Cooper, Forest enter final stretch of campaign for governor

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest campaigns across North Carolina

RALEIGH — Entering the final week of their 2020 general election campaigns, Gov. Roy Cooper and Lt. Gov. Dan Forest continued their divergent strategies to win the race for N.C. governor.

Cooper and Forest have been in the same room only once during the campaign — during their Oct. 14 debate. Cooper says he’s abiding by state and federal guidelines and campaigning virtually, while Forest has maintained an active schedule traveling across the state.

Gov. Roy Cooper

The incumbent Cooper has raised a staggering amount of money during his campaign, outpacing the amount he raised in 2016. He’s used those funds to flood the TV airwaves with ads complementing his regular updates on the state’s COVID-19 response.

In a recent statement, Cooper spokeswoman Liz Doherty said, “Gov. Cooper is a strong, measured leader who will continue to put North Carolinians first. Forest is too dangerous for North Carolina — he would put people in danger and put corporate interests ahead of working people and families.”

Gov. Cooper and his wife, Kristin, voted early in Wake County. “Got another one in the box,” he said in a campaign video.

He also made news for his tepid support for Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Cal Cunningham. After greeting Democratic nominee Joe Biden before an event in Durham, Cooper told Biden that Cunningham’s extramarital issues were “frustrating,” but he would “get him across the line.”

Lt. Gov. Forest made weekend “barnstorming tours” throughout the summer and into the fall, making up to five appearances in each region of the state.

“We’re continuing to take our message directly to the people of North Carolina — that Dan Forest is the candidate for governor who will restore law and order, reopen our schools and rebuild our economy by protecting the vulnerable and letting healthy people get back to their lives,” said campaign communications director Andrew Dunn.

During the weekend of Oct. 24 and 25, Forest and his campaign team traveled to Alamance, Person, Johnston and Duplin counties. Forest also joined President Donald Trump on stage during Trump’s rally on Oct. 21 in Gastonia, which drew a crowd of over 28,000 — making it the largest political rally in the state’s history, according to state Republican leaders.

Grassroots engagement has been a hallmark of Forest’s campaign. The campaign says they have put up 125,000 yard signs in all 100 counties, and then needed 40,000 additional signs covering the state’s roads and highways.

Since their debate, the two candidates have continued discussing what both believe are the biggest issues facing the state — the response to the coronavirus pandemic, how best to reopen the state’s economy and the return of in-person instruction in the state’s public schools.

At the most recent COVID-19 media briefing, Cooper announced that the state would remain in a modified Phase 3 through Nov. 13.

Accompanying the extension was a letter sent by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services and the N.C. Department of Public Safety, asking 36 counties to consider enforcing stricter ordinances on face coverings, alcohol curfews and restaurant service.

Forest said that Cooper was attempting to shut down North Carolina without telling the public. “To put it bluntly,” said Forest, “Gov. Cooper is attempting to use local governments to punish business and individuals doing what they can to survive. He has repeatedly said he has full authority over his COVID shutdown, which means he also gets 100% of the responsibility. Passing the buck to local businesses and municipalities is the antithesis of leadership.”

At their debate, Forest said schools would reopen “the day he was sworn in as governor” and has advocated for the return of full-time in-person instruction in schools. Forest, in his role serving on the N.C. State Board of Education, attempted recently to force a vote to do the same.

Cooper initially forbade the return of full-time in-person instruction in July, but relented in September for K-5 schools.

“I want to be clear — Plan A may not be right for districts and families, and districts will have flexibility to do what’s right for them,” Cooper said at the time.

Cooper and Forest also differ on reopening the state’s economy.

Cooper has established many state grant programs for businesses, preferring an approach that relies on government funding to keep those businesses alive. Forest has said he prefers to allow businesses to open and that healthy people need to get back to work, while protecting the vulnerable.

Both campaigns are confident their plans will deliver an electoral victory on Nov. 3, when the state’s 7 million registered voters have the final say in the 2020 election.