The G.O.P. Flamethrower With a Right-Wing Vision for North Carolina

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As Mark Robinson completed his rapid six-year rise from conservative internet sensation to the Republican nominee for North Carolina governor, he worked relentlessly to sell his political vision to evangelical Christians.

Traveling from church to church and thundering away on social media, he condemned “transgenderism” and “homosexuality” as “filth.” He said Christians should be led by men, not women. And on at least one occasion, he explicitly called to upend American tradition on God’s role in government.

“People talk about the separation of church and state,” Mr. Robinson, North Carolina’s lieutenant governor, said in a speech in October. “I’m trying to find that phrase somewhere in our Constitution. Trying to find it somewhere in our Declaration of Independence. Trying to find it in the writings of any patriot, anywhere, and I cannot. And I cannot because it does not exist.”

He concluded, “There is no separation of church and state.”

Mr. Robinson’s long history of inflammatory statements has generated a torrent of headlines since he became the Republican standard-bearer in this year’s most closely watched race for governor. But underlying his combative proclamations on race, abortion, education and religion is an exceptionally right-wing worldview — with deep roots in modern evangelical Christianity — that would make him one of the most conservative governors in America if elected.

Mr. Robinson has telegraphed, often in bombastic terms, how far to the right he would try to push North Carolina, supporting a ban on all abortions once a heartbeat is detected, calling for arresting transgender women if they do not use the bathroom of their sex assigned at birth, and urging the introduction of prayer in schools.

As he runs to replace the term-limited Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, and give Republicans full control of state government, Mr. Robinson has shown no sign that he plans to moderate his message for the November general election. He may see a plausible path to victory through his appeals to the Christian right, given North Carolina’s vast evangelical community: Roughly 35 percent of the state’s adults identify as evangelical Protestants, according to the Pew Research Center.

Still, Democrats are painting Mr. Robinson as radical — “bleak and divisive, consumed by spite and hate,” as his November opponent, Josh Stein, the state’s attorney general, said in his victory speech this month. And even some Republicans worry he will struggle to win.

“Governors need to be able to project stability on fixing people’s problems,” said Paul Shumaker, a veteran Republican strategist in North Carolina. “And the question is going to be how, given Mark Robinson’s comments, how can he project stability in being able to address the problems that people expect their governor to address?”

His approach resembles that of former President Donald J. Trump, whose messaging also seems likelier to increase base turnout than to win over moderate or independent voters — and who has similarly focused on evangelicals. The former president told pastors at a Christian media gathering last month that he would unleash their political influence, promising, “You’re going to be using that power at a level that you’ve never used it before.”

Much like Mr. Trump, Mr. Robinson has made incendiary remarks a political calling card.

He has made comments widely seen as antisemitic. He once quoted Adolf Hitler on Facebook. He described the Parkland school shooting survivors who pushed for gun control as “spoiled, angry, know it all children.”

And Mr. Robinson, his state’s first Black elected lieutenant governor, has disparaged the African American community as one that “celebrates the very lawlessness and violence that is killing its future right in front of them.” He also called Black Americans “hypocrites who remain silent while they murder each other in abortion clinics and gang shootouts but then raise hell when a white cop shoots a Black criminal.”

A spokesman for Mr. Robinson, Mike Lonergan, said in a statement that the candidate was “a man who is very bold and outspoken about his Christian faith” and added that as lieutenant governor, Mr. Robinson believed “we don’t live in a theocracy, we live in a constitutional republic.”

“If and when he should become governor, he will take the oath and duties of his office with the utmost respect, working to make North Carolina better for people of all backgrounds and walks of life; by growing our economy, reforming our schools and creating a culture of life that does more to support mothers and families,” Mr. Lonergan said.

Mr. Robinson, 55, a former furniture factory worker who is married with two children, burst onto the political scene with a fiery speech defending gun rights at a Greensboro City Council meeting in 2018 that garnered millions of online views. He quickly parlayed that fame into speaking gigs at gun rallies, then filed to run for lieutenant governor, winning the position in 2020.

Mr. Robinson has the advantage of running in a rightward-leaning state that has voted Republican in every presidential election since 2008. Yet Democrats including President Biden see North Carolina as newly competitive thanks to its rapid demographic changes, with more people of color moving there.

The state has also proved reluctant to choose a Republican as its leader, electing just one to the governor’s office since 1993.

That lone G.O.P. governor, Pat McCrory, said in an interview that Mr. Robinson was part of a growing trend of candidates who “tell people what they want to hear, not necessarily what they need to hear.” He added that bluster and controversy were not necessarily appealing in a governor’s race.

When voters look at Mr. Robinson, Mr. McCrory asked, “will they see a chief executive?”

Some Republican leaders in the state say they have asked Mr. Robinson and his team to address his more troubling past remarks. They worry he will alienate moderate voters and miss out on vital funding, with Mr. Stein and allied groups widely expected to out-raise Mr. Robinson.

“We’re going to have a vigorous conversation about Mark — about where he’s going, about what he can do or should do to address the issues in front of him, because he’s got to tackle them head-on,” said Wayne Schaeffer, the chairman of the Bladen County Republican Party.

Mr. Robinson has often appeared at evangelical churches, where he espouses some of his most conservative views.

“That baby in your womb ain’t no clump of cells, and if you kill that child, you’re guilty of murder,” he said in August 2021 at the Upper Room Church of God in Christ in Raleigh.

The same summer, he told congregants at Asbury Baptist Church in Seagrove, N.C., that “there’s no reason anybody anywhere in America should be telling any child about transgenderism, homosexuality or any of that filth. And yes, I called it filth.”

As lieutenant governor, Mr. Robinson also holds a seat on the State Board of Education. Soon after taking office in 2021, he convened a task force to “prove” that racial and sexual “indoctrination” prevailed in North Carolina’s schools, soliciting complaints from parents through an online portal.

They poured in, and the task force’s report was filled with anonymous anecdotes about racial and L.G.B.T.Q. issues arising in schools, as well as a few accusations of negative teachings about Christians.

Riding this conservative backlash, the state’s legislature passed a bill in 2022 to restrict how racism and sexism were taught. Mr. Cooper vetoed the measure.

Mr. Robinson has also blamed the lack of formalized religion in public schools as a reason for societal problems like school shootings.

“Do you not think that maybe if in the homeroom, before school started every day, if you were singing ‘Amazing Grace,’ giving God some praises and introducing his word back in that school, his wisdom back into those schools, maybe them schools wouldn’t be getting shot up to begin with?” Mr. Robinson said at an evangelical event in November 2021.

He has met regularly with religious groups while in office. In January 2023, he met with the N.C. Values Coalition, a conservative organization, to discuss banning abortion once a heartbeat is detected — which is usually around six weeks, before many women know they are pregnant.

Intrigued, Mr. Robinson asked which legislators needed encouragement to support such a measure, according to records obtained by American Oversight, a watchdog group.

The N.C. Values Coalition followed up with sample legislation and nine state senators and 26 state representatives to target. Mr. Robinson’s chief of staff distributed the list to other members of his office to look into, the records show.

Though a so-called heartbeat bill did not ultimately make it through the legislature, Republicans used their supermajority to pass a 12-week abortion ban in May.

On one of the greatest priorities for Mr. Trump and his loyal followers — denying the legitimacy of the 2020 election — Mr. Robinson has kept a bit more distance.

He has backed legislation that would tighten voting laws and give Republicans more control over local election boards. And he testified before the U.S. House of Representatives against a Democratic-backed elections proposal.

But election activists in North Carolina say he has sent them mixed signals, expressing openness to meeting with them yet refusing invitations to join their internal calls and meetings. He also ignored their calls for a “forensic audit” of the 2020 results, they said.

“He gives great speeches, but not about our issues,” said Jay DeLancy, who started a group that has pushed unfounded claims of widespread voter fraud.

Still, he said, he planned to support Mr. Robinson in the fall.

Eduardo Medina contributed reporting.


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