North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory conceded defeat Monday after his post-election challenge failed to produce enough votes to overtake Democrat Roy Cooper’s lead, bringing to an end a contentious race billed as a referendum on transgender rights.
Mr. McCrory, who had filed requests for recounts based on concerns over voter fraud in more than 50 counties, said in a message on YouTube that his team would “assist in every way to help the new administration make a smooth transition.”
“During this wonderful season, It’s also time to celebrate our democratic process and respect what I see to be the ultimate outcome of closest North Carolina governor’s race in modern history,” Mr. McCrory said on YouTube.
The one-term Republican governor made no mention of House Bill 2, the transgender bathroom bill he signed in April that sparked an outcry from gay-rights groups and sparked an economic boycott against the state.
“Despite continued questions that should be answered regarding the voting process, I personally believe that the majority of our citizens have spoken, and we now should do everything we can to support the 75th governor of North Carolina, Roy Cooper,” he said.
Mr. Cooper held a lead of 10,263 votes in the latest tally from the state Board of Elections. An automatic recount would be triggered if the race ended up with a margin of fewer than 10,000 votes.
The Democrat’s lead had almost doubled since the election nearly a month ago, and the recount underway in Durham County had shown so far almost no change in the total.
Mr. McCrory’s narrow loss comes as a victory for the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay-rights group, which had targeted him for defeat after the signing of HB2.
The hotly contested measure prevents localities from passing ordinances requiring opposite-sex use of public facilities such as bathrooms and showers in the name of transgender rights.
The defeat makes Mr. McCrory the first sitting governor in state history to lose his re-election bid as well as an outlier in a year that was otherwise a winner for Republicans in North Carolina.
“Pat McCrory’s reign of discrimination is finally over,” said HRC President Chad Griffin in a statement. “McCrory’s stubborn and reckless support of HB2 cost him this election, and his defeat sends a powerful warning to lawmakers across the country that targeting LGBTQ people will not be tolerated.”
The advocacy group led an economic boycott of North Carolina that resulted in a host of high-profile hits to the state, including PayPal’s changing of its plans to build a facility in the state and the NBA moving the 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte.
Mr. Cooper, who called for repealing HB2 during the campaign, said Monday that he was “proud to have received the support from so many who believe that we can come together to make a North Carolina that works for everyone.”
“While this was a divisive election season, I know still that there is more that unites us than divides us,” Mr. Cooper said in a statement. “Together, we can make North Carolina the shining beacon in the south by investing in our schools, supporting working families and building a state that works for everyone.”
Supporters of HB2 argued that most voters actually supported keeping biological males who identify as transgender from accessing women’s facilities, but worried about the impact of the boycott on the state’s economy and reputation.
Frank Cannon, president of the conservative American Principles Project, said Mr. McCrory lost by a nose despite being outspent by $8 million and faced with an “outright blitzkrieg of hate from corporate America, the sports-entertainment complex, and Hollywood celebrities.”
“We applaud Gov. Pat McCrory for standing up for what is right,” Mr. Cannon said. “He refused to back down from corporate bullies and progressive lynch mobs, and because of his steadfastness, he became Public Enemy Number Two this election cycle for the left. Ultimately, they got their scalp by the narrowest of margins.”
Prior to signing HB2, Mr. McCrory was known more for his focus on issues such as tax reform and balancing the budget than on social issues, but he quickly became the face of HB2 in the HRC’s media campaign and get-out-the-vote drives.
Other high-profile Republicans fared far better in North Carolina: Not only did Donald Trump carry the state, but Sen. Richard Burr and Lt. Gov. Dan Forest won their re-election bids. Republicans also held their veto-proof majorities in the state House and Senate.
Sen. Thom Tillis, North Carolina Republican, credited Mr. McCrory with fueling the economic boom known as the “Carolina comeback.”
“Four years ago, his leadership helped ignite North Carolina’s struggling economy, which is now the fastest growing in the entire nation,” said Mr. Tillis. “Our state’s elected officials would be wise to build on this momentum and ensure that North Carolina remains the best state to get a quality education, raise a family, run a business, and retire.”