CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - The COVID-19 pandemic and the response by officials may have been the defining issue of the 2020 election, both nationally and in North Carolina.
Republicans won several major races in the state, from Mark Robinson’s victory in the Lt. Governor’s race, and other Council of State offices like Commissioner of Agriculture, Superintendent of Public Instruction, N.C. Treasurer, Labor Commissioner, and Insurance Commissioner.
Governor Roy Cooper (D), who put the state into restrictions and tiered phases that resulted in closed schools and businesses, won reelection over Lt. Governor Dan Forest. The margin of victory, 51.48% for Cooper to 47.06% for Forest, a difference of 240,524 votes, was closer than some polls indicated in the last few days.
The issue of the pandemic created a stark difference with his Republican challenger.
“Politicians like this who hold these in-person events and discourage masks, they’re part of the problem," Cooper said during the debate.
“Masks are a great cover for what he really doesn’t want to talk about, the million and a half people he has left unemployed," Forest replied.
Experts like Dr. Chris White, a political science professor at Livingstone College in Salisbury, says the pandemic was the defining issue of the campaign.
“At some level Forest had to make a distinction between him and Cooper," White said. “In general I would say Cooper’s measured approach, I work here, Livingstone College in Rowan County, my children are in school in Davidson County, next door neighbors have taken different approaches as far as opening schools, businesses, those sorts of things. Maybe some of the flexibility helped Cooper’s cause especially towards the end in the run up to the election.”
That distinction for Forest was to push for a full reopening of the state, businesses and schools. It did not appeal to voters like Kameron Wilson.
“I feel like Governor Cooper was handling it the best he could, with what he had, he used all the tools at his disposal," college student Wilson said. "I feel like and I feel like it’s making a change.”
State Senator Carl Ford, (R-Rowan, Stanly), who won reelection on Tuesday by a wide margin, says one advantage the pandemic gave Governor Copper was airtime on TV.
“It’s possible that people approved of what he was doing but it’s also possible that he got free airtime everyday that Forest didn’t get," Ford said. "Let’s be honest, it makes a big difference when you’re getting all of that free media and he got it every day for seven months and that’s hard to overcome.”
Ford says when lawmakers are back in session they will try again to limit the governor’s power when it comes to restrictions.
“We’re lined up to go back to court with him and try to change the law, and the law needs to be changed regardless of who the governor is now or fifty years from now,” Ford added. “We tried to do that last year and it was vetoed saying that after thirty days, yes the governor can do it, he’s got complete control, but after thirty days it needs to come to the Council of State and then to the General Assembly. It’s been about hurricanes and ice storms and all of this, in a couple of two or three weeks it’s over, but this has been months and months and months with one man having the say and that’s never a good thing, regardless of party.”