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by Scott Mooneyham
Roy Cooper has touched this button before.
He’s never actually pushed it.
By all accounts, he plans to do so this time around.
Prominent political insiders in Raleigh had been saying for weeks that the four-term state attorney general was going to get into the 2016 gubernatorial race.
But really, who needed to hear the political gossip? Cooper, a Democrat, had been sending out unmistakable signals himself, publicly criticizing Republican legislators and Gov. Pat McCrory for election changes and other new laws.
In Asheville, for the state Democratic Party’s annual western shindig, Cooper wasn’t coy. He told the Asheville Citizen-Times, “It’s a little early to make a formal
announcement, but certainly that’s in the plans.”
He used the meeting to again attack Republicans, telling the crowd that GOP policies are hurting the state’s reputation and its people. “You know what they’ve done. Tax giveaways for the top 1 percent instead of real tax breaks for working North Carolina families, an end to child-care tax credits, election law changes that made it harder for North Carolinians to vote, overcrowded classrooms for public school teachers and layoffs for teacher assistants,” he said.
Of course, planning to run and actually running are two different things. Cooper has plenty of time to back out.
He surely mulled over the idea of a gubernatorial bid in 2008, and then again in 2012. Among the party faithful, some saw him as the best candidate back then.
The position of attorney general is a strong jumping off point for higher office.
The job involves both being the state’s top prosecutor and defender of consumers and consumer protection. Who could ask for a better perch from which to gain popularity?
Cooper also came into the job, in 2001, after a fairly high-profile legislative career that saw him shepherd substantial pieces of legislation, including a model anti-predatory lending law.
Still, he wouldn’t budge off the cliff in those other years. The flattery didn’t overcome the caution.
Maybe Cooper backs away again before 2016.
He does have one big negative-- in bright, glowing neon -- to overcome.
The State Bureau of Investigation, and the scandal involving tainted evidence coming from its lab, are ultimately under his purview. Candidate Cooper knows full well that it will be an issue in any gubernatorial contest.
What he also knows is that a new Republican governor, like the Democrat before him, has seen his poll numbers plummet in the first year in office.
In late 2013, Pat McCrory appears vulnerable and weak. He’s been tethered to a state legislature that has seen its standing also sink among moderates and independents, even as those legislators show little regard for his political future.
One of the state’s most prominent Democrats ought to be ready to command his lieutenants, “Warp speed ahead!”
But 2016 is a distant galaxy.
In politics, a lot can change in a month. A universe of change can occur in three years.
—Scott Mooneyham covers the state Legislature for the Capitol Press Association.