Governor Roy Cooper doesn’t know why he keeps winning in North Carolina while other Democrats keep losing.
“I wish there was a secret that I could tell you,” he told me a few weeks ago on a Zoom call from the governor’s mansion. “I’m not sure that there is. If I had the secret, I’d be out there holding seminars.”
In 2016, North Carolina Democrats went into Election Day thinking they could sweep the competitive races for president, Senate, and governor. Only Cooper won. In 2020, the dynamic was the same: three marquee races, and only Cooper pulled it off. Ever since Barack Obama carried the state in 2008, Democrats have predicted that North Carolina will be the next Virginia—that it will rapidly turn blue like its neighbor because of changing demographics, including an influx of college-educated voters to the Research Triangle. But at least in terms of election results, North Carolina is still a red state—it just has a Cooper-blue blotch on its record.
Figuring out why Cooper keeps winning could have potentially huge implications for determining whether he’s a fluke or a model for Democrats across the South and in other red states. Cooper’s races never became national Democratic causes. He has set no major fundraising records. He’s not an otherworldly political talent. And yet his success is already a source of chatter among some political obsessives gaming out the 2024 presidential ticket. Cooper, they told me, could offer a compelling balance to Vice President Kamala Harris as the white male Democratic governor of an important swing state. (Allies of President Joe Biden say he’ll run for a second term, but he’ll be 82 years old by then.)