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Gary Pearce: COVID-19 boosts Cooper’s re-election campaign

By Gary Pearce

Like many governors, Roy Cooper gets good poll ratings for handling the COVID-19 crisis. Unlike most other Governors, Cooper is running for re-election this year.

Polls on opposite ideological poles – Public Policy Polling on the left and Civitas on the right – say that North Carolinians strongly approve of Cooper’s performance. His numbers are much better than President Donald Trump’s.

The two polls agree that Cooper has opened up a big lead against Lt. Gov. Dan Forest in the Governor’s race: 50-36 in Public Policy Polling and 50-33 in Civitas.

Both polls also found little public support for the “ReopenNC” protests.

Public Policy Polling said last week that North Carolinians approve of Cooper’s handling of the crisis by a 62-22 margin. In contrast, only 46% approve of Trump’s performance, and 49% disapprove.

Public Policy Polling reported that governors in three other swing states also got good approve/disapprove ratings: 57-37 in Michigan, 59-29 in Pennsylvania and 53-37 in Wisconsin.

The Civitas poll, taken earlier in April, was better for Trump, but even better for Cooper. North Carolinians approved of Trump’s handling of the crisis by 57-40, but they approved of Cooper’s performance by 84-11.

On the reopening issue, Public Policy Polling said: “Only 19% of voters think social distancing measures should be relaxed, with 54% believing that the current policies are correct and 26% supporting more aggressive measures than the ones already in place.”

A national NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that 58% of Americans are more concerned about a premature reopening than about harm to the economy; 32% are more worried about the economy.

Republican pollster Bill McInturff, who helped conduct the poll, called the results a “powerful signal” that the country is not ready to reopen now.

Another poll, by Gallup, found that only 20% of Americans would immediately return to normal activity if restrictions were lifted; 71% would wait and see what happens.

As always, polls can change. Unlike a hurricane or ice storm, this crisis will last weeks and months. The virus could go away, or flare up again. The economy could recover quickly, or sink deeper.

For now, it looks like Governor Cooper’s response has increased his reelection prospects.

Crises often help governors politically. Governors can act, and they can command the cameras. Political news gets blocked out. People want politicians to work together on the problem, not fight with each other.

North Carolina has seen this movie before.

The first time was way back in 1955. Luther Hodges, elected lieutenant governor in 1952, had become governor when William B. Umstead died. Hodges was getting ready to run for a full term on his own when three hurricanes hit the state. Hodges donned rain gear and headed for the coast to survey damage. Hugh Morton (of Grandfather Mountain fame) took photos and shipped them to newspapers across the state. Hodges won election easily.

In 1996, Governor Jim Hunt was running for his fourth term against then-state Rep. Robin Hayes. In early September, Hurricane Fran slammed the state. Suddenly, nobody cared about the campaign. Governor Hunt, always a take-charge executive, dominated the news for weeks. By October, the race was over.

In 2016, former Gov. Pat McCrory was trailing Cooper in the governor’s race. Then, Hurricane Matthew hit in October. Suddenly, McCrory was on TV and in command. He got a boost in polls, and he nearly beat Cooper.

McCrory’s admonition then is apt now: “Don’t put on your stupid hat.”

Gary Pearce is a former political consultant and adviser to Governor Jim Hunt. He blogs at NewDayforNC.com.

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