Democrats celebrate rare victory after N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory concedes

North Carolina's governor-elect may nudge the right-drifting state back toward the center, but he faces a Republican-controlled legislature.

Chuck Burton/AP
Gov. Pat McCrory (R) of North Carolina greets supporters with his wife Ann at an election rally in Raleigh, N.C., on Nov. 9. After nearly a month, Governor McCrory conceded the race to Democratic challenger Roy Cooper in a video message Monday night.

Democrats scheduled a belated victory rally after North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) ended his legal challenges to the election, conceding Monday night that he had lost his bid for a second term.

Democrat Roy Cooper, the state's attorney general who has described himself as governor-elect for nearly a month, responded with a statement thanking Governor McCrory and his wife for their service and looking forward to a smooth transition after a bumpy campaign.

"While this was a divisive election season, I know still that there is more that unites us than divides us," Mr. Cooper said in the statement. "Together, we can make North Carolina the shining beacon in the south by investing in our schools, supporting working families, and building a state that works for everyone."

Cooper campaigned on promises to nudge state priorities toward the center after they had drifted to the right under Republican control, and he had help from national groups that bolstered his campaign as a form of opposition to McCrory's controversial signing of House Bill 2. The so-called bathroom bill requires transgender people to use only those public restrooms that correspond with the sex listed on their birth certificates, and its passage fueled a national debate over lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights that prompted businesses, sports franchises, and performers to pull their planned business from the state.

Cooper's ability to make good on his campaign promises could be limited, however, since both chambers of the state legislature will have Republican supermajorities, essentially depriving Cooper of veto power.

"Policy-wise, there's almost nothing he can do," Steven Greene, a political science professor at North Carolina State University, told The Associated Press. "But politically, if he plays smart, he can put Democrats in a position to win back some seats in the General Assembly."

David McLennan, a political science professor at Meredith College in Raleigh, said it's clear already that Cooper and the Republicans will butt heads on social issues.

"His first year could be difficult," Dr. McLennan told AP.

Looked at another way, the political divide in Raleigh during the coming administration is ripe for bipartisan cooperation – and it could serve as a model for the federal government as well.

"Don't underestimate the power of the governor," Democratic consultant Gary Pearce told AP. Both Cooper and Republicans could theoretically get what they came for, he said, especially if revenue surpluses are available.

For the past month, the governor has defended the formal complaints he filed in half of the state's 100 counties as an effort to certify that the election results, in fact, reflect the will of the people.

"Instead of insulting North Carolina voters, we intend to let the process work as it should to ensure that every legal vote is counted properly," McCrory's campaign spokesman Ricky Diaz said in a statement.

Election experts said McCrory's efforts would be unlikely to sway the outcome in his race, echoing statements they've made about the legal maneuvers by Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein to push recounts in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, who conceded her loss to US President-elect Donald Trump, would have to flip all three states in order to take away Mr. Trump's Electoral College win.

Dr. Stein says she's petitioning a federal court to issue an emergency order to force a recount in Pennsylvania to ensure "the integrity and accuracy of the vote," a rationale similar to McCrory's, which has proved controversial over the past month.

"McCrory’s contest-every-vote strategy came under criticism from election officials and newspaper editorial boards. In one county, a dead person they claimed voted was actually alive. In another county, two alleged convicted felons were not felons at all. In another, an election protest was thrown out after the GOP lawyer who filed it didn’t show up until after the hearing ended," Amber Phillips wrote for Washington Post's The Fix.

Even in his concession, McCrory left open certain concerns about how votes were cast.

"Despite continued questions that should be answered regarding the voting process, I personally believe that the majority of our citizens have spoken, and we now should do everything we can to support the 75th governor of North Carolina, Roy Cooper," he said in his concession video on Monday night.

Rhonda Amoroso, a Republican member of the State Board of Elections, said the governor's complaints could have a troubling impact more broadly.

"It may appear to folks in the public that we have a systemic issue of voter fraud," she told the Raleigh News & Observer. "It puts a cloud over the integrity of the election process of North Carolina."

This report includes material from The Associated Press.

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