Cooper steps into national spotlight
As chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper considers the 2022 election a good year for Democrat governors across the country. While in his own state his party suffered a net loss in the state legislature, the U.S. Senate seat, and all the statewide judicial races, nationally the Democrat organization he leads “avoided a net loss and picked up one governorship,” in November.
Cooper and the DGA had 13 incumbent governors to defend in 2022, including Michigan’s Gretchen Whitmer and New York’s Kathy Hochul, both of whom faced difficult but successful re-elections. Democrat governors dominated in highly populated states. One U.S. territory and 28 states have Republican governors. Republicans also control more state legislatures than Democrats, and have more total legislative seats at the state level.
The DGA is a partisan group dedicated to getting Democrats elected to the governor’s office in all states. After the 2022 election, there are now Democrat governors in 22 states and 3 U.S. territories. Chairing the DGA has given Cooper a national platform in his party with speculation that he could be on a presidential ticket at some point in the future. His analysis of the election on a recent podcast shows an increasingly partisan take on national elections. He called Florida’s Gov. Ron DeSantis “divisive,” and said North Carolinians made a mistake in voting for Donald Trump twice.
“I ran for governor in 2016 and 2020, and I won at the same time that Trump won North Carolina,” Cooper told CBS host Major Garrett on “The Takeout” podcast. “I know the people here. I do not believe that North Carolina will make that mistake again.”
On the podcast, he also said that President Joe Biden has does a “fantastic” job in the White House and should run for re-election. Cooper was on hand for a number of White House events, including this year’s Thanksgiving turkey presidential pardon, after which the Biden’s joined him for a “Friendsgiving” with servicemembers at Air Station Cherry Point in eastern North Carolina.
“I had a conversation with him (Joe Biden) just a couple of days ago. I support him. He’s been a fantastic president. I’ve told him that I will try to win North Carolina. If he makes the decision, I’m for him 100%,” said Cooper.
Part of Cooper’s strategy for the 2022 governors’ primaries did draw criticism even within his own party. The DGA was among the Democrat groups that spent more than $42 million on ads highlighting primary candidates who they considered to be “far-right” Republicans in gubernatorial primary races; ones that they thought would be easier to beat in the general election
“It is not just shameless, but dangerous, that Democrats have spent tens of millions this year promoting Republican extremists,” the Editorial Board of the Washington Post wrote in response to the strategy.
For example, in Maryland, the DGA ran ads that focused on primary candidate Dan Cox’s endorsement from Donald Trump saying he’s “too conservative for Maryland.” Similar DGA-funded ads ran during the primaries in Illinois and Pennsylvania.
“Multiple polls have shown Dan Cox is firmly in the driver’s seat of Maryland’s Republican primary. … Given Cox’s frontrunner status and radical MAGA stances, we are starting the general election early and wasting no time to hold him accountable,” the DGA told NBC News.
Dan Cox did win that Republican primary and was decisively beaten by Democrat Wes Moore 65% to 32%.
Cooper said that despite the decisive victory of Gov. Ron DeSantis in Florida (60%-40%) and the dramatic loss of Beto O’Rourke in Texas (55%-44%), governors in his party exceeded expectations by running on the accomplishments of the Biden administration.
He considers governors the last line of defense in protecting rights “stripped away” by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“One of the hardest things to do in politics is to defeat an incumbent governor,” he said. “Governors do so much work that affect people’s everyday lives. And even if you’re not such a good governor, it’s still hard to root one out. And this just was not the time for Democrats to succeed in Texas and Florida. But they are still on the Democratic maps. We have to go in and look at ways that we can improve the processes there.”