Mar 23, 2023 - News

Scoop: Mark Robinson to announce bid for North Carolina governor

Photo illustration of North Carolina Lieutenant Governor Mark Robinson with lines radiating from him.

Photo illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios. Photo: Dylan Hollingsworth/Bloomberg via Getty Images

North Carolina's Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson is expected to announce his long-anticipated run for governor April 22, Axios has learned.

  • And he'll do it in a place that became the hornet's nest of hostility toward Democratic policies during the COVID-19 pandemic: Alamance County's Ace Speedway.

Driving the news: The announcement will come three months after Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein directly attacked Robinson in launching his own campaign for governor, who has so far only hinted at his plans to run.

Why it matters: Robinson and Stein are predicted to be the final contenders in the race to replace outgoing Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who's blocked the Republican-controlled legislature from advancing their agenda since 2016.

  • If Robinson wins, he will be North Carolina's first Black governor, and he'll have ascended from internet sensation to the state's highest elected position in just six years.

Context: In 2018, Robinson — then a factory worker — went viral in a video of a testimony he gave about gun rights to Greensboro City Council. He launched his campaign for lieutenant governor a year later.

  • His popularity among Republicans and ire from Democrats has been compounding ever since.
  • Robinson has gained notoriety in particular for his championing of a slate of conservative education issues, like expanding voucher programs for charter schools and ensuring parents' right to have a say in what their children are taught.
  • He's also criticized critical race theory and said elementary schools shouldn't teach history in some grades.

The intrigue: Robinson's political gains have come in spite of a firehose of controversies that have clouded his tenure.

What they're saying: "Mark Robinson spent the last two years winning the 2024 Republican primary for governor," top Republican political operatives said in a December polling memo. "Anybody who challenges him at this point is going to be a bump on his road to the nomination."

What we're watching: Former Congressman Mark Walker and State Treasurer Dale Folwell, both Republicans, are also considering jumping in the governor's race.

  • "In traveling across the state on our seven-city business tour, I’ve have been overwhelmed with the number of North Carolinians asking us to consider a gubernatorial run," Walker told Axios Wednesday.
  • "As I’ve talked to folks, one question is clear: Who is the best candidate to represent our values, that can win both republicans and unaffiliated voters and beat Josh Stein or the Democrat nominee? We’ve elected one Republican governor this century and it’s going to be crucial to get it right."

Lucille's thought bubble: Robinson's announcement at the rally next month will set the tone for his campaign and indicate whether or not he'll match the rhetoric Stein began the race with in directly attacking Robinson.

Between the lines: The setting for Robinson's rally might be familiar to you, even if you don't live in Alamance County.

  • In late May 2020, while the rest of the country was still mostly shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the speedway made national headlines for conducting races without masks or social distancing.
  • Cooper, the Democratic governor, called the events "dangerous and reckless," and then ordered the track shut down.
  • Ace Speedway responded by suing the state, as WRAL reported.
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