There’s no getting around the fact that one of the keys to Pat McCrory’s 2012 victory in the race for Governor was the widespread perception that he was a “moderate.” In many places in North Carolina, voters proudly displayed “McCrory for Governor” and “Obama for President” campaign signs in the same front yards.
Ultimately, of course, there were many factors that contributed to McCrory’s reputation for moderation — some of them real and some imaginary – but at the heart of the matter was the widespread perception amongst modern suburbanites in many parts of the state that the Mayor of Charlotte was a man with whom they had much in common. Though pro-business and fiscally conservative, he was perceived to be a modern — even cosmopolitan — fellow who kept his religious beliefs to himself and who, being a Yankee transplant, would not be obsessed (like so many of his friends on the right) with recreating the North Carolina of the mid-20th Century.
It was in this light that McCrory’s promises about not further restricting access to abortion for the state’s women were so important and powerful. When McCrory gave WRAL’s Laura Leslie that now infamous one word answer – “none” – to her question about which additional restrictions on abortion he would support in the debate with Walter Dalton, he confirmed and cemented the hopes and expectations of tens of thousands of moderate swing voters who wanted a change from years of worn-out Democratic leadership, but who did not favor a radical swing to Deep South-style fundamentalist theocracy. Simply put, McCrory’s plainspoken one word answer gave the go-ahead to a huge chunk of the electorate that would never have voted for a Governor Paul Stam or Dan Forrest in a hundred years to vote Republican in 2012.
Today, of course, we see that this was all a sham. Yesterday, by signing the measure described by the North Carolina Family Policy Council as a “sweeping pro-life bill” Pat McCrory revealed once and for all that he is either a closeted, right-wing social issues extremist, a craven lapdog, a stunningly cynical political manipulator or some combination thereof.
The 2016 election is still a long way off, but it’s hard to imagine — given this newborn clarity in the situation — that the Governor will find it so easy next time to attract many of the moderates who supported him in 2012.