Jul 20, 2023 - Politics

Exclusive: Another Republican enters the N.C. governor's race

Top row: State Treasurer Dale Folwell (left), former state Sen. Andy Wells (right); Bottom row, from left to right: Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, Attorney General Josh Stein, former Congressman Mark Walker. Photos: Courtesy the campaign of Dale Folwell and Andy Wells, Drew Angerer/Getty Images, Raleigh News & Observer via Getty Images, Bloomberg via Getty Images

Former state Sen. Andy Wells is jumping into the Republican gubernatorial primary, posing yet another challenge to Republican frontrunner Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, political consultant Carter Wrenn tells Axios.

Driving the news: Wells, a real estate developer and state transportation board member from Hickory, is the latest Republican candidate to announce his plans to run.

Why it matters: The winner of the governor's race in the 2024 general election will replace outgoing Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who has served as the party's last line of defense against the Republican-controlled state legislature since his election in 2016.

State of play: The strength of the candidate who wins the Republican nomination will determine whether this swing state turns red. Republicans currently hold a majority on the state Supreme Court and have a shot at maintaining their legislative supermajority in 2024.

The big picture: North Carolina's governor's race is also expected to be one of the most closely watched races in the country next year.

Yes, but: The Republican primary is still some eight months away, and Robinson’s victory isn’t guaranteed.

What they're saying: But some of the state's top political consultants have argued Robinson has already won the Republican primary.

  • Wrenn, a longtime political operative who's helping Wells with his campaign, said that notion is overhyped.
  • "This is like a lot of campaigns where there are no incumbents: It's pretty much a wide-open race," Wrenn told Axios.
  • "Like a typical lieutenant governor, [Robinson] has a little edge, but it's not huge," Wrenn said. "Once the name IDs level out, you've got a really tight race."

Details: Wells, Wrenn argues, is a businessman, not a politician, and his campaign is likely to center on economic issues.

  • "His strengths are [that] he can talk straight. He doesn't give you a lot of spin or rhetoric or hype," Wrenn, who's known Wells since the 70s, said. "He's been through economic hard times, and he understands how to weather the problems and what to do."

Go deeper: Here's who has announced their plans to run for governor so far

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