Pat McCory’s Poll Numbers: Worse Than You Think

Many people are talking about the new Elon University poll, showing Governor McCrory trailing trailing Attorney General Roy Cooper 48-42 (with a 4% margin of error) ahead of their November showdown. Matthew Winkler of Bloomberg¬†is scratching his head because Pat’s commitment to HB2 has hindered his ability to tell the “Carolina Comeback” story. SLOW DOWN, MATTHEW! Even before McCrory signed the “Bathroom Bill” into law, he was a fairly unpopular governor, who faced stiff competition from a seasoned, organized foe. With Donald Trump on top of the ticket, the uphill climb would probably be too great. With Ted Cruz, still tough, but doable

When you go back in history and examine North Carolina’s gubernatorial races, you see that the bad news is even more profound for McCrory. Since 1980, incumbent governors have run for re-election four times (winning all four contests) and they averaged 57.25% of the statewide vote. Even if we take away Jim Hunt’s gaudy numbers (62% in 1980 and 56% in 1996), we get to a level of support that’s 55.5%. Even if we give McCrory all four points in the margin of error, that only gets him to 46%, which is a little less than Richard Vinroot did in 2000 against Mike Easley, but a little better than Patrick Ballantine did against Easley four years later (Jim Martin’s 55% is the worst¬†performance by an incumbent since 1980)

But, what is the absolute floor for Pat McCrory in November? It’s a safe bet that he’ll outperform Beverly Lake’s 37% in 1980.If we throw that one out, the second-place finisher in North Carolina has done no better than 43% (which was what McCrory’s challenger Walter Dalton earned in 2012). But, remember, those were all non incumbents, who faced major obstacles in terms of basic resources like name recognition. Jim Gardner in 1992 and Robin Hayes in 1996 both were fairly well-known to followers of state politics, but they didn’t have the name recognition of Jim Hunt. That’s probably why each garnered only 43% of the vote

The Cooper campaign must be ecstatic. Cooper has floated around Raleigh for a while, but he doesn’t have the name recognition of Pat McCrory, who was fairly well-known as Mayor of Charlotte before mounting a losing then a winning campaign for governor

Curiously, North Carolina’s gubernatorial races haven’t been terribly close in the past 36 years, with the exception of McCory’s losing effort, a 50-47 affair in 2008

Of course, there’s a lot of ground to cover until November and many factors simply can’s be accounted for. North Carolina’s Voter ID law will be in effect for the first time in a general election. These laws have traditionally knocked a couple of points off of Democratic totals. We also don’t know who will be on top of the Republican ticket come November. Political experts say that a Trump nomination could depress GOP turnout. A Cruz nomination would only be a little more helpful to McCrory. And, of course, any number of catastrophic events could change the election. But, still, Cooper’s got to be happy about his standing six months ’til judgment day

It remains to be seen if a repeal of HB2 would help McCrory much. At this point, the damage may already be done. But, before we get too cocky about Roy Cooper’s chances, remember a North Carolina incumbent governor hasn’t been defeated since 1892…which is a tad misleading because the position was a one (term) and done proposition until the state constitution was amended, allowing Hunt to run for a second term in ’80

Beating an incumbent is never an easy task and the Cooper campaign would probably be happy with a neck-and-neck performance, at this point. As it is, they’re ahead of the game. But, we’ve got a lot of game left to be played