Loss of 'March Madness' games could hurt North Carolina governor's re-election bid

Tue Sep 13, 2016 6:10pm EDT
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By Colleen Jenkins

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (Reuters) - North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory has weathered negative headlines as jobs, conventions and musical performances were canceled in his state this year to protest a law deemed discriminatory against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

But news that the Southern state was being stripped of hosting two rounds of the nationally popular "March Madness" Division I men's college basketball tournament next spring could prove the law's most damaging fallout yet for the Republican seeking re-election in November, political experts said on Tuesday.

"There’s one thing you don’t do in North Carolina. That is mess with basketball, particularly college basketball," said Michael Bitzer, a political scientist at Catawba College in Salisbury.

In addition to the tournament, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) announced on Monday it would relocate six other championship sporting events from North Carolina for the 2016-17 season.

NCAA President Mark Emmert said the move was a "proverbial no-brainer" after North Carolina in March became the only U.S. state to require transgender people to use bathrooms in government buildings and public schools that correspond with the sex listed on their birth certificate.

The Republican-backed law, known as House Bill 2 or H.B. 2, also blocked local government measures aimed at protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from discrimination.

McCrory signed the measure into law and has continued to defend it as he campaigns for a second four-year term. Several recent opinion polls show him trailing his Democratic opponent, state Attorney General Roy Cooper, who has criticized the incumbent for backing the law despite mounting economic losses.

In July, the National Basketball Association yanked its 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte over objections to H.B. 2.   Continued...

View of the NCAA basketball trophy as confetti falls after the game between the Villanova Wildcats and the North Carolina Tar Heels in the championship game of the 2016 NCAA Men's Final Four at NRG Stadium, in Houston, Texas, April 4, 2016. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports