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N.C. Republican nominee for governor has a long history of controversial remarks

North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, Republican candidate for governor, speaks at an election night event in Greensboro, N.C., Tuesday, March 5, 2024.
Chuck Burton
/
AP
North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, Republican candidate for governor, speaks at an election night event in Greensboro, N.C., Tuesday, March 5, 2024.

North Carolina's Republican nominee for governor, Mark Robinson, the state's Trump-endorsed lieutenant governor, has a long history of controversial statements about women, civil rights, school shooting victims and LGBTQ issues.

The former furniture factory worker is running against Democratic state Attorney General Josh Stein in one of the most expensive and closely watched gubernatorial contests this year.

Though some Republicans worry Robinson's comments will distance voters in the politically-divided state, Robinson received two-thirds of the vote after former President Donald Trump endorsed him at a rally the week before the election – calling him "Martin Luther King on steroids."

Robinson has expressed skepticism about the Holocaust on Facebook. And while he'd be North Carolina's first-ever Black governor, he's been critical of the civil rights movement, saying integration caused Black people to abandon Black-owned businesses.

"The Civil Rights Movement destroyed hundreds of very well run Black schools," he said during a 2018 podcast interview. "They destroyed Black businesses across the nation."

In 2021, Robinson criticized teachers for discussing LGBTQ issues in school.

"There's no reason anybody anywhere in America should be telling any child about transgenderism, homosexuality, any of that filth," he said. "And yes, I called it filth."

In 2022, he told a church audience that Christians should be led by men rather than women. "We are called to be the Christians that God has called us to be," he said. "And we are called – here I'm getting ready to get in trouble – called to be led by men."

He later issued a statement saying the comments "were directed towards men and encouraging men to stand up and take on the role of leadership."

Robinson's primary opponents replayed some of those comments in TV ads, and they questioned whether he can beat Stein in November.

Dallas Woodhouse, a former executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party, thinks Robinson can win the general election, but only if he shifts away from some of those remarks.

"What Republicans who want to defend Mark – and what Mark's got to do – is say, 'you know, take me just like Trump – take me seriously, but not literally,'" Woodhouse said. "He's not a traditional politician, but the Republican Party is favoring those kinds of candidates right now."

North Carolina is politically divided. Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper has been in office for two terms. But the state legislature has been controlled by Republicans since 2011.

Some North Carolina GOP leaders have distanced themselves from Robinson's controversial comments, but they're still endorsing him. State Senate Leader Phil Berger, a Republican, said that "philosophically, he's generally in the right place" but that some of his statements are "not things that I would have said."

Stein is making the case that Robinson is far more extreme than most Republicans. He says voters in November will decide between starkly different candidates.

"Mark Robinson represents a real threat to North Carolina, unlike anything we've ever seen before," Stein said in an interview. "He wants to turn back the clock on our promise and threaten our economic future. He is not only an extremist, he is a fringe extremist."

In a statement, a spokesman for Robinson said Stein's "entire campaign is based on lies," pointing to a website launched by a Democratic Party activist that parodies the lieutenant governor.

"The only extremist in this race is Josh Stein," Robinson spokesman Mike Lonergan said in an email. "He supports President Biden's open-borders policies that would turn North Carolina into a sanctuary state for illegal immigrants; and is backed by far-left radicals that want to defund the police. North Carolina voters have had enough of career politicians like Joe Biden and Josh Stein."

During his primary victory speech, Robinson appeared to tone down his rhetoric around social issues, focusing instead on education and the economy.

But his approach hasn't changed much when addressing smaller crowds.

"When the chips are down, when the FBI is knocking on my door, will I cower, will I comply, or will I stand up and fight? Folks, it's time to stand up and fight," he said during a speech earlier this week in Florida.

Stein said if Robinson is pivoting, he's doing it too late.

"He has said really awful, nasty things about people in a way that doesn't show heart," he said. "It doesn't show compassion, and certainly isn't what North Carolina is about."

The race will likely be the most expensive governor's race in North Carolina history. Stein has already raised more than $19 million, while Robinson has raised more than $10 million.

Some of that money is coming from out-of-state sources: Stein's campaign lists donors from NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and fashion executive Ralph Lauren, while Robinson held a campaign fundraiser last fall at Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.

Copyright 2024 North Carolina Public Radio

Colin Campbell
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