What a difference a leader makes. Roy Cooper is leading and rebuilding the state Democratic Party and taking the fight the Republicans every day. Now, he’s announced a well-funded effort to make serious in-roads into the GOP majorities in the legislature. He’s firing up the base and garnering national attention.

Democrats in North Carolina wandered in the wilderness for almost eight years with little direction and fewer resources. The state party was weakened by scandal and incompetence. Like governors across the nation, Bev Perdue struggled to get her ratings in positive territory during the pain of the Great Recession. After her loss, no elected official had the gravitas or network to unite the rank-and-file and provide direction. Third parties and activist groups tried to fill the void, but without a high-profile leader, Democrats struggled to get real traction.

Cooper and the North Carolina Democratic Party have made one of the most remarkable recoveries in recent memory. Just a few years ago, pundits believed state parties were becoming obsolete and that third parties would take their place. Today, North Carolina Democrats have a highly functioning and growing operation. At the root of the success is Cooper’s commitment to make the party a powerful player in the political arena.

Cooper hasn’t done it by himself or in a vacuum. North Carolina has been one of the most competitive states in the nation for more than quarter of a century. Democrats built an army of battle-tested operatives who understand how campaigns and state parties are supposed to work. They provided the infrastructure and strategy for Cooper’s win and now they’ll lead his effort to take back the legislature before the next redistricting.

Cooper has taken the fight to the Republicans since the minute he took office and he’s fought with every tool at his disposal. He’s clearly defined his positions through vetoes, lawsuits and speeches. At times, he’s pushed the GOP to work across party lines, usually to no avail. Still, he’s kept his ratings in positive territory and focused on ensuring efforts to oppose GOP policies and politicians have the resources to succeed.

From 2010 to 2016, progressives in North Carolina did a great job of keeping pressure on Republicans through grassroots engagement. Outside of the party structure, movements like Moral Mondays and a progressive infrastructure kept the spotlight on GOP missteps like HB2. They needed an elected leader, though, to take the fight to the next level. They got one in Cooper.

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