RALEIGH — The Trump train that carried Republicans to victory all over the South may have left one car behind in North Carolina — Gov. Pat McCrory, who trailed by a few thousand votes Thursday in a still too-close-to-call race that played out amid anger over the state’s transgender bathroom law.
The law limiting LGBT rights appeared to have a substantial role in the Election Day contest between McCrory, who signed the measure and vigorously defended it against boycotts and other protests, and Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper, who called for its repeal.
McCrory, who in 2012 won the governorship by 500,000 votes in a blowout the same year President Barack Obama was re-elected, was losing by 5,000 votes out of nearly 4.7 million cast. In 2012, McCrory received 170,000 more votes than Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. This time, he trailed Donald Trump by 63,000 votes.
McCrory could still win. There are tens of thousands of provisional ballots that have to be examined to determine whether they are valid and can be added to the vote tallies. Counties don’t have to submit their final results until Nov. 18.
North Carolina debated, passed and signed the bathroom bill in a one-day special session in March. The measure, known as House Bill 2, requires transgender people to use restrooms in schools and government buildings that correspond to the gender on their birth certificate.
The law also leaves out gay and transgender people from state anti-discrimination protection. And it disallows local measures that offer protection.
The national backlash began immediately. Charlotte lost the NBA All-Star game. The NCAA and Atlantic Coast Conference pulled basketball tournament games out of North Carolina, a punishing blow in a state where college basketball is practically religion. Bruce Springsteen and other stars canceled concerts. Businesses like PayPal stopped expansions or moves.
Even some of McCrory’s supporters were bothered — not necessarily by the law itself but by the costly and embarrassing spectacle that resulted.
“The bathroom thing was ludicrous. It took away from a lot of the good he did, like bring jobs back,” said 54-year-old John Muter, who still voted for McCrory.
House Bill 2 struck down an LGBT rights ordinance in Charlotte, where McCrory was mayor for 14 years. Mecklenburg County, which is made up mostly of Charlotte, gave its hometown son a 3,100-vote victory in 2012. On Tuesday, McCrory lost Mecklenburg County by 136,000 votes.
William Brinkley was one of those Charlotte voters who flipped their votes, upset that McCrory and other Republicans poked their nose into local business.
“I’m totally against the entire scheming that they want to pass something without the populace’s consent. Trying to do stuff in a closed session is not the way to get stuff done in this state,” the 27-year-old business consultant said recently. “I 100 percent think it’s an invasion of freedom.”
As expected, the bathroom law hurt McCrory in the state’s booming and diverse urban areas, such as Charlotte and the Raleigh-Durham area, with their large banking and technology sectors. Unofficial results Tuesday showed that even in many of the rural areas that he won, McCrory didn’t match Trump’s vote totals.
Gay rights organizations welcomed the outcome.
“There’s no question the voters have spoken and resoundingly rejected the hate that is H.B. 2,” said Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign.
Asked about the law’s effect on the vote totals, McCrory campaign spokesman Ricky Diaz said by email there’s no outcome yet and others will have time to dissect the election once a winner is declared.
Still, even if Cooper prevails, not much may change. Republicans maintained veto-proof majorities in the state Senate and House.
The bathroom law was not the only thing to hurt McCrory. The governor took criticism in the past year in the Charlotte area for not actively trying to block construction of toll lanes on Interstate 77.
Another place that felt the effects of House Bill 2 — and other Republican policies — was the city of Wilmington.
Before McCrory took office, Wilmington had a booming $170 million film industry. But the elimination of state tax incentives for film projects and the entertainment industry’s backlash against House Bill 2 have cut that to about $60 million this year, said Johnny Griffin, director of the Wilmington Regional Film Commission.
McCrory won the county by 15,500 votes in 2012 and lost it by 5,000 votes this time. Trump won the county on Tuesday by 4,000 votes.
“Trump carried New Hanover County, but McCrory didn’t?” Griffin said. “The film industry is very important in this town. People get it.”