GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) – North Carolina Senate Leader Phil Berger, who was one of several Republican lawmakers who stood behind Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson on Saturday when he announced he is seeking the GOP nomination for governor, isn’t necessarily ready to offer his full endorsement of that bid.
Berger (R-Rockingham), a senator since 2000 and president pro tempore since 2010, is considered by some to be the most powerful Republican in the state, even though Robinson, a native of Greensboro serving in office for the first time, is the highest elected member of his party.
Robinson is considered the front-runner in a race to succeed term-limited, 2-term Democrat Roy Cooper that includes state Treasurer Dale Folwell of Winston-Salem and soon may include former U.S. Rep. Mark Walker of Greensboro.
On Saturday in front of a rain-soaked crowd outside the Ace Speedway in Elon, state Rep. Neal Jackson (R-Moore), state Sen. Danny Earl Britt (R-Hoke) and state Sen. Brad Overcash (R-Gaston) all spoke on Robinson’s behalf. Rep. Charles Miller (R-Brunswick) led the Pledge of Allegiance. U.S. Sen. Ted Budd and U.S. Rep. Dan Bishop (R-Charlotte) offered comments on video.
But Berger, there on the podium during all of this, didn’t speak to the crowd. And his spokesperson on Monday said his presence didn’t represent his endorsement of Robinson as the nominee.
“Senator Berger believes that Mark Robinson would be a great governor, but he will be making endorsements later in the year,” Dylan Watts, a spokesperson for Berger, wrote in response to an emailed query from WGHP. “We’ll make sure you receive any announcements when they come.”
Robinson, 54, rose to the largely ceremonial lieutenant governor’s office based on being a social media phenomenon after remarks he made about gun rights during a Greensboro City Council meeting in 2018 became viral video.
Fox News loved to include Robinson on the air, and he easily won a 9-person Republican primary in 2020 and earned 51.6% of more than 5.4 million votes cast to defeat Democrat Yvonne Lewis Holley in the General Election, his first foray into politics.
Robinson, who attended UNC-Greensboro but did not graduate, was in the Army Reserves, worked in industry and operated a daycare, among other things. He lists his profession as “entrepreneur.” His wife, Yolanda Hill, operates a nonprofit in Greensboro called Balanced Nutrition, which helps childcare centers win grants from the Child and Adult Care Food Program.
Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) gave Robinson, de facto president of the Senate, a political boost by allowing him to provide the Republican response to Gov. Roy Cooper’s final “State of the State” address on March 2, an assignment usually taken by one of them.
And although Robinson tempered his comments somewhat during that speech and again in the campaign announcement, he has grown a long reputation for being an outspoken and outrageous critic of Democrats, abortion rights, members of LGBTQ community, public education and many other topics in his memoir, in speeches mostly at churches and historically in social media posts.
His YouTube video fame earned him a spot on the board of the National Rifle Association, and he drew criticism for speaking at the NRA convention in Texas just days after the killing of 19 by a gunman at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.
He has appeared at rallies for former President Donald Trump and endorsed Budd during his race for the Senate last fall. Robinson also has been a speaker at Conservative Political Action Conference events, where in March he hinted strongly that he would run for governor.
“It’s time to stand up and serve,” Robinson said that day in Washington.