestors, and they kept coming. In the end he quit. You probably won’t find much common ground, but meeting them will be seen as a nice gesture that you at least interested in their concerns
- While you’re at it, find a way to diffuse Moral Mondays. You are the Governor of North Carolina. You are smart. You have power. Come up with an idea to diffuse the problem and stop the arrests. The biggest catalyst behind the momentum of Moral Mondays are the arrests. The same thing happened with Occupy Wall Street. When the arrests stop, the news coverage goes away. Perhaps you could have the protestors who refuse to leave the capitol escorted out in handcuffs, but not arrested. Or find a way to have the charges dropped. Or every Monday, you show up to the capitol and offer to meet with the protestors in exchange for them leaving. They will agree. But as long as old ladies are going to jail in protest, you’re the one who’s going to look bad.
- Develop a plan for economic development in rural North Carolina. The big cities, like Charlotte and Raleigh, have enough clout to fend for themselves economically. According to the Brookings Institute metropolitan areas will drive economic growthfor years to come. But rural North Carolina is hurting. And if things haven’t gotten better out there in four years those voters will stay home or vote for Roy Cooper. You need to steer new businesses to rural NC. And you need to come up with a jobs program out there. End of story.
- Embrace criminal justice issues. While NC voters disagree about taxes and education, you’re not going to find many voters out there who are pro-meth-labs. Meth labs and prescription drug abuse have gotten out of hand in North Carolina. Do something about it. Something big. It will be good for the people, popular, and it will cut into Roy Cooper’s strength as tough on crime.
- Come up with new material. If you say “I’ve been stepping on toes” one more time, our head is going to explode. Even after Charlotte Magazine ripped you for it, you launched a YouTube ad using that line. It is annoying, and a good rule of thumb in politics is that the more annoying candidate usually loses (think Bush vs. Gore, and Bush vs. Kerry). If you keep using the words “stepping on toes” or comparing voting rights with Sudafed on into 2014, then you don’t have the political talent to get reelected.
- Act like you’re the Governor of the entire state. It was a good idea to respond to that New York Times editorial that criticized the direction the state. But in it you said this, “while it may not be apparent to the very liberal worldview of The Times, North Carolina’s new focus on reform is paying off.” The problem is, there are thousands of liberals in North Carolina. You’re their governor too. You can’t be partisan anymore. Even when you’re being attacked. Take a lesson from Lincoln and be above partisan politics.
- While you’re at it, lay off the press. One of the main ingredients in your 2012 recipe for success was the support of the press. You received endorsements from newspapers, and mostly positive coverage. And you’re losing it. Never pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel. You will get criticized. Suck it up. And offer reporters inside access, behind-the-scenes. Bring them into the room for decision-making. Show them you’re in charge, and not Art Pope. After all the negative stories in recent months, the best thing for you would be a half-dozen major feature pieces written about you with real access.
It would be good politics to do a majority of those items. And it would help the people of North Carolina. These won’t necessarily guarantee your reelection, but they wouldn’t hurt. And right now you need all the help you can get.