Roy Cooper wins North Carolina governor race, defeating Republican Dan Forest

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper has won reelection in North Carolina, fending off a challenge from his Republican lieutenant, Dan Forest.

Cooper’s seat was one of Democrats’ highest-priority governor’s offices to defend this cycle, but the result wasn’t particularly surprising. Although North Carolina is a battleground state and had tilted Republican in the last few election cycles, most polls showed Cooper in the lead. Forest was cutting into that margin as the election approached — Emerson polling had Cooper up by 4 percentage points in mid-October, down from 8 in a previous poll — but some other polls showed Cooper leading by double digits.

North Carolina entered the 2020 election with a divided government, with Republicans in control of everything except the governor’s mansion. The GOP controlled both houses of the state legislature, both US Senate seats, and nine of North Carolina’s 13 US House seats.

The governor’s race was overshadowed by the presidential race in North Carolina as well as a hotly contested US Senate race between Republican incumbent Thom Tillis and former state Sen. Cal Cunningham, a Democrat. But in terms of how the state continues to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic, the governorship was just as important, if not more so.

Cooper received praise for his response to Covid-19. He closed restaurants and bars on March 17 and has generally provided solid leadership; a Spectrum News/Ipsos poll taken in October showed a 20-point difference between his approval and disapproval ratings (53 to 33 percent). Forest, meanwhile, has been holding in-person events for much of the year, many of them indoors with few masks and little or no social distancing.

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“From the get-go, Dan Forest established himself as someone that was going to take issue with every single thing that Governor Cooper has done,” a spokesperson for Cooper’s campaign told Vox in October. “That is totally his campaign strategy: Pretend like the pandemic doesn’t exist.”

Cooper’s top priorities for his second term include expanding access to Medicaid and raising wages for public school teachers, as well as continuing to address the Covid-19 crisis.

His win, however, will not mean much for next year’s redrawing of North Carolina’s heavily gerrymandered congressional and state legislature maps. The state legislature is in charge of drawing the district boundaries, and the governor does not have veto power.