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Gov. Pat McCrory Concedes Election To Challenger Roy Cooper

Pat McCrory
Catie Ball
Gov. Pat McCrory conceded his bid for re-election to challenger Roy Cooper.

It took 28 days.

Following weeks of unfounded voter fraud allegations, conspiracy theories that the legislature could intervene in the outcome, and expectations that this race would end up in the courts, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory stood down.

On Monday afternoon, McCrory conceded his bid for re-election to Democratic challenger Roy Cooper nearly a month after polls closed on Election Day.

McCrory made the concession in a YouTube message published midday Monday.

“Despite continued questions that should be answered regarding the voting process, I personally believe that the majority of our citizens have spoken and we now should do everything we can to support the 75th governor of North Carolina, Roy Cooper,” McCrory said in the statement.

After voters cast more than 4.7 million votes in the gubernatorial race, less than one percent separate McCrory and Cooper.

McCrory's defeat follows comfortable victories by other top ticket Republicans, including Donald Trump and Senator Richard Burr last month.

McCrory said his administration will assist in every way to help the new administration make a smooth transition. He asked North Carolinians to pray for Democrat Roy Cooper who has led in the polls since Election Day. And he said his administration will also work on a special legislative session to help citizen impacted in recent months by Hurricane Matthew and wildfires in the western region of the state.

Roy Cooper on Election Night
Credit Brian Batista / WUNC
In a file photo, Democratic gubernatorial challenger Roy Cooper celebrates an Election Night lead against incumbent Pat McCrory.

Governor-elect Cooper did not speak publicly Monday. The long-time attorney general issued his own statement and said he looked forward to working with McCrory and his staff in the transition.

"I'm proud to have received the support from so many who believe that we can come together to make a North Carolina that works for everyone," Cooper said. "It will be the honor of my life to serve this great state. While this was a divisive election season, I know still that there is more than unites us than divides us."

Cooper's margin of victory doubled to more than 10,000 votes after Election Night. Before McCrory conceded, his campaign helped file complaints alleging voter fraud in dozens of counties. Almost all were dismissed for lack of evidence. Still, state Republican leaders say they plan to address what they say are weaknesses in the electoral system.

Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) said  McCrory "deserves a great deal of credit for graciously conceding an election that brought much-needed attention to the potential for fraud, and other weaknesses, in our state's election system."

"We will work with Gov.-elect Cooper to address these problems and to make certain voters have confidence in the outcome of future elections," Berger said in a statement.

HB2 and other local decisions influenced McCrory's defeat

McCrory received backlash for supporting an Interstate 77 toll proposal in his home district of Mecklenburg County, among other local issues. He also received national criticism for his support of House Bill 2, of HB2, the controversial law that limits protections for the LGBT community.

Gay rights groups that made McCrory's defeat this year a top priority because of the law celebrated after his concession on Monday.

Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said Monday that McCrory's "reign of discrimination is finally over" after McCrory announced publicly it appeared Cooper won.

HB2 prevents local nondiscrimination ordinances designed to protect LGBT people. The law also tells transgender people to use restrooms in schools and government buildings that correspond to the sex on their birth certificate.

Cooper says he wants the law repealed. Republicans who approved to still control the legislature.

Tami Fitzgerald with the North Carolina Values Coalition supported the law and McCrory. Fitzgerald says McCrory's defeat "was orchestrated by radical forces outside North Carolina" and warned Cooper against any attempt to "compromise the privacy and safety of our children."

McCrory touts his legacy in concession speech

In his video, McCrory talked legacy and touted initiatives during his administration, including teacher pay, environmental clean-up, budget surpluses, transportation planning, and the creation of 300,000 new jobs.

North Carolina’s economy did rebound under McCrory’s watch, though experts say that had more to do with a national trend.

After running as a moderate four years ago, the governor had at times a tumultuous relationship with the media, advocacy groups, even some within his own party, and was occasionally mocked by some of the most powerful Republicans at the General Assembly.

State shifts to the right under McCrory's tenure

In the last six years, North Carolina politics have seen a dramatic shift to the right. When McCrory won in 2012, it marked the first time since Reconstruction that Republicans held both chambers of the state’s General Assembly and the governorship. A Cooper administration offers a slight shift in the other direction.

"I think Roy Cooper has the hardest road ahead of him of probably any governor in the country," said Chris Cooper, a political science professor at Western Carolina University.

Cooper, who has no relation to the governor-elect, said Cooper will have a veto, but with Republican supermajorities in both chambers of the Legislature, conservatives have the votes to override. Chris Cooper said it’s going to be extremely difficult for the governor-elect to get an agenda through.

"Obviously this first budget cycle is going to be the real key – do we see pieces of his budget make it into the final budget, or is his budget going to be a glorified door stop for the state legislature," Cooper said.

Republican Newton also concedes loss in state's attorney general race

The winner of the state’s race for attorney general also became clearer Monday afternoon, when Republican Buck Newton of Wilson conceded his loss to Democrat Josh Stein.

Newton said he wanted to wait until he was satisfied with the vote count, but now sees it's clear that Stein received the majority. Newton said he would continue working for conservative principles.

Stein declared victory shortly after the election and has been preparing to take office in January.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Jeff Tiberii is the co-host of WUNC's "Due South." Jeff joined WUNC in 2011. During his 20 years in public radio, he was Morning Edition Host at WFDD and WUNC’s Greensboro Bureau Chief and later, the Capitol Bureau Chief. Jeff has covered state and federal politics, produced the radio documentary “Right Turn,” launched a podcast, and was named North Carolina Radio Reporter of the Year four times.
Elizabeth “Liz” Baier is an editor for WUNC. She has two decades of experience than span print, audio, and digital reporting and editing.
Jess is WUNC's Fletcher Fellow for Education Policy Reporting. Her reporting focuses on how decisions made at the North Carolina General Assembly affect the state's students, families, teachers and communities.
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