On Monday afternoon—after nearly a month of recount demands and baseless challenges to voters' eligibility—Governor McCrory finally gave in to the inevitable and conceded his loss to Roy Cooper, who will become North Carolina's seventy-fifth governor. (Soon afterward, Republican attorney general candidate Buck Newton, trailing by more than twenty-three thousand votes, also conceded to Democrat Josh Stein.)
Cooper's 10,293-vote victory, at long last official, marked a bright light for Democrats in an otherwise dismal election. It wasn't just that Donald Trump prevailed—while losing the popular vote by 2 percentage points, underlining the fact that some votes matter more than others, thanks to our anachronistic system—or that Richard Burr scored an easy win over Deborah Ross. It was also that long-serving Democratic insurance commissioner Wayne Goodwin and superintendent of public instruction Jane Atkinson were defeated, too, and labor commissioner Cherie "Elevator Queen" Berry, who has shown precious little interest in actually helping laborers, soundly beat former Raleigh mayor Charles Meeker. And, thanks largely to a gerrymander that has been ruled unconstitutional (new elections next year!), the Republicans maintained their supermajorities in both legislative chambers.
What did Cooper do that so many other Dems couldn't pull off? Several things. For starters, he's a known quantity, a respected, moderate public servant who can speak to more than North Carolina's deep-blue urban areas. But just as important, he hewed closely to boilerplate Democratic talking points on education and jobs; while he was never a stem-winder on the stump, he did give the deeply unpopular McCrory just enough rope to hang himself.
As Tom Jensen of the Raleigh-based Public Policy Polling persuasively argued, McCrory's unpopularity was about more than the uber-contentious HB 2, though that might have been the icing on the hate cake. Rather, McCrory was underwater just a few months after taking office, as progressives made him the face of the legislature's far-right agenda: refusing to expand Medicaid, using a motorcycle-safety bill to pass abortion restrictions, allowing guns in bars, eliminating the earned income tax credit, passing voting restrictions.
"He allowed himself to be associated with a bunch of unpopular legislation," Jensen wrote on the PPP website Monday, "and progressives hit back HARD, in a way that really caught voters' attention and resonated with them."
There's a lesson here, Jensen continued: "Pushing back hard on McCrory worked. The seeds of his final defeat today were very much planted in the summer of 2013. And it's a lesson for progressives in dealing with Trump. Push back hard from day one. Be visible. Capture the public's attention, no matter what you have to do to do it."
There was one line in McCrory's concession video that warrants further attention: "Despite continued questions that should be answered regarding the voting process," he said, "I personally believe a majority of our citizens have spoken."
This echoes something North Carolina Republican Party executive director Dallas Woodhouse told Barry Yeoman, an occasional INDY contributor writing for the New Republic, last week. While admitting his party erred in its challenges to voters' eligibility, he called it an "unreasonable standard" to have proof before lodging a protest. Even more important, he said that new restrictions on ballot access were needed to "restore confidence" in the system.
"Whether there's widespread voter fraud or not," Woodhouse said, "the people believe there is."
First, there's not a scintilla of evidence of widespread voter fraud, and maybe if Republicans hadn't spent the last decade ginning up conspiracy theories, "the people" wouldn't believe that. But the bigger picture here is that Woodhouse—and, to a lesser degree, McCrory and even Trump, who has claimed, with facts pulled out of his ass, that he lost the popular vote because three million people voted illegally—is giving away the game.
The more suspicions are raised about the integrity of the process, the more Republicans have an excuse to enact restrictions that disenfranchise Democratic voting blocs, especially African Americans, thus reinforcing Republicans' dominance of what should be a purple state. And Cooper, whose veto will be easily overridden, will be powerless to stop them.
This is what's coming. Defeating McCrory was an important win that merits a moment's celebration, but progressives need to prepare themselves for the next war, and they need to start now.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Boy Bye."