What you need to know about North Carolina's governor race between Roy Cooper and Dan Forest

  • Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper is seeking a second term against his Republican challenger Lt. Gov. Dan Forest.
  • Cooper has longtime served in politics whereas Forest's current office is the first he has held. Both are running on different approaches to handle the coronavirus pandemic.
  • The latest polls and election experts rank Cooper ahead of Forest. Cooper's campaign has also outraised Forest's.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest is running to unseat Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who is seeking a second term.

The candidates:

In North Carolina, votes for governor and lieutenant governor are cast on separate ballots, meaning there is a possibility that the winners may be of different parties, as was the case in the 2016 election.

Cooper, a longtime elected official who previously served as state attorney general and a state legislator, ousted incumbent Republican Pat McCrory by a razor-thin margin, a mere 0.2 percentage points or roughly 10,000 votes. 

Forest, a former businessman and architect, launched his political career when he was first elected in McCrory's term. He won his 2016 reelection by 6.6 points. 

Cooper has focused his 2020 bid on how he would continue to handle COVID-19, including fighting for Medicaid expansion, an unsuccessful battle against the Republican-controlled state legislature during his tenure so far. 

Forest has launched attacks at his opponent's leadership during the public health crisis and revolves around addressing the pandemic differently, such as an in-person schools reopening versus remote, echoing President Donald Trump's approach.

Trump threw his support behind Forest after blaming Cooper's event capacity limits as preventing him from hosting the Republican National Convention in Charlotte. The event, a mix of in-person and virtual gatherings, is still being held there, though Trump plans to accept his nomination from the White House.

 

Forest also sued Cooper in an attempt to block such executive orders that closed businesses and limited mass gatherings, arguing he exceeded his constitutional authorities. A judge rejected his demand. 

"Dan Forest's lawsuit never had teeth and today's ruling confirms that," a Cooper spokesperson said. "It was never more than a desperate tactic to garner attention for his political campaign. His time would be better spent putting the health and safety of North Carolinians before his own political motivations."

"I did my part," Forest tweeted after the decision. "If y'all want your freedoms back you'll have to make your voices heard in November."

The stakes:

The 2020 gubernatorial contests are unlike recent election cycles considering the coronavirus pandemic. Eight out of the 11 races feature incumbents seeking reelection, including Cooper, who may have his fate decided based on his response.

Trump won North Carolina in 2016 by 3.6 percentage points, one of eight states that went red nationally but have blue governors. Should Forest win in 2020, all three of the state's branches of government will be under GOP control. 

Other major elections in the state include the Senate race between incumbent Thom Tillis versus Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham, as well as open bids for the newly redrawn 6th Congressional District and 2nd Congressional District.

The money race: Cooper has significantly outraised Forest since his reelection effort started in 2017, with more than $19 million. Forest last campaign finance filing in July was his best yet, raising $2.4 million, bringing his total to $6.9 million. 

What the polls say: Latest polling data show Cooper with a huge 13-point advantage over Forest, as of Aug. 16. The Real Clear Politics average last updated in May places Cooper 17 points ahead of Forest. 

What the experts say: The race has been rated as lean Democratic by Cook Political Report and Inside Elections and likely Democratic by Sabato's Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

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