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What to know about Mark Robinson, the Republican nominee for North Carolina governor

ROB SCHMITZ, HOST:

The North Carolina governor's race could be one of the most expensive and closest watched contests this year. At least part of the reason is controversial comments about women, civil rights and LGBTQ issues made by the Republican nominee. Colin Campbell of member station WUNC has more.

COLIN CAMPBELL, BYLINE: Mark Robinson is a former furniture factory worker who was elected lieutenant governor four years ago. He won that election in 2020 thanks, in part, to a speech supporting gun rights at a Greensboro City Council meeting.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARK ROBINSON: The bottom line is that Second Amendment was written whether the framers liked it or not. They wrote it for everybody, and I am everybody.

CAMPBELL: Since he was elected, he has made headlines with controversial comments on a range of topics. In 2021, he criticized teachers for discussing LGBTQ issues in schools.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

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

CAMPBELL: He's told a church audience that Christians should be led by men rather than women.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ROBINSON: We're called to be the Christians that God has called us to be, and we are called - here, getting ready to get in trouble - called to be led by men.

CAMPBELL: He's 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.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ROBINSON: The Civil Rights movement destroyed hundreds of very well-run Black schools. They - it destroyed Black businesses across the nation.

CAMPBELL: Robinson's primary opponents replayed some of those comments in TV ads, and they questioned whether he can beat the Democratic candidate, state Attorney General Josh Stein, in November. But the criticism didn't sway voters. Former President Donald Trump endorsed him at a rally the week before the election, and Robinson received two-thirds of the primary vote. Dallas Woodhouse, a former executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party, thinks Robinson can win if he shifts away from some of those remarks.

DALLAS WOODHOUSE: What Republicans who defend Mark and what Mark's got to do is say, you know, take me - just like Trump, take me seriously but not literally.

CAMPBELL: North Carolina is politically divided. Democratic Governor Roy Cooper has been in office for two terms, but the state legislature has been controlled by Republicans since 2011. Some Republican leaders in North Carolina have distanced themselves from Robinson's controversial comments, but they're still endorsing him.

WOODHOUSE: He's not a traditional politician, but the Republican Party is favoring those kind of candidates right now. And we'll have to see what the voters think.

CAMPBELL: Democratic nominee Josh Stein is making the case that Robinson is far more extreme than most Republicans. He says voters in November will have a stark contrast.

JOSH STEIN: Mark Robinson represents a real threat to North Carolina, unlike anything we've ever seen before. 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.

CAMPBELL: In a statement, a spokesman for Robinson said Stein is the, quote, "extremist candidate," pointing to his support for President Joe Biden's immigration policies. During his primary victory speech, Robinson toned down his rhetoric around social issues, focusing instead on education and the economy. Stein says that pivot comes too late.

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

CAMPBELL: 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.

For NPR News, I'm Colin Campbell in Raleigh, N.C.

(SOUNDBITE OF KAYTRANADA SONG, "WEIGHT OFF") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Colin Campbell
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