North Carolina Democrats in 2016 Sought to Harness Public Outrage Against Status Quo. It Worked, Barely, for Gov. Roy Cooper

UPDATED, 2017: American voters in 2016 decided to “turn the page.” It was an anti-status quo election. This was a difficult message for the incumbent Republican governor of North Carolina to embrace, since he had been in charge since 2013. He lost, barely.

After four terms as Attorney General of North Carolina, Roy Cooper beat incumbent Republican Governor Pat McCrory.  He eeked through by about 3,000 votes.

Republicans maintained super-majority control of the state legislature. Cooper pointed out that Democrats received almost half of the cumulative votes for state legislative seats, but has only about a third of the representation in the General Assembly, due to gerrymandering.

Senator Richard Burr won his third term, with 51 percent of the vote. His challenger, former state legislator Deborah Ross from Wake County, received 45.1%.  Burr had won two previous campaigns, in 2004 (when George W. Bush was at the top of the ticket) and 2010, a Republican year. Given that Trump took North Carolina, it was not surprising that Ross could pull the kind of upset in 2016 that Kay Hagan pulled against Elizabeth Dole in 2008.

Democratic enthusiasm and turnout in 2016 in North Carolina, with Hillary Clinton at the top of the ticket wasn’t what it was in 2008, when Democrats won the governorship, a US Senate seat and Barack Obama narrowly won the state in 2008. Part of the challenge is that it’s hard for swing voters to stay with the same party holding the presidency after eight years. And North Carolina increasingly is becoming a swing state.

It was also difficult for Hillary Clinton to argue that she was against the “status quo,” since she was involved in Democratic administrations and Congress for 23 years. Swing voters were suspicious that she was too compromised by political baggage and connections to make a fresh start.


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