North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory trailed late Tuesday in a re-election contest that had become a referendum on House Bill 2, the state’s hotly contested transgender “bathroom bill.”
With 6 percent of precincts reporting, Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper led the Republican Mr. McCrory by 54 percent to 45 percent in the most high-profile gubernatorial race of the 2016 election.
Gay rights groups led by the Human Rights Campaign targeted Mr. McCrory for defeat after he signed HB2 in reaction to a newly passed Charlotte anti-discrimination ordinance requiring public facilities such as restrooms and locker rooms to be open to members of the opposite sex.
The bill, which banned such ordinances, prompted the HRC to declare an economic boycott that triggered a backlash against the state. At least two dozen states and municipalities banned nonessential travel to North Carolina, while the NBA canceled its plans to hold the 2017 All-Star Game in Charlotte.
The Human Rights Campaign PAC, which also targeted Republican state legislators, ran television ads citing the cancellations, including PayPal’s decision not to build an operations facility in Charlotte, and accusing the governor of being “bad for business.”
“Pat McCrory has shown time and time again that he’s willing to discriminate at any cost,” said Democratic state Rep. Chris Sgro, who also serves as Equality NC executive director, in an Oct. 28 statement.
Mr. Cooper said it “writes discrimination into our law, and it has been a disaster for our economy,” while Mr. McCrory argued that the measure was needed to protect the privacy and safety of girls and women.
“You know, when we were raising the average teacher pay, creating new jobs and cutting taxes, other folks were actually pushing to make our schools allow boys to use the girls’ locker rooms and showers,” said Mr. McCrory in an ad released in September called “Common Sense.”
“Are we really talking about this? Does the desire to be politically correct outweigh our children’s privacy and safety? Not on my watch,” he said.
Polls had shown the race too close to call entering Tuesday’s election. Mr. McCrory had trailed for much of the race, but climbed back last month in part based on his vigorous response to Hurricane Matthew.
The North Carolina Values Coalition weighed in with an ad aired previously in Houston showing an adult male confronting a little girl in a public restroom stall.
“Any man at any time could enter a women’s bathroom simply by claiming to be a woman that day. No one is exempt,” said the ad. “Even registered sex offenders could follow women or young girls into the bathroom or locker room, and no one could stop them.”
An Elon University poll taken Sept. 19 found 49.5 percent of likely North Carolina voters opposed HB2 and 39.5 percent supported it. A third of those surveyed said the bill had made them less likely to vote for Mr. McCrory, while 60 percent said HB2 had hurt the state’s reputation.
Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the North Carolina Values Coalition, said she believes voters are more upset by the boycotts and negative national attention than the text of the bill itself.
“When you ask in the polls, ‘Do you believe grown men should have a right to go into bathrooms with women?’ they overwhelmingly say no. And that’s what HB2 stops,” said Ms. Fitzgerald. “Somehow the Human Rights Campaign and Roy Cooper have been able to give HB2 a negative perception among some parts of the population.”
Mr. McCrory had campaigned on the state’s booming economy and low unemployment, calling it the “Carolina comeback.”
• Valerie Richardson can be reached at email@example.com.
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