The Republican Party’s extreme ticket in North Carolina could backfire with voters

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Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, the Republican candidate for governor, acknowledges the crowd during the Trump campaign rally in Greensboro on Saturday, March 2, 2024. Donald Trump endorsed Robinson at the event.

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The campaign website of Hal Weatherman, the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, lists his top five priorities as: “Donald Trump, building the wall, deporting illegals, the Second Amendment and pro-life laws.”

But when it comes to the statewide Republican Party, Weatherman is relatively moderate.

Driven by MAGA fever, the Republican Party of North Carolina is offering voters in a purplish state the most extreme lineup of statewide candidates in modern North Carolina history.

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On a ticket that will be led by Trump, now a convicted felon, Republican candidates include: For governor, current Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, a candidate known for his inflammatory statements about race and LGBT people and a background that includes multiple bankruptcies and failure to pay taxes; for Attorney General Dan Bishop, a Freedom Caucus fighter who as a state lawmaker sponsored the infamous “bathroom bill” that targeted transgender people and led to national boycotts of North Carolina; and for Superintendent of Public Instruction Michele Morrow, an activist who believes public schools indoctrinate children and has called online for the execution of prominent Democrats.

Rob Christensen, a former News & Observer political columnist who has written a book on the history of North Carolina politics, “The Paradox of Tar Heel Politics,” said the Republican Party has moved far to the right under Trump and now ” fringe candidates.”

“What’s going on here is what’s going on nationally. “If you look across the country, you really see right-wing people who have been pushed forward by the Republican Party,” he said. “I don’t know if you would call them conservative. It’s anti-establishment, it’s populist, it has a strong racial flavor, it’s anti-gay, it’s really anti-modern.”

Such nominees invite defeat, he said, but the party is so enthralled by Trump that it has no choice. “It’s almost like a spell has been cast on the Republican Party,” he said.

A state that sent Jesse Helms to the U.S. Senate for 30 years has a strong conservative tilt, but Christensen said North Carolina voters have favored more moderate candidates for governor.

“We’ve elected quite a few conservatives in this state — Helms is the most prominent example — but when it comes to governor, North Carolina residents have tended to want a centrist, someone who would build the roads and would finance the schools. and try to get businesses into the state,” he said. “We don’t have a history of electing really right-wing people as governor.”

Simon Rosenberg, a national Democratic strategist known for his accurate prediction that there would be no red wave in the 2022 midterm elections, said Republicans choosing extreme candidates led to Democratic victories.

“We saw in 2022 that the extremist candidates who swept Republicans through the battleground states all lost and Democrats dramatically outperformed expectations,” he said. “I think Republicans are in danger of repeating that same losing strategy, especially in North Carolina and Arizona, where you have candidates who are well outside the mainstream.”

Rosenberg said “fear and opposition to MAGA have been the driving force” behind Democratic victories in recent cycles and North Carolina’s Republican ticket will add to that force.

“The Republican Party of North Carolina presents itself as one of the most extremist parties in the country,” he said. “I don’t think many moderate voters in North Carolina will choose that in the election.”

Republican Party staffers did not respond to my calls to Republican state headquarters.

Democratic Party Chairman Anderson Clayton said offering voters an extreme ticket is self-defeating: “People are looking for common sense, not crazy.”

Whatever Republicans did wrong in choosing their statewide ticket, they did one thing right: They gave voters a clear choice.

Associate opinion editor Ned Barnett can be reached at 919-404-7583, or nbarnett@ newsobserver.com