Cooper vs. Forest in closely watched NC governor’s race

FILE - This Oct. 14, 2020, file photo shows North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, left, and Lt. Gov. Dan Forest during a live televised debate moderated by Wes Goforth at UNC-TV studios in Research Triangle Park, N.C. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome, File)

RALEIGH — The contest between Democratic North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper and Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest is among a few governor’s races across the country that are being closely watched in this year’s election.

Cooper is banking on the support of voters who approved of his handling of the coronavirus, while Forest aims to appeal to business owners and K-12 public school parents dissatisfied with the state’s slow reopening.

The race between Cooper and Forest has attracted attention from outside groups, which have spent millions to shape voter attitudes.

Cooper took in more than $17 million between July 1 and Oct. 17, with over $11 million being given by political party committees and $281,000 coming from other political committees, according to the campaign’s latest quarterly report filed with the N.C. State Board of Elections.

Nearly 62% of the state’s more than 7.3 million registered voters had cast their ballots by Monday. Democrats cast 1.7 million ballots, Republicans cast over 1.4 million ballots and nearly 1.4 million unaffiliated people voted.

Montana is expected to have the most competitive gubernatorial contest in the country. U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, a Republican, is running for an open seat against Democratic Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney. Despite not having any major media markets in the state, campaigns and the parties’ governors groups spent more than $24 million on the election through September. In Missouri, Republican Gov. Mike Parson faces a strong challenge from Nicole Galloway, the state’s Democratic auditor. The contest in Missouri is Democrats’ best hope for flipping a governor’s seat this year.

In North Carolina, Cooper has avoided the physical campaign cycle this election, instead choosing to participate in a small number of virtual gatherings. Supporters of the mild-mannered Democrat believe he’s responsibly prioritized public safety.

“I think Roy Cooper’s doing a great job,” said Ryan Commedo, a Fayetteville resident who took part in early, in-person voting. “He’s handling everything with the coronavirus and giving updates that we don’t get from the president. I think he cares about the people.”

Forest has barnstormed the state, maintaining an active travel schedule. The lieutenant governor is calling for a more aggressive reopening of businesses and schools and has vowed to immediately repeal the statewide mask mandate Cooper enacted in response to rising coronavirus cases.

“Roy Cooper wanted to shut the state down, and millions of people were out of jobs,” said Timothy LeCornu, a 59-year-old self-employed online marketer living in Raleigh who voted for Forest. “Still, even now, you can’t go shopping or to a restaurant without having to become a bank robber with a mask on. That’s crazy.”