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Will North Carolina's Anti-LGBT Bathroom Law Be The Downfall of Governor Pat McCrory?

UNITED STATES - MARCH 8 - North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory speaks at the Wake County Republican Party 2016 County Convention a
UNITED STATES - MARCH 8 - North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory speaks at the Wake County Republican Party 2016 County Convention at the N.C. State Fairgrounds, in Raleigh, N.C., Tuesday, March 8, 2016. (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

It may too soon to tell, but so far North Carolina GOP governor Pat McCrory's signing of a sweeping anti-LGBT law hasn't been a great help to his re-election campaign. It would be ironic -- and just desserts -- if a cynical political move to save his campaign actually doomed it.

All winter McCrory was slightly ahead or tying with Democratic attorney general Roy Cooper in the polls, but since his signing of HB2 several weeks ago -- and since the tremendous backlash across the country and around the world -- Cooper now has a lead over McCrory by several percentage points in several polls. At the same time, a new poll shows that HB2 is deeply unpopular with the state's electorate, with only 36% of North Carolina voters supporting it.

Again, it's early. And polls of the gubernatorial race may have little to do with HB2, as there's been a lot of dissatisfaction with McCrory for many other reasons, his approval numbers having plummeted. But it's certainly better than if McCrory saw a boost in support while anti-LGBT conservatives and groups like Family Research Council and demagogues like Ted Cruz have been heralding this bigoted law.

With the daily barrage of media attention, McCrory's re-election could fast become a referendum on HB2, and if he goes down it may be because progressive activists and Democrats took a far different approach than LGBT activists did in Houston last November, when voters rescinded the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance.

Opponents had turned the Houston ordinance -- which protected 15 classes of people against discrimination -- into " The Bathroom Ordinance," via ugly but effective ads that, like McCrory and the North Carolina GOP legislators, claimed protecting transgender people would allow predators into women's restrooms. And LGBT groups didn't strike back strongly enough with hard-hitting ads that took the bathroom issue head on -- using transgender people in the ads -- and, perhaps most critically, failed to focus in a big way on the devastating economic impact repeal would have.

The Washington, DC-based Human Rights Campaign took over the anti-repeal effort, which was criticized for not focusing on the economic impact enough and instead appealed to what Rice University political scientist Bob Stein called voters' sense of what is the "right thing to do," which he viewed as not so effective. Nicey-nice ads about good neighbors and equality and human dignity just don't cut it when the other side is being ruthless.

But in North Carolina, not only has the economic impact of the law's passage been front and center every day, with powerful companies, major musicians like Bruce Springsteen and cities and states joining a boycott, but Democrats are committed to ads that focus on that devastating economic impact. One powerful ad already being deployed lays the economic harm to the state at McCrory's feet.

At the same time, the pressure on McCrory has been intense, at the political level and literally on the ground, as activists this week have engaged in civil disobedience meant to bring more attention and underscore the passion people have about the harmful effects of the law.

In a powerful statement of support, the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, led by the indefatigable Rev. William Barber, organized a sit-in at the state legislature's offices this week, a strategy which will only continue to escalate.

Transgender activist Mara Keisling, head of the National Center for Transgender Equality, was arrested with others in the sit-in, but only after she used the women's restroom at Pat McCrory's own office and in front of law enforcement, daring them to enforce the North Carolina anti-trans bathroom law, which they refused to do.

In the new poll, 45 percent of North Carolina voters are opposed to HB2 (while 36 percent are in favor). This is the same state that passed a constitutional amendment banning marriage equality in 2012 by more than 60 percent, perhaps showing how much things have changed in a few short years.

It would seem that support for HB2 would need to be much higher than the current poll to help embattled McCrory in a great way, and this is only the beginning: As the backlash grows and more economic impact is felt, support for the law is only likely to decrease as voters believe McCrory has harmed the state.

It's true that other negative factors, such as a federal judge's upholding of North Carolina's harsh voter ID law this week -- which was pushed and signed by McCrory -- will no doubt come into play. The GOP, through these laws, is intent on suppressing the votes of minorities, many of whom would support the Democratic candidate. And again, other issues affecting the race will play a role in voters' decision-making.

But if McCrory loses the race, the optics of the anti-LGBT law, and the backlash against it, will be damaging to anti-LGBT conservatives. After the terrible defeat in Houston that gave anti-LGBT forces some wind at their sails, McCrory's loss could deal a blow to anti-trans bathroom bills.

That's why LGBT activists and allies must continue to do everything possible, including civil disobedience and forceful, uncompromising messaging to the public about how dangerous and detrimental these laws are to a state. If Houston taught us anything it's that pleading for equality while hate-mongers put out lies is not a winning strategy.

Michelangelo Signorile's book, It's Not Over: Getting Beyond Tolerance, Defeating Homophobia, and Winning True Equality, is now in paperback with a new afterword, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.