A few years into his first term, Democrats are already searching for President Biden’s replacement. It’s not only because of his failed presidency, but age is a factor, too. Other presidents have turned around their tanking polls, such as Bill Clinton in the mid-1990s. Yet, Biden’s low energy, bumbling speech, and commitment to ineffective policies is an even harder sell for Democrats in 2024. Gov. Roy Cooper is a name that continues to attract attention, but he has several obstacles to overcome if he’s seriously interested in the presidency.
Cooper checks almost all the right boxes for Democrats. In fact, unlike some Southern Democrats, one would be hard pressed to find a single issue that Cooper differentiates himself from Biden or national Democrats. The Washington Post’s quarterly Democratic presidential candidate ranking for 2024 puts Cooper in sixth place, calling him “the leading contender you hear the least about.” In a July column, Ned Barnett at the Raleigh News & Observer largely heaped praise on the idea of a Cooper candidacy.
Clinton’s victory in 1992 and reelection in 1996
Cooper has left behind any moderate positions he once held long ago. Still, perhaps his Southern accent and folksy mannerisms can contribute to a more moderate image at the national level. It seems to have worked, at least overall, in North Carolina. He’s won twice now when being on the same ballot as Donald Trump.
Cooper deftly picks his battles with the Republican-led General Assembly and sidesteps some of the more supercharged cultural controversies. However, that’s an almost impossible task in a presidential campaign.
Whether he deserves much credit, North Carolina’s ascendancy at the top state for business elevates attention toward Cooper and his résumé. To the chagrin of free market organizations, Cooper lavishly doles out tax incentives to more prominent corporations looking to relocate to the state. Business acumen, or at least the perception of it, may be highly valuable after Biden’s disastrous economic policies. That’s a clear advantage for the governor.
Cooper made be construed as a too-safe pick, though. Biden was considered safe – a mainstay of the Democrat Party – and a former vice president, he’s now below Donald Trump’s popularity basement, and fatigue over him seems settled. Furthermore, while North Carolina media is one of Cooper’s biggest cheerleaders, it’s unlikely the national media will have the same level of adoration for Cooper. He’s not a minority–an increasingly prized trait in Democrat circles – or as openly aggressive as some of his Democrat counterparts.
Cooper’s far from a prolific public speaker and doesn’t seem like he’d be particularly skilled in retail politics like a Clinton or Barack Obama.
A lot of Cooper’s appeal makes little sense for Democrats outside of North Carolina. For all his political skills and his leadership of the Democratic Governors Association, Cooper’s kind of a boring guy that doesn’t emanate much excitement. Still, since Biden’s collapse appears almost inevitable, Democrats may reach for a less known or predictable option. That makes a Cooper candidacy a little more possible, yet still unlikely.
Ray Nothstine is Carolina Journal opinion editor and Second Amendment research fellow at the John Locke Foundation.
This column first appeared in the July / August print edition of Carolina Journal.