The 2016 election was a catastrophe for LGBTQ rights. There was, however, one bright spot in this suffocating brume: In North Carolina, Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper appears to have unseated Republican Gov. Pat McCrory. On Wednesday, Cooper claimed victory over McCrory with 100 percent of precincts reporting. A margin of 4,772 votes separates the two candidates; McCrory can request a recount, but it’ll be difficult to overcome that relatively sizable margin.
McCrory’s loss can fairly obviously be attributed to his support of HB2, a notoriously nasty law that repealed local LGBTQ nondiscrimination ordinances and forbade most transgender people from using certain bathrooms. As attorney general, Cooper refused to defend HB2 in court and made it the centerpiece of his gubernatorial campaign. This strategy proved quite effective because HB2 is wildly unpopular in North Carolina, and many voters blame McCrory for encouraging its passage and vigorously defending it in the face of widespread boycotts.
Perhaps the clearest indication that McCrory was done in by HB2 is the fact that Donald Trump carried the state by four percentage points, a surprisingly big victory. That means several hundred thousand people who voted for Trump over Hillary Clinton also voted for Cooper over McCrory. By the time voters went to the polls this fall, HB2 had come to define McCrory, and he had embraced the bill as his legacy. It seems that embrace proved so toxic that many voters willing to support Trump could not bear to support McCrory as well.
The North Carolina governor’s race was widely pitched as a referendum on HB2, and on the politics of anti-LGBTQ legislation more broadly. McCrory’s loss suggests that, at least in purple or light-red states, LGBTQ-bashing bills remain politically toxic. But his defeat rings a bit hollow on Wednesday, given that LGBTQ-bashing presidential tickets can apparently still win the White House.