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GOP Frontrunner for North Carolina Governor Gets a Republican Challenger
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GOP Frontrunner for North Carolina Governor Gets a Republican Challenger

Bill Graham will have support from party insiders made nervous by Mark Robinson’s political baggage.

Bill Graham (Screenshot via YouTube)

Top North Carolina Republicans opposed to Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson are rallying around Bill Graham, an attorney and wealthy businessman expected to enter the 2024 gubernatorial race Wednesday.

Republican insiders in North Carolina worry Robinson has too much baggage to win a high-profile contest in a battleground state that has seen Democrats occupy the governor’s mansion for most of the last three decades. Enter Graham, who plans to announce he will seed his campaign for the Republican nomination with $5 million in personal cash and begin advertising on statewide television October 26. Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, is barred from reelection because of term limits.

“Only four of the last thirty years have been led by a Republican governor in North Carolina; we keep losing to the liberals,” Graham will say, according to a draft press release first shared with The Dispatch.  “If we want to change that, we need a nominee who will have the resources, discipline, and character needed to defeat the far-left Josh Stein in November.  I am that candidate, and my campaign will prove it.”

Josh Stein, the North Carolina attorney general, is favored to win the Democratic nomination for governor in next year’s primary. Graham has run for governor once before, in 2008. He finished a distant third in the GOP primary, garnering just under 9.3 percent.

At first glance, Robinson would seem like an ideal gubernatorial candidate for Republicans. He’s won statewide before and is black, an asset in a state where 22 percent of the population is black. But this darling of grassroots conservatives has considerable weaknesses for Democrats to exploit—including delinquent tax bills and incendiary public comments—and that might turn off independents and swing voters. Of particular concern is Robinson’s past history of publishing antisemitic comments on social media.

The lieutenant governor rejects accusations that he holds prejudiced opinions of Jews. Last week, in his capacity as acting governor while Cooper was traveling abroad, he declared that it was “solidarity with Israel week” in North Carolina, in the wake of Hamas’ deadly terrorist attack on the Jewish state that has left more than 1,400 Israelis dead. But neither this, nor Robinson’s assurances, have changed the minds of Republicans who believe he would lose to Stein.

Among them are Republicans outside of North Carolina, who worry that Robinson’s penchant for controversial rhetoric could hurt the party elsewhere. These national Republicans, including donors and political operatives, have been encouraging Graham to jump into North Carolina’s GOP gubernatorial primary and are expected to support his bid financially and otherwise.

David M. Drucker's Headshot

David M. Drucker

David M. Drucker is a senior writer at The Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he was a senior correspondent for the Washington Examiner. When Drucker is not covering American politics for The Dispatch, he enjoys hanging out with his two boys and listening to his wife's excellent taste in music.