DURHAM, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory conceded the governor's race Monday, clearing the way for Democrat Roy Cooper to be declared the winner nearly four weeks after Election Day.
The win by Cooper, the state's outgoing attorney general, gives Democrats an important consolation prize after a disappointing election across the country. However, Republicans retain super majorities in both legislative chambers.
In a video message from his office posted to YouTube, McCrory said, "Despite continued questions that should be answered regarding the voting process, I personally believe that the majority of our citizens have spoken, and we now should do everything we can to support the 75th governor of North Carolina, Roy Cooper."
McCrory, who became the first sitting North Carolina governor elected to a four-year term to lose a re-election bid, was weighed down by a series of divisive laws he signed, including House Bill 2.
That law limited LGBT rights and directed transgender people to use restrooms in schools and government buildings corresponding to the sex listed on their birth certificates. It led to companies, sports organizations and entertainers pulling their business from the state, costing hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in spending.
With appeals drying up and postelection counts padding Cooper's narrow lead, McCrory announced he was giving up after Durham County elections workers were nearing completion of a state-ordered recount of 94,000 votes there after technical troubles on election night related to tabulation machines. The completed recount showed Cooper gaining six additional votes and McCrory none compared to their election night tallies.
McCrory, who won the office by a comfortable margin four years ago, was unable to generate the same voter support that lifted Republicans Donald Trump and Richard Burr to victory in the state.
With all 100 counties now completing their counts, unofficial results posted by the State Board of Elections showed Cooper leading McCrory by slightly more than the 10,000 votes needed to avoid an automatic recount. The state board still must officially certify the results, likely this Friday.
A total of 4.7 million votes were cast in a race national Democrats saw as their best chance to flip a gubernatorial seat. Nearly $35 million was spent on broadcast TV ads in the campaign overall, according to estimates from the Center for Public Integrity.
In a written statement posted on social media, Cooper praised McCrory for his public service and said he was proud to have received support from "so many who believe that we can come together to make a North Carolina that works for everyone." He talked up unity following a contentious election season.
Cooper has stated he wants House Bill 2 repealed because he said it promotes discrimination. He had said the law and other legislation McCrory signed has harmed North Carolina's brand.
Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin, whose group invested heavily in electing Cooper, said Monday that "McCrory's reign of discrimination is finally over."
In addition to trying to repeal H.B. 2, Cooper has said if elected he would work to halt the state's recent right-ward slant since Republicans took control of state government this decade.
"Together, we can make North Carolina the shining beacon in the South by investing in our schools, supporting working families and building a state that works for everyone," Cooper said.
But Cooper, a former state legislator first elected attorney general in 2000, won't enter office from a position of strength. Republicans hold veto-proof majorities in the House and Senate, making it difficult for him to push his agenda — or stop theirs.
"Policy-wise there's almost nothing he can do," said Steven Greene, a political science professor at North Carolina State University. "But politically, if he plays smart, he can put Democrats in a positon to win back some seats" in the General Assembly," Greene added, providing Cooper more leverage.
McCrory and his allies defended signing House Bill 2 and unsuccessfully tried to focus his campaign on the state's recovering economy and finances during his four years in office. Flooding after Hurricane Matthew in October also gave McCrory the opportunity to project the image of a leader as he directed recovery efforts as cameras watched.
McCrory also may have lost votes in his home county after public opposition to toll lanes being constructed on Interstate 77. He also got criticized for signing new restrictions on abortion and requiring photo identification to vote. An appeals court last summer struck down the voter ID and ballot access law.
McCrory mentioned in his video a record that included budget surpluses, tax overhauls and higher teacher pay.
"Our team leaves the state in a much better place than when we came into office," said McCrory, who had been the first GOP candidate elected governor in 20 years.
McCrory's defeat marks the first for a sitting North Carolina governor since the state constitution was amended in 1977 to allow governors to seek a second term.
Robertson contributed from Raleigh.