Roy Cooper for President?

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper speaking at a podium
Back in the day of brokered political conventions, it was common for some states to place the name of a “favorite son” into nomination for president on the first ballot. This was done largely for one of two reasons. One was to give their state leverage in seeking concessions from the current front-runner, and the other was to simply recognize and honor an outstanding elected official for his service to the state. 

In 1964 America was still reeling from the assassination of John Kennedy, and there was no doubt that JFK’s vice president, Lyndon Johnson, who had been sworn in on a flight from Dallas just months earlier, would be the Democratic Party’s nominee. Even so, the North Carolina delegation nominated Governor Terry Sanford on the first ballot, mainly as a way of recognizing Terry for his anti-poverty and education programs, and for his stand on civil rights. But the ceremonial nod to Sanford had an interesting back story that was unknown to the public.

In her book, Kennedy and Johnson, JFK’s private secretary Evelyn Lincoln recounted a conversation she had with her boss just days before his assassination. Kennedy told her that he was thinking of naming Terry Sanford as his running mate in 1964, but that, “It will not be Lyndon.” Had JFK survived, then Sanford would have probably been on the ticket and perhaps would have become president in 1968. It was not to be. However, Sanford did make an official run for the White House in 1972, but his campaign fizzled after he lost the North Carolina primary to George Wallace. 

Truth is, it is rare for anyone hailing from North Carolina to become president. Only two, James Polk and Andrew Johnson, got to sit in the Oval Office, and Johnson was so inept (the first president to be impeached) that he jinxed it for other North Carolina presidential aspirants to follow. Just ask John Edwards whose campaign imploded when it was discovered that he had produced a child from an extra-marital affair. But if we are to believe a recent report from CNN, then the Tar Heel State might have a chance to break the jinx. That’s because when listing top Democrats who might be a viable candidate for president in 2024 should Joe Biden drop out, the name “ROY COOPER” was mentioned prominently. 

So how likely is it that Uncle Joe will decide not to seek a second term? A few months ago, the answer to that question was, “not likely.” But two things happened recently that could change the equation. First, the latest polls now consistently show Trump beating Biden in a 2024 re-match. Second, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius opined that Biden should not seek re-election and that Kamala Harris should probably not be the Democratic standard-bearer either. This was a monumental blow to Biden because Ignatius is one of the most respected journalists in the nation and is a White House favorite. History will tell, but Ignatius’ bombshell may prove to be the most significant news media influencer on presidential politics since Walter Cronkite reported that the war in Vietnam was lost, leading LBJ not to seek re-election in 1968. Reportedly Johnson told his aides, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost middle America.” 

OK, so if Biden drops out, what are Roy Cooper’s chances of being the Democratic nominee in 2024? It’s hard to say. True, Cooper has proven that he can win elections, but only by a razor-thin margin the first time around because he threw Pat McCrory under the bus for creating the “Bathroom Bill,” when in fact McCrory did no such thing. In fact, Pat tried to derail it. Cooper also gained both praise and criticism for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Supporters say Cooper helped to save lives by ordering non-essential personnel to shelter at home, and later by imposing mask mandates and enforcing socially distant public gatherings. But the Governor acted unilaterally in extending his pandemic policies when he should have sought consensus from the council of state to do so. The lengthy shutdown caused thousands of small businesses to close forever, the effect of which we’re still feeling today. On the plus side, Cooper maintains a façade of the genial Southern gentleman who’s moderate enough to appeal to a national electorate, much as Jimmy Carter did in 1976. 

Of course, Joe Biden must first step down in order for Roy Cooper to step up. If that happens, Cooper would face a slew of Democratic contenders, several of whom already enjoy the kind of name recognition that Roy lacks. Still, America seems to love Southern governors, at least for a while. We proved that by electing Carter, Clinton, and George W. Bush. I just don’t know if I could get used to calling Roy Cooper, “Mr. President.” I might have to, though, providing that Biden drops out and that Roy doesn’t have a baby out of wedlock.


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