North Carolina’s most popular politician reappeared last week, almost four years after disappearing from public view.
Seven times elected mayor of Charlotte, then elected governor by 12 points, Nice Guy Pat McCrory appeared on a YouTube video just in time to say goodbye, to concede his ugly twin’s re-election bid.
He was upbeat and positive, stated his version of a successful term, wished his successor well and called for unity in service to North Carolina.
But where had Nice Guy been for four years?
Those close to McCrory will say he was always a nice guy. But the vast majority of voters never meet a governor individually. They know only the man they see on television, hear on radio or read about in the papers and on social media. And that guy, over the last four years, was nothing like the guy elected in 2012 with two-thirds of independent and one quarter of Democratic votes.
Think back to 2012 and his terrific ad: McCrory on an empty factory floor, talking about pulling together, working hard, being governor for all of us. It pleasantly contrasted with the ubiquitous venom from other campaigns.
Almost as soon as he took office, however, Nice Guy started to disappear. A legislative leadership with an angry, mean and highly partisan agenda grabbed him by the nose and dragged him harsh right, and McCrory wasn’t strong enough to fight his way free.
It wasn’t long before voters saw McCrory differently, not as a nice guy working for all North Carolinians, but as part of the highly partisan power clique that was bulldozing, and in cases arresting, opponents. God forbid, but the public began to identify the governor with the legislature.
One angry senator epitomized the clique’s arrogance when, after a committee meeting, he told a citizen with questions to sit down and shut up. That behavior might play with the Tea Party base, but it didn’t with many independents and Democrats who had voted for Nice Guy.
By July 2013, Public Policy Polling reported, McCrory had negative favorability ratings. And then, clumsily, he tried to be nice to women who were protesting outside the Executive Mansion. He brought them cookies, said “God Bless,” and walked back inside.
Rather than being seen as a nice gesture, it was, in the context of the times, seen as mean and insulting. The nice guy in the 2012 campaign ad would have invited four protesters inside, served refreshments, and listened to their concerns. Mayor McCrory probably would have done that. Gov. McCrory didn’t.
Laura Leslie, WRAL-TV’s insightful capital chief, lists four issues that undermined McCrory’s reelection bid: House Bill 2, the repeal of film tax credits, the I-77 toll lane controversy and cuts in per-student school funding.
At least two of those issues defy a promise to be governor for all. HB2 discriminated against a small minority, and the film credits repeal was payback to a traditionally liberal industry and its Wilmington constituency.
So, what will become of our next nice guy governor?
Roy Cooper is less ebullient and more reserved than McCrory but every bit as much a gentleman, much like former Gov. Jim Martin in temperament. He’s said he wants to be governor for all.
But angry political battles lie ahead. Being Gov. Nice Guy is never easy.
Paul O’Connor has covered state government for 38 years.