While Gov. Pat McCrory touts the ‘Carolina Comeback,’ Trump is telling voters the North Carolina economy needs saving.
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory is desperate to talk about his economic achievements after a year mired in contentious debate over social issues, including the state’s transgender “bathroom law.”
The only problem? Donald Trump keeps coming to town and telling voters how terrible the economy is.
It’s the most glaring example this year of the disconnect between Trump’s apocalyptic rhetoric and the message of achievement that many Republican incumbents are trying to use to win reelection. It has been known to happen before — there was reportedly friction between affable Mitt Romney’s campaign and some recovery-touting GOP governors in 2012. But the gap between McCrory’s “Carolina Comeback” theme and Trump’s doom-and-gloom assessments yawns particularly wide, as McCrory faces the toughest reelection challenge of any governor in the country in 2016.
“It’s always tricky when you’ve got a governor running on a positive record of accomplishment and then to have the national political environment be so negative,” said Robert Blizzard, a Republican pollster. “Voters hear mixed messages from members of the same party, and all that serves to do is confuse voters. That problem is just further exacerbated this cycle by Trump.”
McCrory’s TV ads open with text promising “the truth about North Carolina’s economy” before McCrory touts “one of the fastest-growing economies in the country,” one in which thousands of new jobs are announced “every month.” Yet earlier this month, Trump told attendees at a raucous rally in Greensboro that only under a Trump presidency would their “jobs come back” and “income go up.”
“Your companies won’t be leaving our country under a Trump administration, they’ll be staying right here,” said the GOP presidential nominee. “And believe me, there are plenty of them right now negotiating to leave, I hate to tell you that.”
McCrory and Democrat Roy Cooper, the state attorney general, have been locked in a close contest for months, with Cooper leading more polls but McCrory tightening things up in October.
Ricky Diaz, a McCrory spokesman, pushed back on the notion of a disconnect or conflicting messaging among Republicans in North Carolina.
“Voters see their federal tax bill and they see their state tax bill,” Diaz said. “We trust that voters can make the distinction between federal issues and state issues.”
But most Republican operatives said that Trump does McCrory no favors by harping on economic woes withoutciting the state’s successes, as it could further depress turnout in an already volatile political environment.
“What Trump would add to McCrory are voters who were already probably going to vote for Trump and McCrory,” said one national operative who works on governors’ races. “But the rhetoric isn’t helpful. If voters hear a mixed message, it could keep them at home on Election Day.”
Trump’s negativity on the stump compounds the feeling that the state is on the wrong track, said Carter Wrenn, a local Republican consultant. He pointed to polling that says voters are not personally feeling an economic turnaround in their lives, so Trump’s comments “complicate McCrory’s life,” Wrenn said, because he believes voters “don’t separate North Carolina from the national message.”
In a WRAL/Survey USA poll released earlier this month, 29 percent of voters said they were worse off economically than they were four years ago, and 41 percent said their economic situations were the same. Only a quarter felt their economic well-being had improved.
“North Carolina voters don’t think their taxes are lower, even though they are, and they don’t believe teachers got a raise, even though they did. They’re not believing the messages,” said a Republican North Carolina operative who frequently polls the state. “That’s not entirely Trump’s fault, but he sucks the oxygen out of McCrory’s message. I don’t think voters can hear all the negativity on the national level and believe the state has turned around.”
Cooper’s campaign capitalized on that feeling early, putting out an ad in August that asked voters to “raise your hand if your taxes have gone up, while those at the top are the ones getting the tax break,” flashing images of voters raising their hands. “And raise your hand if you’re working more for less.”
Jumbled economic messaging also signals a “lack of coordination between Trump and the top-tier races in the country,” said a Republican consultant who works on governors’ races. Indeed, while Democratic elected officials have fanned across the country for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in recent weeks, and down-ballot candidates have opened for her at rallies, there is much less of that happening on the GOP side.
The consultant added that Trump is “not part of the Republican team” by putting “the governor in the tough position of having a presidential nominee criticizing your successful economic record, and that’s certainly not helpful to Pat.”
That’s especially true given McCrory’s huge effort to make his race about jobs and taxes instead of bathrooms. A High Point University poll in late September found that 60 percent of voters said it was more important to end House Bill 2’s economic impact than to enforce the law.
“McCrory’s message just doesn’t ring true with people because he’s got to face all the headlines around HB2, all the job losses from companies leaving and losing sporting events,” said Gary Pearce, a Democratic consultant in the state. “He’s singing the wrong key.”
Out on the campaign trail, GOP Sen. Richard Burr touted McCrory’s economic achievements at a Republican women’s luncheon in Pinehurst this month. But he acknowledged in an interview that HB2 “may be suffocating to [McCrory’s] campaign.”
“If people judge Pat McCrory on what he’s done, he’ll be reelected,” Burr said. “If they’ve formed an opinion, all out of salt, over a transgender bathroom issue, not on the jobs he’s created and the prosperity people have felt from it, that’s a shame, because he probably deserves to be reelected more than any other governor in the country.”