Republican Governor Pat McCrory and Democratic Attorney General of North Carolina Roy Cooper will debate for perhaps the only time on Oct.11.
Thomas Carsey, a political science professor at UNC, said North Carolina has attracted national media attention over the past few years due to policies such as education spending cuts, voter ID laws and House Bill 2.
“As those have become national issues, it’s logical that the next statewide election for governor in particular will attract those same reporters back,” Carsey said.
Because North Carolina is positioned to be so nationally captivating, Carsey said the national media are interested in how voters in the state will respond to recent policy decisions.
“I think it’s going to be interpreted as basically: are voters happy with what the state has been doing the last few years, or do they want a change in direction,” Carsey said.
Virginia Gray, a political science professor at UNC, said this election will mostly be about what people think of McCrory’s legislative record during his tenure as governor, including signing the voter ID bills, which have since been held unconstitutional, and House Bill 2.
Carsey said Cooper’s candidacy represents a move toward a more moderate political perspective for North Carolina.
“So the question will be: are people happy with everything McCrory has signed off on, or do they want to pull back from that to a more moderate position,” Carsey said.
“And that’s how it’s going to be interpreted — as essentially a referendum on what the state has done under Republican control.”
Carsey said NBC chose to send Todd to moderate the debate because this race has significance outside of North Carolina as a gauge for the presidential election.
“I think the rest of the country looks at North Carolina as not just North Carolina, but representative of what several swing states like North Carolina might look like,” he said.
Joseph Cabosky, a professor of the UNC School of Media and Journalism, said North Carolina’s gubernatorial race is one of the most high-profile in the country. As one of the most purple states, he said, the outcomes of North Carolina’s elections tend to reflect national results.
“North Carolina is the new Ohio or Florida, so we will be a focus for years to come for probably most of our races,” Cabosky said.
But Cabosky said the national media attention will not affect North Carolina’s gubernatorial election as much as some think.
“Voters at the end of the day default to pre-partisan sides and they make up their minds based on a lot of different issues,” Cabosky said.
“So even though an issue like (HB2) might get a lot of attention in Chapel Hill-Carrboro, or in university settings, people vote for guns, taxes, schools, education, their party background and everything else.”