Democrat Roy Cooper is claiming victory in his bid to unseat Governor Pat McCrory, though results aren’t final. If he loses, the governor can trace the defeat in part to Mecklenburg County. Changing voting patterns and his stand on controversial issues, including I-77 tolls, have eroded the former Charlotte mayor’s popularity at home.
In the governor’s race four years ago, McCrory won Mecklenburg County over Democrat Walter Dalton. Most of his support came from the county's north and southeast, with Charlotte voters going for Dalton.
But this year was different. McCrory fared worse, collecting about 159,000 votes, compared to almost 220,000 four years ago - despite a higher turnout. And Cooper won the county overall. He got nearly 295,000 votes, including some northern and southeastern precincts that went for McCrory last time.
In north Mecklenburg, McCrory's support for NCDOT's I-77 toll lane project drove some voters to Cooper, says Kurt Naas, who leads the anti-toll group Widen I-77.
"The message is that the governor has had multiple opportunities to cancel the toll contract that is unanimously reviled by north Mecklenburg. And he has refused to do so. And I think north Meck has spoken at the ballot box," Naas said Wednesday.
Construction is underway to add toll lanes on 26 miles of I-77 from Charlotte to Mooresville. But there's been vocal opposition in the Lake Norman area. In October, an anti-toll business group endorsed Cooper.
Tuesday’s results in north Mecklenburg illustrate McCrory’s struggle.
In 2012, the governor won all 13 precincts in the north Mecklenburg towns of Huntersville, Cornelius and Davidson – a mostly Republican area. This time, five of the 13 went for Cooper, and McCrory's total there fell by more than 15,000 votes.
Tuesday’s unofficial results have McCrory trailing Cooper by just 5,001 votes.
Cooper hasn't promised to halt the I-77 project, but he has said it's a bad contract. That's why the I-77 Business Plan endorsed him. The group's John Hettwer says he expects group members will meet with Cooper before he takes office.
Meanwhile, District 1 County Commissioner Jim Puckett, a Republican who represents north Mecklenburg and opposes the toll lanes, says McCrory could have helped himself by canceling the project.
"While clearly no one issue determines an election and Pat may still pull out a win. But it is an unfortunate outcome when victory could have been so much easier," Puckett said in email.
Tolls aren’t the only bump in the road for McCrory. His defense of House Bill 2 also hurt him with some Mecklenburg voters, says political analyst Michael Bitzer of Catawba College.
And there's more, says Bitzer. The governor also lost precincts in south and southeast Mecklenburg that he won four years ago. Bitzer says it’s part of a shift in neighborhood voting patterns.
"They have been trending more and more from strong Republican to now-competitive precincts. And I dare say that they are making their way to Democratic, at least lean(ing), precincts,.
McCrory has lost Mecklenburg before. He lost the county - and the general election - in his first run for governor in 2008. There's a similar trend in Wake County. McCrory won it in 2012, but lost this year.
Officials say it could be a week or more before there's a final result in this year’s governor's race.
Nov. 9, 2016, NC Ridiculousness blog, "Toll issue costs McCrory governor's race" - By Kurt Naas of Widen I-77