North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson came from nowhere to win his first race for public office on the strength of a gun rights speech that went viral.
Now, Bill Graham, a Salisbury personal injury attorney and businessman, thinks he can beat Robinson for the gubernatorial nomination;elm:context_link;itc:0″ class=”link rapid-noclick-resp”>GOP’s 2024 gubernatorial nomination by catching a similar wave of sudden attention.
Graham, 62, says he’s willing to spend “at least $5 million of his own resources” on TV ads and other methods to get his name and message before Republican voters. He started rolling out TV ads in October, more than five months before next year’s March 5 primary.
Graham sought the Republican gubernatorial nomination in 2008, but received only 9 percent of the vote in the primary won by then-Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory. This time around, Graham appears to be gaining traction. He has won the endorsement of U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis and has secured the services of Paul Shumaker, a prominent campaign consultant, who has guided winning Republican North Carolina campaigns for U.S. Senate and other offices.
A late November East Carolina University poll of registered Republican voters showed Robinson has a big lead (34%) over Graham (8%) and state Treasurer Dale Folwell (7%). But Chris Cooper, a political scientist at Western Carolina University who studies state politics, said Graham has the resources to make up ground quickly.
“Graham is a quality candidate and there are still a large number of undecided voters in most polls that could make up for that margin,” he said. “Further, Graham entered the race with a bankroll that would make most candidates green with envy.”
Billing himself as conservative champion,”;elm:context_link;itc:0″ class=”link rapid-noclick-resp”>“North Carolina’s proven conservative champion,” Graham is taking on Robinson from the right. That’s a surprising approach seeing as Robinson is already the darling of hard-right voters because of his stands for gun rights and against abortion, gay rights and supposedly liberal teaching in public schools.
If it’s going to be a contest between who can be the most radical right-winger, Graham, who worked for the late Sen. Jesse Helms on the Senate Agriculture Committee, is ready to race Robinson to the extremes.
Graham’s early ads show that reality won’t get in the way of his depicting himself as a conservative champion taking on “the radical left” in Raleigh to “take back North Carolina.”
“The Democrat politicians have been running Raleigh for too long,” he says in one ad. That is news to Democratic lawmakers, who have been in the minority in the General Assembly for 13 years, and Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who saw his vetoes overturned 19 times in 2023.
In his opening ad, Graham, a former prosecutor, pledged to go after violent criminals. As governor, he said, “I’ll put them in jail or in the ground.” No matter that the governor has nothing to do with convicting people, let alone imposing the death penalty.
Graham’s willingness to toss red meat to conservatives poses a problem for Robinson. The lieutenant governor would prefer to mute his extremism in anticipation of a general election that likely will be against state Attorney General Josh Stein, although former state Supreme Court Justice Mike Morgan is also seeking the Democratic nomination. Now Robinson may have to out-MAGA an opponent.
David McLennan, a Meredith College political science professor who directs the Meredith Poll, said that while Robinson leads the race for the GOP nomination, many voters are not locked in yet. In his analysis of a November poll, he said, “There could be a competitive primary, but it looks unlikely unless one of Robinson’s challengers catches fire.”
Graham may not catch fire, but his challenge from the right certainly heats up things for Robinson. Who knows, maybe the extreme social conservative and the extreme fiscal conservative will cancel each other out and the GOP nominee will end up being a truly radical choice for the party – a moderate conservative., Dale Folwell.
Associate opinion editor Ned Barnett can be reached vat 919-404-7583, or nbarnett@ newsobserver.com
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