GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) – A couple of weeks ago, if you wanted to visit the campaign website of Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, a Republican candidate for governor, you were greeted by a strange screen.
If you typed in www.markrobinsonfornc.com – a site that generally has been in place since he ran for lieutenant governor in his first political campaign in 2020 – you were greeted by a page asking you to sign up for the campaign via Facebook, Twitter or email.
If you entered those credentials, you were then given passage to the official campaign site and full information about Robinson and his views, but, at that moment in time, you had to surrender personal social media contact data to learn about the campaign of the man many pollsters believe is the frontrunner for the Republican nomination to replace term-limited Democrat Roy Cooper.
WGHP reached out to Robinson’s spokesperson to ask why the site had required that step to access it. There was no response. A spokesperson for the North Carolina Republican Party said that was “a question for the campaign and their strategist.”
It’s not unusual for campaign sites to have links for individuals to sign up for communications – sometimes via social media and sometimes through other processes – and all of them have links to donate to the campaign. Democratic candidate Josh Stein has some of those features on his site. But those pages always have other information, including the candidate’s photo.
Robinson’s site by the next day, after WGHP’s inquiry, had changed to a newly designed site that included fresh visuals, graphics and design. That’s fair, and websites can have interim versions of themselves while new construction is underway, but that “splash page” typically is reflective of what the site was or will be.
We asked Chris Cooper, an elections expert and political blogger who teaches political science at Western Carolina University, for his thoughts about the page.
“I don’t recall anything like this,” Chris Cooper wrote of the login-walled website in an email prior to the rollout of Robinson’s final site design. “I don’t think it creates any legal problems as it’s unconnected to his current position as Lieutenant Governor, and you could argue that it’s not that different from someone having to create a Facebook login before being able to see a candidate’s Facebook page.
“Candidates also have lots of ways to track who’s visiting their site already and they certainly use a variety of techniques to generate contact lists (those we know about and those we don’t).
“With that said, it doesn’t exactly scream: ‘Please learn more about me and my open campaign.’ Most candidates I know of want to draw as much web traffic as they can—after all, web pages are nothing more than interested information that is designed to cultivate a favorite image. It’s a head-scratcher to me why they would want to make accessing that information harder.”
NC Treasurer Dale Folwell, the only other Republican candidate so far – former Rep. Mark Walker might enter the race soon – certainly also solicits donations and involvement in his campaign on his official website. Libertarian candidate Mike Ross also has a more traditional approach.
But Robinson, in his first elected position, is hardly a traditional candidate. He rose to political prominence after he addressed the Greensboro City Council in 2018 about gun rights in a video that went viral. He is known for his take-no-prisoners position on a variety of volatile topics, including the LGBTQ community, gun rights, abortion rights, climate change and public education, to name a few. He also has been an active supporter of former President Donald Trump.
His history of volatile posts on social media also have drawn significant scrutiny, including in two pieces published this week by CNN.com about his comments on students after the mass shooting at Parkland High School in Florida and his thoughts on the civil rights movement.
Said Chris Cooper of the login-walled site: “To me, it [the website] seems a bit unusual, and I’m not sure how it achieves his goals, but this is Mark Robinson we’re talking about. This isn’t the first or the last time he will throw received wisdom out the window and attempt to forge his own path. We will have to wait and see if it works.”
Robinson’s campaign apparently is working just fine. Polls continue to show him as the clear frontrunner for the GOP nomination, and some have him in a neck-and-neck race against Stein, so far the only Democrat who has filed to run in what some experts are expecting to be the most-watched governor’s race of 2024.
Carolina Forward, a left-leaning publication, released a poll of likely North Carolina voters, conducted last weekend, that shows Robinson with a slight lead (46% to 43%) over Stein, with 11% undecided. That’s a statistical tie, with the margin of error at 3.9%, For what it’s worth, that same poll showed Democrats with a 2-percentage-point lead in a generic statewide legislative ballot and a head-to-head rematch between President Joe Biden and Trump as virtually dead even (Trump by 1 point).
The John Locke Foundation, a right-leaning think tank, last week released a poll of likely GOP voters that showed Robinson as the clear front-runner for the nomination, getting 43% of the vote, followed by Walker (9%), Ag Commissioner Steve Troxler (8%, although he has not announced a run) and Folwell (4%).
But the poll also said that 42% of women and 31% of men are undecided. The release did not state the plus-minus on the poll.
GOP voters also preferred Trump over Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis by a wide margin (55% to 22%), with former Vice President Mike Pence preferred by 8% and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley with 5%.
A smaller poll conducted in March for the General Assembly showed Robinson with a 5-percentage-point lead (44% to 39%) over Stein, with 17% still undecided. That poll showed Republicans with a 1-point lead in the generic legislative ballot and Biden with a 2-point lead over Trump. The plus-minus on this poll was 4.38%. The poll also showed that Robinson’s favorability rating (25%) was higher than Stein’s (14%), but both had unfavorability ratings of 10%.
U.S. Supreme Court filings
Even as the General Assembly in North Carolina is preparing to redraw the electoral maps for Congress and the legislature that would be used in the 2024 election – as a recent North Carolina Supreme Court decision allows lawmakers to do – there continues the case in the U.S. Supreme Court to address the controversial “independent state legislature” theory, which would assert a constitutional authority for only lawmakers and not state courts to draw maps for Congress.
SCOTUS heard those arguments in December in relation to North Carolina’s voting maps case, but it also reached out to the parties involved in Moore v. Harper to ask how the state court’s ruling would affect the original pleading. Two filed briefs this week.
“As our filing today explains, we believe what the North Carolina Supreme Court did was unlawful. But if you take its opinion at face value, it deprived the U.S. Supreme Court of any jurisdiction it might have had over the case about the congressional map,” Carrie Clark, executive director of the North Carolina League of Conservation Voters, said in a statement released by her organization. “Equally egregious is the North Carolina Supreme Court’s decision authorizing the General Assembly to redraw its own state-legislative maps — a mid-decade gerrymander that clearly is unlawful under our state Constitution. The North Carolina Supreme Court’s decision is a slap in the face to our Constitution, the rule of law, our democracy, and the ability of North Carolinians to protect their environment through fair elections and equal representation.”
Common Cause, on the other hand, sent a letter to the court from attorney Neal Kumar Katyal that said, “Because of the two-year federal election cycle and the need to resolve election disputes well in advance of elections, it is not clear that this Court could resolve this issue with a different vehicle. Dismissing this case would thus create a danger that the issue would evade this Court’s review yet again or that this Court would be required to address the issue in the context of an emergency application with limited briefing, no argument, and insufficient time to decide an issue of this importance.”
Board of Elections appointed
The NC Board of Elections this week reappointed Karen Brinson Bell as its executive director and swore in the five new board members that Gov. Roy Cooper had appointed to serve through April 2027. Brinson Bell’s statute-structured 2-year term would end May 15, 2025.
“This is important and hard work,” she said in a release. “The State Board staff looks forward to working with all of the new board members to ensure secure, accurate and accessible elections for the next four years.”
Cooper’s choices were from four nominees provided by each party. Neither party can have more than three members. His choices are Jeff Carmon, a Democrat from Snow Hill; Stacy “Four” Eggers IV, a Republican from Boone; Alan Hirsch, a Democrat from Chapel Hill; Kevin N. Lewis, a Republican from Rocky Mount; and Siobhan O’Duffy Millen, a Democrat from Raleigh. The board unanimously selected Hirsch as chair and Carmon as secretary.
But WRAL reported that there was some behind-the-scenes controversy in the reappointment of Carmon and not of former member Stella Anderson.
- Rep. Kathy Manning (D-Greensboro), who had sponsored the “Right to Contraception Act” the House approved last June and she has promised to reintroduce, on Thursday applauded the FDA’s recent vote for an over-the-counter birth control pill. “This is a monumental step forward in the push to make birth control affordable and accessible for all,” she said, citing continued efforts in state legislatures to reduce or ban access to abortion. “Now more than ever, we must acknowledge the years of scientific data proving the safety of birth control pills, push for accessible contraception, and fight to protect all FDA-approved contraceptive methods at the federal level.”
- State Rep. Jon Hardister (R-Guilford), a GOP candidate for commissioner of Labor in 2024, announced last week that he had been endorsed by 3rd Congressional District Rep. Greg Murphy (R-Greenville). The Locke poll of GOP voters showed Hardister with a 4-point lead over state Rep. Ben Moss (R-Moore), although 70% said they were undecided.
- David B. Wheeler of Spruce Pine, a 2-time Democratic nominee for the state Senate, announced that he is seeking the Democratic nomination for commissioner of Insurance. He serves as CEO of Global Higher Education Group. Republican Mike Causey is the incumbent, but his intentions for 2024 are uncertain. No other candidate has expressed interest.
- With the announcement this week by state Rep. Jeffrey Elmore (R-Wilkesboro) that he will seek the nomination for lieutenant governor, he becomes the fourth Republican to enter that race. There are now eight confirmed candidates overall to replace Robinson.