Will he or won’t he? North Carolina’s political world continues to speculate about whether former Gov. Pat McCrory will mount another campaign for the Executive Mansion.

For his part, McCrory hasn’t ruled out a run for the Republican nomination in 2020.

While his defeat in 2016 to current Gov. Roy Cooper must still sting, McCrory is in much better shape than you might expect.

There’s not a lot of current polling, but all signs are that Republicans still really like him. McCrory also has much better name recognition than any other potential candidate. The most recent PPP poll on the matter showed that he garnered 65% positive in favorability ratings to just 15% negative among registered Republicans.

Photo by NCDOT

That said, McCrory would face an uphill battle. Cooper is extremely popular among registered voters.

Here’s my take on what McCrory would need to do to have a chance.

Editor’s note: This article is not endorsing or opposing a potential McCrory run for governor.

1) Make a decision.

By the end of 2018, McCrory will need to officially get off the fence. But if he hasn’t already, it’s time to make the final decision. In or out.

McCrory would find plenty of people — both staffers and donors — still loyal and ready to work on his behalf. But he needs to lock them down before they move to other candidates in the race.

Speaking of which, McCrory would need to decide whether he’s planning to face Lt. Gov. Dan Forest head on or try to finesse that relationship.

At just 50 years old, Forest would have time to run in future election cycles. But he’s well ahead of the game in prepping a campaign, and people are genuinely excited about his candidacy.

[Longleaf story: Is Dan Forest the inevitable Republican nominee for governor?]

Dan Forest. Photo via Lt. Gov. Dan Forest on Facebook.

2) Start raising money.

This sounds obvious, but the formal beginning to the 2020 election cycle will be here sooner than you think. At the end of 2017, McCrory’s campaign committee had $118,000 on hand. It’s not nothing, but it’s far from where he’d need to be.

Forest brought in more than $1 million in the first six months of 2018 and has more than half a million in cash on hand. Beyond that, there are several PACs already backing Forest.

3) Hire a good communications person.

McCrory is going to have to counteract the narrative that’s been created around him, and he’s not going to be able to do it with North Carolina’s traditional media. He’s going to need to ignore the newspapers and build his own story — which takes a different skill set from old-school press secretary types.

Having a talented staff is key to the rest of the plan.

4) Be more careful on the radio.

Or better yet, get off it entirely. For the better part of a year, McCrory has co-hosted a regular show on Charlotte’s WBT talking local and state politics. Nobody is more qualified, and he’s made that hour of the morning a must-listen.

But there are things you can say as a commentator that you can’t say as a candidate. Like that the Black Political Caucus has too much influence in Charlotte elections.

5) Come up with a better explanation for things like House Bill 2 and toll lanes on I-77.

McCrory never could come up with a strong stance on either issue, and this alienated part of his base. On House Bill 2, the measure designed to quash Charlotte city council protections for transgender people, he struggled to thread the needle between defending the law and displaying to the business community that North Carolina is open for business.

And on toll lanes, McCrory basically let his hands be tied. This hurt him in the Lake Norman area north of Charlotte, which is normally ruby red.

If he had brought in votes from this part of the state in 2016 at even close to the same rate as he did in 2012, he would still be governor.

I-77 in Charlotte. Photo by Jon Dawson via Flickr (Creative Commons).

6) Write a book.

Books aren’t just for presidential candidates anymore. It doesn’t have to be super long, but some type of autobiography would help him shape his story.

Here’s a potential title: “Carolina Comeback.”

7) Be visible.

McCrory was at his best both as mayor of Charlotte and as governor when he was cutting ribbons and interacting with people. He can do this again.

McCrory should start showing up to ribbon cuttings of Connect NC projects, funded by the $2 billion bond package he pushed as governor. He doesn’t even have to speak.

[Longleaf story: What will be Pat McCrory’s most enduring legacy? It’s likely being built right now.]

This will also be useful in what will likely become a Republican attack line on Gov. Cooper — the “missing governor.” Cooper’s daily schedule is usually left blank, and he doesn’t attend nearly as many public events as his predecessor did.

8) Find a cause.

McCrory needs some issue to spearhead and publicly push for. Something bipartisan would be ideal — potentially community colleges or other job training forms. Maybe something charitable.

This will get him in the spotlight in a positive way.

9) Befriend farmers.

There’s some real political hay to be made — pun intended — in defending agriculture. Whether he views it this way or not, Cooper has staked out a position against hog farmers by virtue of vetoing the Farm Act this short session.

[Longleaf story: Pigs still wield political power in North Carolina]

If McCrory doesn’t think he can do this authentically, he should work with Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler or Rep. Jimmy Dixon to be the friend of family farmers.

Photo of a Yancey County farm by Kolin Toney via Flickr (Creative Commons).

10) Keep hammering Roy Cooper on Hurricane Matthew recovery.

Cooper is under fire once again for the slow pace of recovery in eastern North Carolina, and his administration has not offered any good answers. McCrory has criticized this before, but would need to keep on this if he plans to run for governor again.

11) Answer this one big question: What would be different if you were governor?

This is probably the most important one on the whole list. Cooper is going to be tough to beat, and one big reason is that it’s hard to come up with a counterargument.

With veto-proof majorities in the General Assembly, Republicans are running the ship of government and steadily chipping away at Cooper’s power. Since House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger have had no trouble advancing their agenda, it’s honestly hard to say that state policy would be any different had McCrory kept office.

If McCrory wants one more Carolina comeback, he’ll need to figure out what this difference would be.

[We’ll cover all angles of the 2020 governor’s race in the free weekly Longleaf Politics newsletter. Sign up today.]

Cover photo by NCDOT

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