RALEIGH — The North Carolina governor’s race was too close to call early Wednesday, with Republican incumbent Pat McCrory and Democratic challenger Roy Cooper neck-and-neck in an election that mimicked a referendum on the state’s rightward political shift, including the law McCrory signed limiting LGBT rights.
With some cast votes yet to be reported, Cooper was only about 3,700 votes ahead of McCrory out of more than 4.6 million counted, according to totals posted by the State Board of Elections.
In Robeson County, McCrory secured 53.24 percent of votes cast, with all 39 precincts reporting results.
McCrory told supporters just after midnight that it may be some time before the results are finalized, pointing to uncounted votes and potentially tens of thousands of provisional ballots.
“The election is not over in North Carolina,” McCrory said. “We’re going to check everything. We’re going to make sure every vote counts in North Carolina.”
Cooper, the sitting attorney general, focused on the law on LGBT rights during the campaign and used high-profile opposition to it by corporate CEOs, gay rights groups, the NCAA and Atlantic Coast Conference to his political advantage.
McCrory defended signing House Bill 2 last March and tried to focus his campaign on the state’s recovering economy and finances during his four years in office, which he attributed to lower income taxes and sound budgeting. Flooding after Hurricane Matthew last month also gave McCrory the opportunity to lead recovery efforts as cameras watched.
The race is one of the most competitive in the country and marks the best chance for Democrats to flip a state led by a Republican chief executive. Libertarian Lon Cecil also was on the ballot and had received more than 100,000 votes, or 2 percent of the vote.
McCrory had appeared to be ahead late Tuesday. But that was before the results of ballots at five early-voting sites in Durham County had been reported to the state, State Board of Elections official Veronica Degraffenreid said. Those roughly 93,000 ballots appeared to close McCrory’s lead.
Cooper said House Bill 2, which also directed transgender people to use bathrooms at schools and government buildings corresponding to the sex on their birth certificates, exemplified the conservative direction in which McCrory took the state. McCrory also signed laws requiring photo identification to vote, increasing abortion wait times and giving taxpayer-funded scholarships to K-12 students to attend private schools.
Alethea Jones, 45, of Rocky Mount, who almost always votes for Democrats, said she didn’t think McCrory had been a disaster as governor. But Jones said McCrory got lost with all the problems surrounding the LGBT law.
“All of those jobs leaving the state are bad,” she said.
Critics of the LGBT law have pointed to the loss of concerts, sporting events and some business expansions because of the measure.
The governor blamed city leaders in Charlotte — where he was once mayor— for leading the GOP-controlled legislature to approve House Bill 2 after the city council passed a non-discrimination ordinance that included gender identity. McCrory also tried to shape the debate toward federal overreach, particularly since President Barack Obama’s administration later directed schools nationwide to allow students to use facilities aligned with their gender identity.
Cooper represented rural Nash County in the General Assembly before first being elected attorney general in 2000. He said he would work to raise teacher salaries to the national average and repeal House Bill 2 to remove an obstacle to economic growth and improving North Carolina’s reputation.
Republican Constance Peake, 86, of Durham, had misgivings about House Bill 2 but otherwise gave high marks to McCrory’s tenure as governor, as well as the GOP legislative leadership.
“Oh lord, yes. I like him,” Peake said of McCrory. “I think he’s done a good job.”
Whoever wins the governor’s race and gets sworn in come January will have to work with a General Assembly that still has a Republican, veto-proof majority. Republicans benefiting from the GOP surge on Tuesday won seats previously held by Democrats, essentially canceling out losses by some GOP incumbents.