ALTAMAHAW, N.C. (WGHP) — Amid cloudy, gray skies and intermittent downpours, Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson made his bid for the Republican nomination in the 2024 North Carolina governor’s race official.
Robinson is the second state Republican to officially announce — State Treasurer Dale Folwell announced last month and former Rep. Mark Walker (R-Greensboro) alluded to a possible bid in the coming weeks. Only one Democrat is on the field, Attorney General Josh Stein. Mike Ross is running on the Libertarian ticket.
Early polling has favored a matchup between Stein and Robinson in 2024.
The rally was held on April 22 at Ace Speedway in Altamahaw in Alamance County. The stands were set up in the shadow of the speedway, hosting over 1,000 people according to Robinson’s campaign, many of them wearing red Robinson caps or waving signs that volunteers had been handing out or selling in exchange for campaign donations.
At the road, a small group of protestors had gathered, holding signs that read “He is not our man” and other slogans. They said that they were out there to encourage people to do their research on Robinson and his rhetoric, saying they believed he had been “bought” by the Republican establishment, citing his meteoric rise from his viral speech before the Greensboro City Council in 2018 to lieutenant governor.
As the rally began
Bishop Patrick Wooden was the first on the stage for an invocation.
“If righteousness can exalt a nation, then we know that righteousness can exalt and will exalt our great state,” Wooden said. “We’re living in a time, Lord, where men have lost their minds.”
Wooden continued the prayer, stating that “men believe they can make themselves women and vice verse” and railing against the idea of “multiple genders.” Wooden goes on to say that marriage has been “ruined” after being “expanded and redefined” in “ways that you did not intend.”
He went on to say that the crowd is gathered because they believe in fiscal responsibility, biblical truths and righteousness, stating that God is the hope for our state and world.
“And we believe in Mark Robinson,” he said. “We believe, oh God, that he’s the real deal.”
As Wooden winds down the invocation, asking both divine forces and the audience to support Robinson’s campaign, calling his election the will of God.
“This man is destined to be our next governor,” he said.
As Wooden left the stage, Rep. Charlie Miller (R-New Hanover) came up and led the rally in the Pledge of Allegiance to a large flag projected on a screen, concluding with, “It won’t be long before you meet the next governor of North Carolina!”
Cory McNeill performed the national anthem to a standing crowd, and then the owner of the embattled Ace Speedway came on the stage, discussing how he believes that Robinson will fight for him at the state level.
Republican legislators spoke next, among them state Sens. Phil Berger (R-Rockingham), Danny Britt (R-Robeson) and Brad Overcash (R-Gaston), as well as state Reps. Bill Ward (R-Camden) and Neal Jackson (R-Moore). Jackson spoke first, detailing a conversation he had with a constituent before the rally where an unnamed truck driver expressed his support for Robinson, saying that Robinson was “one of us.”
Britt spoke next, referencing Robinson’s fame-making speech at the Greensboro City Council in 2018, speaking about a quote that has become a frequent refrain for the lieutenant governor: “We are the majority.”
“Mark Robinson won’t serve as a dictator and a king,” Britt said.
The crowd in attendance booed as Britt mentioned that Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed anti-abortion legislation.
Overcash spoke next, echoing the sentiments of his fellow lawmakers, that Robinson was a man of the people.
“I am convinced this is the largest rally we’ve ever had in North Carolina for a state-level candidate,” he said.
Recorded messages from U.S. Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.) and U.S. Sen. Ted Budd (R-N.C.) also preceded Robinson’s appearance.
“I endorse his candidacy with everything I got,” said Bishop.
After a campaign ad, Robinson came to the stage, opening his speech with a joke about going off-script and an appeal to Jesus and God, thanking them and then his wife, who he jokingly says is close but “not quite as much of a saint” as Jesus.
He thanks his family, his team, the volunteers who set up the event and his supporters.
“You are the reason that we stand here today,” he said.
Someone in the audience shouted out, “We love you Mark,” and he quipped back “I love you too” quickly as he continued on with the speech.
“Why am I running?”
The “why” of Mark Robinson’s candidacy echoes sentiments shared by the prior speakers with more depth given to his life growing up in Greensboro. He has struggled financially, lived in a troubled home, lost jobs and worried about his ability to provide in ways he believes that many North Carolinians have.
He discussed his life, saying that he was born the ninth of 10 children and that his father was an abusive alcoholic who died when he was in 5th grade, leaving his mother as the sole provider. He said that a friend of his mother’s told her that “the government will take care of it now” that she was a widow, and that motivated his mother to get a job at a local university as a custodian.
“I was so proud of my mom,” he said. “She taught me that with strength and perseverance, you can do anything and taught me with faith and hard work, you can double down on it.”
He spoke about inflation and how higher prices are impacting North Carolinians, blaming it on “liberal spending policies” and “unwise” decisions with taxpayer money.
“This runaway spending by the liberal elite in Washington is creating devastating effects on the cost of living. And it’s everyday North Carolinians that are paying the price,” he said.
He then thanked the Republican lawmakers gathered for helping North Carolina go from “being billions in debt to the federal government for being named the best state in the country to do business.”
While Robinson confirmed that his full platform would be released sometime in the near future, he did touch on a few issues during his speech that offers a framework for his positions.
- He discussed taxes and opined that the state needs to lower taxes for “everyone,” not just as incentives for corporations coming to the state.
- Regarding infrastructure, he described a need to expand high-speed internet access and said roads and bridges need work.
- He described workforce development as “near and dear” to his heart, talking about the need for a competitive workforce as more corporations come to the state, emphasizing that not everyone needs a four-year university degree and that apprenticeships and trade education should be expanded.
- Continuing in the theme of education, he praised teachers as being, “for the most part,” unsung heroes who deserve more pay and protection. He said teachers shouldn’t be expected to do more jobs beyond teaching and decried violence in schools. He touched on the arguments that led to his FACTS Task Force, saying that teachers need to focus on teaching students “how” to think, not “what to think” and that teachers shouldn’t push “personal political agendas,” though he did not specify any particular agenda. He referred to the education system as a “bloated, bureaucratic system” that doesn’t serve students, teachers or parents.
- In a familiar refrain, he expressed a desire to ban abortion, though his speech referenced detecting a heartbeat, rather than a full ban. He has reiterated his desire for North Carolina to be a “destination for life,” outlining ideas to prevent abortions by strengthening childcare, foster and adoption systems within the state and offering support for parents in order to discourage abortions. Robinson stated that he wants “people to feel secure in raising their families” and to “alleviate fears that drive them to the abortion clinics.”
- He then tied his desire to make North Carolina a “destination for life” in with being more supportive of police, saying that law enforcement has been “demonized” and “vilified.” He said it’s discouraging people from wanting to take jobs in public safety and emboldening criminals. “We must stand arm and arm with those men,” he said.
- In addition to more support for law enforcement, Robinson expresses a desire for North Carolina to become the “gold standard” for veteran care. “We need to make sure that in the same way we spared no expense sending them off the war, we spare no expense when they come home and need our help.”
Ultimately, Robinson said that he believes that North Carolina needs “real, simple solutions and the backbone to implement them.”
“It’s beyond time that we give government back to the people and listen to them,” he said. “The people know what they need. Parents know what they need for their children and their education. Business owners know what they need for their businesses to thrive. Governments should provide the protection they need. No more, no less. It’s up to the public servant across the state to bring these. And then those public servants and their government should simply get the hell out of the way.”
He said that he has visited every county in the state and has spoken to people who are simply happy to see an elected official at all. He said that people should feel like their officials care about them.
“People of North Carolina deserve a leader that understands their situation and cares about their problems and will fight to address them. In the coming months, I want the people of North Carolina to get to know me, know my story and know the vision that I have for this great state,” he said, continuing that the issues he’s passionate about are not partisan and are issues that impact everyone.
‘I don’t fear you’
He then went on to lambast the media and his critics.
“Make no mistake, despite what you’ve heard here today, the media, the radical left will still try to destroy me,” he said, stating that the “radical left” hates him for not fitting their “narrative.” “The media despises me because I don’t fear you,” he shouted. “And the establishment is scared of me ’cause I can’t be controlled.”
Robinson then discussed how a Charlotte newspaper depicted him as a Klansman after he opposed the Department of Public Instructions’ social studies standards, noting that he is the first black lieutenant governor of the state.
“They despise someone like me, someone like you who hasn’t spent their lives climbing that political ladder and should not hold the highest office in the state,” he said.
He emphasized his relatability to the crowd, saying that his critics attack him for being unqualified over traits that make him more like the average people of North Carolina.
“Someone who’s not part of the elites shouldn’t have the nerve to run to be the governor of this state,” he said. “They must destroy me, not because of who I am, but because of what I represent. And that’s the American dream, and it is alive and well.”
Robinson ended the rally with a celebration of his achievements, declaring that he “should have been aborted” or crushed by racism, but instead became the first Black lieutenant governor of North Carolina.
What he didn’t discuss
After Mark Robinson’s response to Cooper’s State of the State, a Charlotte news outlet opined that he was restrained, and the announcement struck a similar tone to that previous speech. He avoided culture war touchstones, conspiratorial rhetoric and the fiery, off-the-cuff speeches that he became known for earlier in his political career.
Other than abortion and a brief reference while discussing education, he steered clear of culture war topics entirely, not addressing the recent spate of anti-transgender legislation recently filed in North Carolina by his fellow Republicans.
In a February 2023 podcast appearance with Sebastian Gorka, he said, “If you want to have conversations about gender fluidity or about being non-binary or any of those associated topics, those are topics for adult people to have on their own.” This contrasts the 2021 church sermon that Gorka chose to play where Robinson is heard calling the transgender movement “of the antichrist.” In response, Robinson called that speech “from the heart.”
In an ad released by his campaign, Robinson says, “I don’t care what zip code you live in, whether you’re Black or white, straight or gay, none of those things should determine your future or your child’s future.”
Other than a mention of what he described as the “radical left” media, he didn’t touch on the conspiratorial topics that he’s been previously accused of engaging in from as far back as 2016 to as recently as November 2022, when he claimed he “didn’t believe” Paul Pelosi after Pelosi was allegedly attacked by a hammer-wielding conspiracy theorist looking for Nancy Pelosi.
On Tuesday, a newly formed coalition held a press conference to respond to Robinson’s bid for governor, calling itself the “Coalition Against Robinson’s Extremism,” or CARE, consisting of what Progress NC describes as a “diverse group of organizations.”
“Mark Robinson threatens violence against the government, actively spreads misinformation, and has built a legacy of hate and division that endangers the lives of North Carolinians. His politics are dangerous for our communities and the people we care about,” said Rev. CJ Brinson, Piedmont Regional Manager at Down Home North Carolina, in a release shared prior to the conference. “Together, we will continue to fight for a North Carolina that is a place of freedom and prosperity for all of us, and ensure voters understand what’s at stake in the 2024 Governor’s race.”