Cooper claims victory but McCrory says election isn't over

RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina voters have given Republicans a ringing endorsement, with one lone exception: Gov. Pat McCrory, who couldn't shake criticism of the state law limiting protections for gay people.

McCrory remained locked in a race with Democrat Roy Cooper that remained too close to call early Wednesday, hours after Republican Donald Trump and U.S. Sen. Richard Burr emerged as victors for the GOP.

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With more than 4.6 million votes cast, only a few thousand separated the two rivals with Cooper holding a narrow lead that will be subject to a recount because it is so close.

"The process is continuing in North Carolina," McCrory told his supporters early Wednesday morning. "The election is not over."

McCrory held a lead for much of Tuesday night, but shortly before midnight about 90,000 votes from Durham County were reported that turned the advantage to Cooper. Those votes will be intensely scrutinized over the next several weeks to determine if they all should count. Under state law, counties will complete a canvass of all their votes Nov. 18.

"We will direct any and all resources to this effort and are confident that once all votes are counted, North Carolina will continue to prosper under four more years of Pat McCrory's leadership," said North Carolina GOP chairman Robin Hayes.

The race for governor served as a referendum on the state's recent rightward policy shift, exemplified by the law limiting protections for LGBT people and restricting restroom access for transgender people. The law known as House Bill 2 prompted businesses and organizations to boycott the state and remove sporting events from it.

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For his part, Cooper told a crowd early Wednesday morning: "We are confident that these results will be certified and that they will confirm victory."

Whoever emerges as the victor will still have to deal with a Republican-controlled General Assembly that maintained its supermajority in both the House and Senate. That control means it is unlikely that the state will see a rollback of laws like House Bill 2.

Another big issue in Mecklenburg County was the Interstate 77 toll road.

People in the Huntersville area have pushed against the toll lanes for years, and it showed in the vote totals.

McCrory only won seven of the 12 precincts in north Mecklenburg County, compared to 2012 when he won all 12 precincts.

The McCrory campaign wouldn't talk on the record Wednesday about the race, but sources said if the provisional ballot count isn't enough to change the result, McCrory is likely to ask for a complete recount which means it could be even longer before North Carolina knows it's leader.

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In the presidential race, Trump captured the key battleground state over Hillary Clinton after both made frequent visits to the state that has a marked urban-rural divide.

"Donald Trump, he's got some kind of, just, assertiveness to him. And it's something I think we need, some assertiveness around here. Because everyone feels like getting just pushed around," 19-year-Cole Barnette said after casting a ballot Tuesday for Trump and other Republicans in Creedmoor, north of Raleigh. "Donald Trump, he says it like it is. That's what we need."

North Carolina voters also re-elected Burr, the powerful chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Republican members of Congress, meanwhile, also maintained a 10-3 edge over Democrats in the state's delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives.

In a state with a marked urban-rural divide, many voters wanted to make their vote count despite misgivings about choices on either end of the political spectrum.

"I just think that Donald Trump is a disgusting man. The way he views females. The way he views people as a whole," said Lakenya Daniels, a 27-year-old black voter who picked Clinton and other Democrats when she voted in Creedmoor. "Hillary's got her faults too. But I'd rather have her than him."

The differing opinions illustrate what has made North Carolina something of a political enigma. Growing cities contain troves of Democratic voters, while vast rural swaths are conservative. A 2012 Census analysis found that only Texas had more rural residents.

Democrats represent about 40 percent of the state's 6.9 million registered voters, while Republicans and independents are about 30 percent each. But the state has voted reliably for Republican presidential candidates since 1980, with the exception of Barack Obama's 2008 victory.

Registered Republican Melanie Green cast her ballot for Trump, McCrory and Burr. But she didn't feel as excited as she did four years ago, when she hoped McCrory's election, along with GOP control of the legislature, would cause more of an economic boost.

Green, 45, said she still struggles to get by, cleaning houses and doing odd jobs.

"Our schools still don't have what they need. The economy doesn't seem much better. They have been so concerned with bathrooms that they miss the important things," Green said outside her polling place in Zebulon, east of Raleigh.

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