Recent polls show North Carolina among the swingiest of swing states in the 2016 presidential race, but for locals, it’s the state’s marquee matchups for governor and U.S. senator that are driving conversations leading up to November.

U.S. Senate candidate Deborah Ross addresses the North Carolina AFL-CIO convention held Sept. 22-23 in Raleigh. She is locked in a dead heat with GOP incumbent Sen. Richard Burr.
Photo courtesy North Carolina AFL-CIO.

Since his election in 2012, Republican Gov. Pat McCrory has led North Carolina in an unprecedented lurch to the right, aided by an activist Legislature that hadn’t been Republican-controlled in 140 years until the 2010 midterm election swept them into power.

McCrory, from his first day in office, surrounded himself with allies of the stridently anti-union groups Americans for Prosperity and the American Legislative Exchange Council, even appointing several to the top levels of government. The result has been an advantage for big business special interests at the expense of working class North Carolinians.

“From voting rights to workers’ rights to the highly controversial bill that targeted the state’s LGBT community, McCrory’s administration has stripped away decades of legislative progress in North Carolina,” said Alvin Warwick, business manager of Winston-Salem Local 342 and the state’s political director. “He’s supported a constitutional amendment for right-to-work, and ignored working people at every turn. It’s time for him to go.”

His opponent, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper, “has been a long-time friend and advocate for working people and consumers,” according to the AFL-CIO’s endorsement. “Cooper will be the strong, principled governor North Carolina needs to stand up to an out-of-control Legislature.”

In the battle for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Republican Richard Burr, former state Rep. Deborah Ross is proving a formidable challenger thanks in part to the state’s tight presidential and gubernatorial races.

“We’ve got such a great opportunity to beat Richard Burr this year,” Warwick said. “What has this guy done for us in all of his years in Washington? Not a thing I can point to for my members.”

Ross, however, draws praise from labor leaders across the state. “Deborah Ross is just an incredibly impressive candidate,” said MaryBe McMillan, secretary-treasurer of the state AFL-CIO. “Over her 10 plus years in the state Legislature, she was a faithful ally of working people. You could always depend on her.”

Warwick, who has met with Ross multiple times this year, applauded her understanding of labor issues. “She’s very receptive,” he said, “open to what we have to say, and she has an open-door policy. I feel like we’ll be able to work well with her.”

That’s a sharp contrast with Burr, who over the years has voted against working people on issues like minimum wage, paycheck fairness, infrastructure investment, prevailing wage and more. Burr voted against restrictions on employers’ union-busting activities, and helped sustain a years-long Republican blockade on President Barack Obama’s appointments to the NLRB.

Since winning the Democratic primary in March, Ross has voiced her opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal and come out strongly against right-to-work and the abuse of the H2B guest worker program. Ross is also for a full repeal of the so-called “Cadillac tax” provision in the Affordable Care Act that would hurt high-cost union health care plans, and she supports protecting workers’ rights to organize and job-creating investments in infrastructure.

“Deborah Ross is with is on every issue that counts,” said Charlotte Local 379 Assistant Business Manager Scott Thrower. “She’s saying all the right things, and her record from the state Legislature backs it up.”

IBEW locals across North Carolina spent months registering voters before the Oct. 14 deadline, and now they’re spending time working phone banks to reach out to union voters. “We’re going to reach people with mailings and phone calls,” Thrower said, “We’ll be knocking on doors as well. We’ve got important races up and down the ballot here, and we’re going to make sure the IBEW and the rest of the labor community get out and vote.”

“North Carolina is a swing state in 2016,” Warwick said, “so we’ve got a responsibility to do everything we can to elect leaders like Roy Cooper and Deborah Ross who are going to fight for working men and women.”