Raleigh, N.C. — Although most political observers usually discount their importance, politicians routinely tout endorsements by everybody from business groups to celebrities as empirical evidence that many people think they are most qualified for the office they're seeking.
But Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and Attorney General Roy Cooper, the Democratic candidate for governor, are locked in a battle this year for the support of law enforcement groups. McCrory landed the biggest endorsement yet on Thursday when the North Carolina Police Benevolent Association officially backed him.
"Endorsements are usually about politics and politicians. This one is not. This one matters," McCrory said, noting that the PBA has endorsed more Democrats than Republicans this year.
McCrory also has been endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police and the North Carolina Troopers Association, while Cooper has the backing of the National Association of Police Organizations and the Raleigh Police Protective Association.
"The law enforcement people that he has worked with know him best, and they do not want him to be the governor of North Carolina," McCrory said of Cooper. "That is a very strong indictment against Roy Cooper."
Cooper's campaign declined to comment.
Cooper angered some law enforcement officers when he decided to charge white Charlotte police officer Randall Kerrick with voluntary manslaughter in the 2013 shooting of an unarmed black man, Jonathan Ferrell, who was mistaken for a burglary suspect. When the case ended in a mistrial, the Attorney General's Office announced it would not retry the case.
Many officers felt Kerrick should never have been charged in the first place and that Cooper had bowed to public pressure. About a third of the delegates to the FOP convention in Charlotte two weeks ago walked out on Cooper as he answered questions about the case.
"We need a governor that will be a leader to bring all people to the table in law enforcement, all stakeholders," said John Midgette, executive director of the PBA. "We have a situation that is a false narrative out there, by and large, and we have to address it. But we're not going to address it by having these situations ignored."
Meredith College political science professor David McLennan said endorsements often have more impact early in an election cycle, especially in races that include several candidates.
"By this time in the campaign, you know, particularly when you have competing endorsements," he said. "In this case, we have a number of police-related groups. I think the average voter is not going to pay much attention."
McLennan said Cooper's position of oversight over North Carolina's justice system could create many different issues leading to a lack of endorsements from police groups. Still, McLennan said he's not sure the average voter sees the difference in one group or another.
"It may make a marginal difference in terms of fundraising from those groups or some interest in those groups, but again, when you see six groups equally divided in the voters' minds, and the issues are not necessarily the top in the voters' minds, it goes into the larger theme that Roy Cooper's not been doing his job," McLennan said.
"So, clearly, you see the McCrory campaign having a vested interest in saying those kinds of things, pointing out the importance of the endorsements."