What happens if Gov. Roy Cooper is elected to the U.S. Senate

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, joined by his wife Kristin, reacts after being declared winner over Republican Dan Forest in the governor's race in Raleigh, N.C., Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

RALEIGH — The battle for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Richard Burr will be one of the most watched by state and national political observers in 2022. Burr, who was elected to his third term in 2016, said during that campaign he would not run again — and by all indications is sticking with that position.

The open seat is expected to draw competitive primaries in both the Democratic and Republican parties and a tough, competitive general election. The 2020 race between Sen. Thom Tillis and Cal Cunningham was the most expensive in 2020, until the dual Georgia Senate runoffs eclipsed them, with over a quarter-of-a-billion dollars spent by the campaigns, their respective parties and numerous outside groups.

A North State Journal/Cardinal Point Analytics poll taken in December 2020 showed a clear favorite among state Democrats for the seat: Gov. Roy Cooper.

Cooper led the Democratic field by a wide margin, earning 42% of likely Democratic primary voters. Trailing Cooper were the party’s 2020 nominee, Cal Cunningham, with 18% and Attorney General Josh Stein with 8%.

If Cooper ran and won the seat, his departing from the governor’s mansion to Washington, D.C. would elevate Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson to the office.

The N.C. Constitution says,

“The Lieutenant Governor shall become Governor upon the death, resignation, or removal from office of the Governor.”

“Cooper has nothing to lose by running,” said Cardinal Point Analytics president Aimee Mulligan. “If he runs in 2022 and loses, he remains governor. If he runs and wins, he cuts short his stint as governor two years early and wins an additional six-year term in public office. He would set himself apart on the Democratic side by doing something Jim Hunt couldn’t do — make it to the US Senate,” she added.

Former State Sen. Erica Smith, who announced she would seek the nomination shortly after the 2020 general election, registers nearly 4% of the vote and State Sen. Jeff Jackson, who is likely to announce a run for the seat, earned the support of just 3% of primary voters.

Twenty percent of Democratic voters said they were undecided.