The conservative vying to be North Carolina’s next governor has found an unlikely kindred spirit while stuck in a campaign on pause.
“It’s probably the first time Joe Biden and I have had anything in common,” Dan Forest says with a laugh. Forest is North Carolina’s lieutenant governor and the GOP’s nominee against Democratic Governor Roy Cooper this fall. Four years after Cooper won by a razor-thin margin, his bid for a second term is the marquee governor’s race in the nation this year—the only one, aside from New Hampshire, occurring in a major presidential swing state. Like the Democratic former vice president, Forest is struggling to reach voters from the confines of his home. He’s facing an incumbent with a bigger job, a deeper war chest, and a crisis that puts him in front of locked-down constituents nearly every day.
But Forest’s challenge in North Carolina is far greater than Biden’s across America. Although President Donald Trump’s bounce in the polls has already faded, Cooper is enjoying strong public approval for his handling of the coronavirus outbreak. As many as seven in 10 North Carolina voters approve of Cooper’s performance, and they seem to back both his decision to shut down North Carolina’s economy in mid-March and the slower, more cautious approach to reopening that Cooper has taken compared with Republican governors in the surrounding states of South Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee. Forest has aligned himself with those GOP leaders and pushed Cooper to lift restrictions faster. “I think everything should be open,” he told me when we spoke by phone last week.