Race for governor features contrast of campaign strategies

Gov. Roy Cooper (left) and Lt. Gov. Dan Forest (right) are the two candidates for North Carolina governor this year.

RALEIGH – The race for governor features two candidates who have taken cues from the candidates at the top of ticket for their respective parties in terms how they are campaigning for the state’s top job.

The challenger, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, has maintained an aggressive travel schedule, often with four or five campaign stops in different regions of the state on a given weekend. During the weekend of Sept. 12, Forest made stops in Currituck, Pasquotank, New Hanover, and Craven counties. Forest’s strategy mirrors a substantial travel schedule from President Donald Trump, who will be making his fourth appearance in the state in the past four weeks in Fayetteville on Saturday.

Billboard authorized by Lt. Gov. Dan Forest’s campaign.

The Forest campaign has also embraced mainstays of grassroots campaigning, with teams of volunteers swarming neighborhoods with yard signs, and the latest move, a billboard campaign throughout the state.

“DAN FOREST WILL OPEN NC” reads one of the billboards. Another, located in Mecklenburg County, reads “DAN FOREST – JOBS NOT MOBS.”

Forest also stands to benefit from Trump Victory, the grassroots field effort of President Trump’s re-election campaign and the Republican National Committee. Trump Victory recently told North State Journal that the nationally the campaign made its 100 millionth voter contact last week in Waxhaw, a suburban Charlotte town in Union County.

Trump Victory also shared that they have surpassed six million voter contacts just in the state. According to the campaign, they have made over 6.5 million voter contacts and drawn tens of thousands of volunteers to events.

Trump Victory spokesman Gates McGavick said in a statement, “It’s fitting that Trump Victory’s 100 millionth voter contact came in North Carolina, where our field team has been working around-the-clock to re-elect President Trump and Republicans like Lt. Gov. Dan Forest. We never left North Carolina after our 2016 victory here, and we’re putting in the work on the ground to make sure we deliver more wins for President Trump and all Republicans up and down the ballot come November.”

Incumbent Gov. Roy Cooper’s campaign has taken a decidedly different approach to the 2020 general election campaign – making even fewer in-person visits than Joe Biden, who has only recently increased his travel schedule to battleground states. The Democratic nominee’s last visit to N.C. was on Feb. 29 at Saint Augustine University in downtown Raleigh.

Cooper, who raised over $16 million for his campaign through the second quarter of his campaign’s finance report, has blanketed television airwaves for months with ads. Many of the ads are critical of Forest. In one, a Wake County doctor slams Forest for holding in-person events.

“Mr. Forest, I know you’re running for governor and are holding indoor events with no masks. Please stop. No political campaign is worth risking North Carolina lives,” says Dr. Robert Harris.

Cooper has stated he would not hold in-person events and has participated in virtual events and fundraisers, including one last month with longtime Democratic strategist and commentator James Carville.

Gov. Roy Cooper at a briefing from the Emergency Operations Center in Raleigh. Photo via NC Dept. of Public Safety

The governor has also used a powerful bully pulpit during the pandemic with his COVID-19 media updates from the Emergency Operations Center in Raleigh. At the height of the pandemic, Cooper appeared two and sometimes even three days a week across the state with members of his cabinet providing updates on the state’s response to the virus. Gov. Cooper also began making official appearances, such as visiting storm damage in Bertie County last month.

Cooper’s re-election campaign mirrors many of the priorities he has fought with the General Assembly over, including Medicaid expansion. Cooper has vetoed budgets from the General Assembly that have not contained the measure.

The campaign has also sought to make Forest’s eight-year tenure as lieutenant governor part of the campaign, saying he has missed over one-third of Senate sessions and other Council of State meetings. The role as presiding officer of the Senate, however, is largely ceremonial as the lieutenant governor may only vote in the case of a tie on the floor.

Liz Doherty, Cooper’s campaign spokeswoman, said earlier this month that, “Dan Forest skipping work to campaign is a disservice to North Carolinians, but it’s not new. Forest’s troubling pattern of failing to show up to work is disqualifying — he does not deserve a promotion.”

One of the duties of the lieutenant governor is to stand ready to fulfill the duties of governor in the case of the governor’s absence, death, or incapacitation. According to Forest’s office, Cooper has never notified Forest when he would be out of state during their shared tenure.

The Republican Governor’s Association caught Cooper just two days after the March 3 primary at a fundraising breakfast in Tampa, Florida. That trip, along with a number of others, was not made public by the governor. That incident in part led the North Carolina Republican Party to file public records requests into Cooper’s travel records in July. 

The two candidates were also in on opposite sides in court last month following Forest’s lawsuit against Cooper for failing to obtain a majority vote from the Council of State when enacting executive orders under the Emergency Management Act. The judge appointed to the case, James Gale, ruled against Forest, who then dropped the lawsuit.

Polls in the race have shown Cooper with leads both in and outside of the margin of error.