The Republican lieutenant governor of North Carolina, Mark Robinson, formally entered the race for governor at a rally on Saturday.
The sharp-spoken social conservative, who has made controversial remarks about LGBTQ+ rights, guns and abortion, said North Carolina needed a leader like him who can relate to the challenges and desires of working people.
Critics say his candidacy could damage Republican hopes by turning off independents and moderates and motivating Democrats to vote.
Robinson became the state’s first Black lieutenant governor in 2020, in his first run for office. He 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 about 1,000 supporters in Alamance county. “We don’t need another politician who’s spent their life climbing the political ladder.”
Other competitors are lining up to try to succeed the Democratic governor, Roy Cooper, who is barred from seeking a third consecutive term.
The Democratic attorney general, Josh Stein, announced his bid in January. The Republican state treasurer, Dale Folwell, also got in the race. A former US congressman, Mark Walker, is preparing to enter in the coming weeks, according to Tim Murtaugh, a spokesperson for a firm advising the Republican.
Robinson, 54 and a Greensboro native, recently released an autobiography that talked about a childhood of poverty, financial challenges as an adult, his religious beliefs and his late entry into politics.
His popularity with the Republican base and flush coffers put him squarely at the top of the GOP primary. But some 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 in a closely divided state.
Despite success in the state legislature, Republicans have won the governor’s office once since 1992. Since the late 1960s, only three lieutenant governors, all Democrats, have become governor.
Robinson held his launch event at Ace Speedway, which in 2020 defied an executive order limiting crowds under Covid-19. Track owners are still fighting Cooper in court.
Robinson’s 35-minute speech included support for tax cuts and law enforcement.
“I was supposed to be crushed by racism as a Black man in the south,” he said. “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 daycare operator, Robinson gained public attention from a viral video of a 2018 anti-gun control speech. His critics have pointed to speeches in churches and on radio shows that touched on his antipathy toward LGBTQ+ activism and support for banning abortion.
At a church in 2021, Robinson said: “There’s no reason anybody anywhere in America should be telling any child about transgenderism, homosexuality, any of that filth.”
Robinson hasn’t apologized, saying he wasn’t attacking the LGBTQ+ community but commenting on reading materials in public schools. He has said he can separate his religious views from the responsibilities of office.
Robinson said on Saturday he wants to make North Carolina a “destination state for life”, including support for preventing abortions about six weeks after fertilization. State law now bans nearly all abortions after 20 weeks.
Stein’s campaign-opening video accused Robinson of wanting “to tell you who you can marry, when you’ll be pregnant and who you should hate”. Folwell said Robinson was “attacking people instead of attacking the important problems that our citizens are facing”.
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