One of North Carolina’s most important races is being called the “most important” in the country in next year’s election.
The race? The likely gubernatorial matchup between current Attorney General Josh Stein, a Democrat, and current Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, an extreme right-wing MAGA Republican.
Of the two, only Stein has so far announced a run for governor, but Robinson has hinted at running just about every time he speaks somewhere.
Politico, under the headline “The most important governor race of 2024,” called it “arguably one of the most interesting — and consequential” races in the country.
For those unaware, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper is term-limited after his wins in 2016 (over then-Gov. Pat McCrory) and 2020 (over then-Lt. Gov. Dan Forest) and cannot run again in 2024.
While highlighting the fact that only one Republican has held the governorship since 2000 but Democrats haven’t won a statewide federal election since 2008, Politico called North Carolina “politically confounding” and “incredibly frustrating for Democrats.”
Republicans are hoping that they can get a win now that Cooper won’t be on the ballot in 2024 – but there’s a potential problem with that hope and his name is Mark Robinson.
The anti-abortion, transphobic, homophobic, antisemitic, anti-science, anti-democratic Robinson has a ton of baggage and because of that, is attempting to fool voters by creating a new, less extreme persona that he unveiled to North Carolinians in his response to Cooper’s recent “State of the State” address.
In his response to Cooper, instead of spouting off about how transgender people are “demonic,” the “Antichrist” and “[d]ragging…kids down into the pit of hell,” or how he would ban “abortion in North Carolina for any reason,” as he did in February on a podcast and radio show, respectively, Robinson took a less extreme tone that he’s never used before.
Robinson talked about growing up in poverty with a single mother and nine siblings after his alcoholic and abusive father died. He talked about the work that Republicans in the legislature have done over the last several years and about his vision for the future of North Carolina – without addressing any of his “greatest hits.”
No Republicans have officially declared a run for governor and Robinson, when he does announce he’s running, could end up in a primary against former Rep. Mark Walker, North Carolina Treasurer Dale Folwell and perhaps other candidates. A poll conducted by Carolina Forward last year showed Robinson as the top pick among Republicans with 54% of Republican voters saying they’d choose him in a primary. The next closest potential candidate was U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis – who has made no indication he’s planning to run – with 20%. Walker wasn’t polled and Folwell received 4% support.
Aside from his history of horrifying comments, Robinson doesn’t even come off as someone who particularly wants to do the job he’s doing now or the one he’s talking about running for. He had no political involvement until he ran for lieutenant governor in 2020 and he said at a CPAC speech a few weeks ago that when someone asked him why he wants to run for governor he thought about it for a long time in the car and “came to a conclusion” that “I don’t want to be governor…I didn’t even want to be lieutenant governor.” Instead, he compared himself to American World War II soldiers and said the purpose of his political career is “service” to his state and country.
When it comes to 2024, North Carolina Republicans have to be hoping that Robinson can fool enough people into thinking he’s not the MAGA extremist that he truly is.
Stein spent seven years in the state Senate and is in his second term as the attorney general. He is generally regarded as a trusted leader who has worked hard for North Carolinians – especially those most vulnerable to the state GOP’s most harmful policies – and he doesn’t have the baggage or history of inflammatory rhetoric that Robinson does. Stein also has around $4 million in cash on hand and endorsements from more than 150 current and former officials across the state.