The New York Times still has the racially hostile, bathroom-bigoted state of North Carolina on its mind and in its political crosshairs. Tuesday’s full-court front-page press coverage of the ongoing LGBT-rights and bathroom-access controversy was joined by hand-wringing about a recent GOP court victory that will tighten previously loosened voting rules, an action that liberal groups (and the Times) consider racially motivated.
The Times had a similar outburst earlier this month, with reporter Richard Fausset throwing around the “far right” label against North Carolina conservatives. And just as NYT reporters did then, Fausset on Tuesday used the spectre of economic boycotts in his front-page report, “Bathroom Law Shakes Up Political Contests in North Carolina.”
Parrish Clodfelter, a 79-year-old retiree who lives on a central North Carolina farm, professes opinions about transgender people that might get him fired if he worked for a multinational corporation, though for many here, they constitute simple country wisdom.
“A man wants to change to a woman, he’s got a mental problem,” Mr. Clodfelter said on Wednesday over lunch at Spiro’s Family Restaurant, where posters by the door advertised classes on carrying concealed weapons and a “Hillbilly Sunday” Pentecostal church service.
But Mr. Clodfelter has a different kind of problem. As a longtime Republican, he wants to support Pat McCrory, North Carolina’s Republican governor, in his re-election bid. At the same time, he is worried about the boycotts and lost jobs resulting from the law the governor signed in March that limits transgender bathroom access and eliminates antidiscrimination protections for gay and transgender people.
If the backlash continues, Mr. Clodfelter said, he will consider voting for Mr. McCrory’s Democratic opponent, Roy Cooper, who supports the law’s repeal.
“I’m afraid if they don’t change it,” he said, “it’ll hurt the state.”
Even before the law tapped into a national debate about transgender rights, privacy and political correctness, North Carolina, the rare Southern state that is evenly split between liberals and conservatives, was considered to be up for grabs in the November presidential race, particularly if Donald J. Trump tops the Republican ticket.
Now the law, and the backlash against it, have introduced a different kind of volatile energy to state politics here, roiling a governor’s race that could be the nation’s most competitive. It is also affecting other crucial contests, including that of Senator Richard Burr, who hopes to fend off a vigorous Democratic challenge from Deborah K. Ross, a former State House member and former state director of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Paypal and the N.B.A. have threatened to pull out of the state.
Thus far, the uproar may be doing the most harm to Mr. McCrory, an affable former mayor of Charlotte who has struggled, since taking office in 2013, to maintain his reputation as a moderate in the face of a Republican-dominated legislature that is considerably more conservative than he is.
But November is a long way off, and social issues reverberate in complex ways in a state that has a reputation for moderation but also produced Jesse Helms, the arch-conservative United States senator. Carter Wrenn, a longtime political strategist who worked with Mr. Helms, said Democrats had been winning arguments over the law of late. But he said Republicans would have time to make the case to voters that the law helps ensure privacy and security in public restrooms.
Fausset seemed to be rolling his eyes at Republican Gov. Pat McCrory’s defense.
On Thursday, he said he suspected that the entire matter had been orchestrated by Democrats and the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay rights group, to give Democrats an advantage in a tight governor’s race.
The backlash, he said, has allowed for no dialogue on “a very complex issue.” Dissenters to the left-wing position, he said, were being intimidated. Mr. McCrory used the word “Orwellian” twice.
Alan Blinder looked at the lay of the land in North Carolina over the bias law. Blinder’s take was pretty balanced until he went over the top with liberal conventional wisdom:
Many of the law’s opponents fear that North Carolina’s reputation has already been tarnished, perhaps irrevocably. On Friday, in a development that did not go unnoticed here, the law was even a subject during President Obama’s news conference with Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain.
Blinder also gave more publicity to North Carolina’s “Moral Monday” movement of black pastors, a reliably leftist religious protest group that the Times can safely support, to fight what it considers the state’s “abrupt rightward swing.”
And so critics renewed their vows for a long campaign of resistance to the law, already the subject of a legal challenge, in a broadening of the Moral Monday movement that has shadowed the Republican-dominated Legislature in recent years.
The two reporters teamed up for Tuesday’s front-page piece on a federal judge upholding North Carolina’s move to pull back some loosened voting regulations. They back-footed Republicans right from the start.
A federal judge on Monday upheld sweeping Republican-backed changes to election rules, including a voter identification provision, that civil rights groups say unfairly targeted African-Americans and other minorities. The ruling could have serious political repercussions in a state that is closely contested in presidential elections.
The new law only tightened up various voting restrictions that have been loosened over the past few years, including a seven-day reduction in the early-voting period. Yet the move is being treated on the left as a civil rights emergency.
Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, who signed the bill scaling back the voter access provisions in August 2013, welcomed the decision. He said in a statement that “this ruling further affirms that requiring a photo ID in order to vote is not only common sense, it’s constitutional.”
But critics vowed to appeal the ruling, and charged, as they often have, that the legislature sought to eliminate tools that made it easier for everyone, but particularly minority voters, to get to the polls.
But opponents of the changes said they were intended to disenfranchise black and Hispanic voters, an assertion they repeated on Monday.