Gov. Roy Cooper will serve another term after defeating Lt. Gov. Dan Forest in Tuesday’s election by a 4.4 point margin with 99 percent of precincts reporting, according to unofficial results.
Cooper said serving as governor has been the honor of his life at the North Carolina Democratic Party election night event in Raleigh. He said his time spent visiting communities across the state showed him that North Carolinians are resilient.
“We are creative,” Cooper said. “We are innovative, cooperative, inclusive and we do not give up easily. That’s true for the small business owners in the mountains, the factory workers in Piedmont and the farmers in the East.”
Forest delivered his concession speech and called for people to come together, saying that it is a time for healing in the state.
"It's time to get beyond political differences and ideological differences and sometimes even philosophical differences that separate us and join together as the good people of North Carolina," Forest said.
One of the key issues on the ballot for this election was Cooper’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. On March 17, Cooper issued an executive order that closed dine-in services at restaurants and expanded unemployment benefits. By March 30, there was a statewide stay-at-home order put into effect.
Opposition to Cooper’s pandemic response arose in the form of the Reopen N.C. movement, which was formed April 7 on Facebook. The group led protests and rallies highlighting the economic turmoil caused by the stay-at-home order. The state began a phased reopening on May 8.
During the sole gubernatorial debate, Forest voiced his criticisms about Cooper’s handling of the pandemic, saying that it harmed North Carolinians more than it helped. Forest argued mask mandates are not helpful in slowing the virus, and attributed the loss of businesses to Cooper's policies.
However, according to the final SurveyUSA poll, 57 percent of North Carolinians approved of Cooper’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, compared to 32 percent who disapproved. When it came to the reopening of schools, 41 percent said North Carolina’s schools are reopening too fast, while 23 percent said the reopening is too slow and 22 percent said it is at just the right pace.
Meredith Cuomo, executive director of the North Carolina Democratic Party, said during the election night party that Democrats in the state are dedicated to ending the pandemic.
“This year has been a year of measurable loss — the loss of love, the loss of jobs, the loss of connection and celebration,” Cuomo said.
Craig Just, a 56-year-old from Statesville, said the COVID-19 response was one of his main issues in this election. He was concerned about how the state would move forward with getting small businesses back on track, lowering the unemployment rate and beginning recovering economically.
“It’s not as much about the candidates as it is how we’re dealing with the virus,” Just said. “Precautions are great, but closing down counties and cities is not the answer.”
Cooper also entered Tuesday’s election with a financial advantage over Forest. According to the third quarter disclosure reports, Cooper raised more than $17 million from July 1 to Oct. 17. His campaign spent more than $29 million in the third quarter.
These numbers far eclipse Forest’s campaign finances. Cooper's Republican challenger raised about $3.9 million during the same period and spent $5.1 million.
In addition to polling and financial advantages, Cooper also entered Election Day with a possible advantage among absentee ballots and early voting. According to data from the North Carolina State Board of Election, more than 4.5 million ballots had already been cast before Tuesday, and of those, 37.4 percent were Democratic and 31.7 percent were Republican.
During his victory speech, Cooper acknowledged how different this election has been because of the pandemic and the large number of absentee ballots. He promised to ensure every vote will be counted.
"I know that there are a lot of important races that are too close to call," Cooper said. "But we must let the process work to be sure that all the legal votes are counted."
Emma Kenfield, Britney Nguyen and Alexandra Myers contributed to this story.
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