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Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson officially begins campaign for governor

Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson launched his campaign for governor at a rally at Ace Speedway in Elon, N.C. on Sat. April 22, 2023.
Lynn Hey
/
For WUNC
Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson launched his campaign for governor at a rally at Ace Speedway in Elon, N.C. on Sat. April 22, 2023.

Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson launched his campaign for next year's gubernatorial race at a rally at Ace Speedway in Elon, N.C., on Saturday.

The sharp-spoken social conservative, notorious for making homophobic and misogynistic remarks, said North Carolina needs a leader like him who can relate to the challenges and desires of working people.

Elected the state's first Black lieutenant governor in 2020 in his first run for political office, Robinson would make similar history if he wins the governorship.

“I'm running for governor because we the people of North Carolina need someone who understands us,” Robinson told roughly 1,000 supporters at the event at a speedway in Alamance County, about a half-hour from where he grew up. “We don't need another politician who's spent their life climbing the political ladder.”

North Carolina Lt. Governor Mark Robinson arrives for a rally where he announced his candidacy for Governor outside Ace Speedway in Elon, N.C. Saturday, April 22, 2023. (Lynn Hey / For WUNC)
Lynn Hey
/
For WUNC
North Carolina Lt. Governor Mark Robinson arrives for a rally where he announced his candidacy for governor outside Ace Speedway in Elon, N.C. Saturday, April 22, 2023.

Robinson's entry was anticipated for well over a year, with the Greensboro native heavily hinting at a run in speeches and fundraising appeals. The 54-year-old also released an autobiography that talked about a childhood of poverty, financial challenges as an adult, his religious beliefs and his late entry into politics.

Robinson held the rally at a significant site. The racetrack gained notoriety for defying — and suing — the administration of Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat over state-mandated COVID-19 restrictions imposed at the height of the pandemic. The track's owners are still fighting the Cooper administration in court over its temporary closure.

Robinson’s 35-minute speech Saturday included addressing fiscal matters like inflation, school safety and supporting law enforcement. But the choice of venue reinforced his narrative as an anti-establishment candidate looking out for average folks.

“I was supposed to be crushed by racism as a Black man in the South,” he said under rain showers. “I have a chance to be a symbol to others in humble beginnings, and despite what anyone else may tell you, you can achieve anything."

A former factory worker and day care operator, Robinson gained public attention from a viral video of his 2018 anti-gun control speech to the Greensboro City Council about attempts to cancel a local gun show.

Anti-LGBTQ, denouncing abortion

Robinson's popularity among the Republican base and flush coffers put him squarely at the top of the list of candidates for a GOP primary. But others have questioned whether his aggressive, conservative style and blunt comments about LGBTQ+ rights, abortion and the role of women make him the party's best choice to win a general election in a closely divided state.

Robinson has made incendiary church speeches denouncing homosexuality and abortions, and he has not backed down from those positions. Robinson himself paid for an elective abortion for his wife in 1989. He apologized publicly in March 2022 after an old comment about the abortion was unearthed on a Facebook post.

Robinson said Saturday he wants to make North Carolina a “destination state for life," which he said includes his support for prohibiting abortions once an ultrasound first detects fetal cardiac activity, typically about six weeks after fertilization. State law currently bans nearly all abortions after 20 weeks.

Rep. Neal Jackson (R-NC-078) assembles with other state republicans in support of North Carolina Lt. Governor Mark Robinson as he announces his campaign for Governor during a rally outside Ace Speedway in Elon, N.C. Saturday, April 22, 2023. (Lynn Hey / For WUNC)
Lynn Hey
/
For WUNC
Republican Rep. Neal Jackson (NC-78) assembles with other state Republicans in support of North Carolina Lt. Governor Mark Robinson as he announces his campaign for governor during a rally outside Ace Speedway in Elon, N.C. on Saturday, April 22, 2023.

Candidates come forward

Michael Bitzer, who chairs the politics department at North Carolina's Catawba College, said Robinson has styled himself as a polarizing political figure similar to what North Carolina has seen in the past, particularly with former U.S. Senator Jesse Helms, an archconservative who fought culture wars over issues like the creation of the MLK Day holiday.

Bitzer said Democrats are likely to focus on Robinson's fiery style and hard-right positions. Indeed, State Attorney General Josh Stein — who announced his bid for governor back in January — went right after Robinson, even though the lieutenant governor had not yet declared his candidacy.

Also on the Republican side, State Treasurer Dale Folwell announced his candidacy for governor last month. And former U.S. Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C., is preparing to enter in the coming weeks, according to Tim Murtaugh, a spokesperson for a consulting firm advising Walker. Most recently, Walker unsuccessfully ran for the U.S. Senate in 2022, but lost in the primary to eventual winner Ted Budd.

Despite Republican success in controlling the state legislature, the GOP has won the governor's office just once since 1992, back in 2012.

The office of lieutenant governor has been considered for several decades as a stepping stone to the state's highest office. But since the late 1960s, only three of them — all Democrats — have made the leap to governor.

The 2024 governor's race will be for an open seat, since Cooper, re-elected in 2020, is constitutionally barred from seeking a third consecutive term.

WUNC's Laura Pellicer and Jeff Tiberii contributed to this report.

The Associated Press is one of the largest and most trusted sources of independent newsgathering, supplying a steady stream of news to its members, international subscribers and commercial customers. AP is neither privately owned nor government-funded; instead, it's a not-for-profit news cooperative owned by its American newspaper and broadcast members.
Rusty Jacobs is WUNC's Voting and Election Integrity Reporter.
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