Discover more from Longleaf Politics
Roy Cooper could actually be the big winner of 2023
As his power wanes, Gov. Cooper is winning the long game. His top policy priority has already been achieved, and his top political one is in reach.
On paper, it looks like Gov. Roy Cooper is having a terrible 2023.
For the first time this decade, the governor faces a Republican supermajority in the General Assembly. He just lost his first big veto fight, and that razor-thin margin appears set to hold on a series of other bills the governor would rather not see become law.
Cooper can no longer count on a Democrat-run state Supreme Court to strike down laws he doesn't like, and electoral maps are about to be redrawn with no chance for a veto. His hand-picked state party chairwoman also lost to an upstart 25-year-old.
Yes, after four years atop the list, Cooper is no longer the most powerful person in North Carolina politics. But the real story is more complicated than that.
You could even argue that this year has been the most successful of Cooper's tenure, by far.
Although Cooper's power has significantly diminished, the lame-duck governor of North Carolina is wrapping up his term by accomplishing his administration's biggest goals.
He's already achieved his top policy goal — expanding Medicaid.
For years, the Republican-led General Assembly rejected this proposal, arguing that it poured more money into a broken system and put able-bodied, single adults onto the government dole unnecessarily.
That changed in 2023. The legislative session opened with both House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger on board with Medicaid expansion — and it was swiftly passed into law.
Cooper now appears to be on the cusp of accomplishing his top political goal as well: Turning the state into a big-money battlefield in 2024.
This has been another priority years in the making. Cooper and other top Democrats argued that the reason Senate candidate Cheri Beasley lost in 2022 was because big party money stayed on the sidelines — investing in states like Georgia and Pennsylvania rather than North Carolina.
That could soon change. This week, USA Today reported that President Joe Biden's re-election campaign has already committed seven figures to TV ads in North Carolina, on the premise that we could be the "next Georgia." Cooper is one of the most outspoken Biden backers and sits on his campaign's national advisory board.
The presumptive Republican nominee for governor, Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, will certainly give Cooper a stronger case to the big-money liberal groups. By the end of the year, don't be surprised if the TV ad buys reach into the tens of millions.
Why this matters
Every so often, the national media questions whether North Carolina is a purple state. It's not, but it's not solid red either. It's a red-tinged state that a strong Democrat can win.
This means that a "generic" Republican will almost always beat a generic Democrat, and we've seen it time and again over the last few cycles. It's the reason why the state courts are now solidly Republican, and even why U.S. Sen. Ted Budd defeated Beasley so handily.
If Cooper succeeds in turning North Carolina into a big-money battleground, this dynamic changes dramatically. The "generic Republican" will no longer exist, because tens of millions of dollars will go into defining them in a negative light.
This would be a huge political victory for Gov. Cooper.
In the short term, this would help Attorney General Josh Stein in 2024 and potentially deliver North Carolina to Biden (how safe the state is for Donald Trump in a third campaign is a question for another day).
And in the long run, it would solidify the Cooper machine for another decade or more.
Twenty years from now, nobody will remember the battles over political appointments that Cooper is likely to lose this year. But they could remember 2023 as a turning point for the Democratic Party in North Carolina if Cooper achieves this second big goal.
Thanks for reading Longleaf Politics! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.