- Associated Press
Wednesday, November 2, 2016

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Democratic gubernatorial nominee Roy Cooper expanded his money advantage over Republican incumbent Pat McCrory in the months leading to the final days of their hotly-contested race, but that hasn’t translated to supremacy in the polls.

The massive fundraising and spending by the outgoing attorney general’s campaign in the last reporting period before the election is reflected in State Board of Elections filings this week.

Cooper’s campaign raised more than $9 million in the third quarter covering July 1 through Oct. 22, compared with nearly $5.3 million by McCrory, according to campaign finance reports due late Monday. Cooper also outspent McCrory - $17.6 million to nearly $10 million. Most of the money has gone to pay for ads in a race that may be the Democrats’ best chance nationally to unseat a GOP governor.

In a race that’s also considered a referendum on North Carolina’s recent conservative shift, surveys this fall have shown Cooper slightly ahead of or statistically even with McCrory. An Elon University poll of likely voters released this week suggests the race is a dead heat.

The Pat McCrory Committee had more cash on hand for the final two weeks - nearly $1.6 million to $884,000 for Cooper. Daily contribution notices the campaigns must file in the last days before the election show Cooper and McCrory each raising several hundred thousand dollars more.

Cooper has been outraising McCrory since early 2015, benefiting from donors unhappy with the state’s rightward lurch and more recently McCrory’s decision to sign legislation limiting LGBT rights. The law known as House Bill 2 also directs transgender people to use the bathrooms and locker rooms in schools and government buildings aligned with the sex on their birth certificates.

McCrory has defended the law, which is now tied up in federal courts. He argues it hasn’t weakened North Carolina’s overall economy, which has been recovering since he took office and is considered his top asset in persuading voters to re-elect him. McCrory has gained positive attention in the past few weeks, leading the state’s recovery following Hurricane Matthew.

Since early 2013, Cooper’s committee has raised about $22 million compared to $14 million by McCrory, this week’s filings show. Four years ago, McCrory and Democratic rival Walter Dalton had raised $15.5 million combined so far.

Several interest groups have spent money on television ads critical of McCrory or Cooper or sent money to the state parties. State parties can accept unlimited amounts of money from donors, provided they aren’t coming from corporations or unions.

Overall, about $25 million has been spent on broadcast TV ads in the race, according to data analyzed by the Center for Public Integrity.

McCrory campaign spokesman Ricky Diaz said Wednesday that momentum has shifted to the governor, and that get-out-the-vote operations and enthusiasm “will overcome the millions of dollars of false advertising paid for by Cooper and his special interest allies.”

Democratic Action, a group affiliated with the Democratic Governors Association, has donated $2 million to the state Democratic Party, according to the party’s filings. The RGA Right Direction PAC, associated with the Republican Governors Association, has sent $1.6 million to the state Republican Party, records show. In separate reported transactions, the state Democratic Party has sent $3.3 million to Cooper’s campaign this cycle and the state GOP has sent $2.4 million to McCrory.

The state Democratic Party last weekend accused the national Republican groups of breaking state election laws, alleging the money sent to the state GOP is tainted by corporate contributions received from the RGA and any individual contribution amounts that exceeded state limits.

A letter Tuesday from an attorney for the RGA and RGA Right Direction PAC said the complaint should be dismissed because the money the PAC received from the Republican Governors Association can be traced to donations from individuals. The PAC is also not a North Carolina political committee, the lawyer wrote, which would make it subject to other requirements.

Cooper spokesman Jamal Little said the attorney general has the momentum. He said the Republicans are relying on “potentially illegal corporate contributions to prop up Gov. McCrory’s flailing campaign.”

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