North Carolina Republicans gathered in Greensboro over the weekend for the 2023 NCGOP Convention to elect a party chairman and to hear from frontrunners in the Republican primary race for president in 2024. Current Chairman Michael Whatley was re-elected to lead the party in an election year where the state is expected to play a pivotal role in Republican efforts to take back the White House in 2024.

In a recent Civitas poll of North Carolina voters, former President Donald Trump led with 55% of N.C. Republican primary voters, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis polled in second place with 22% of the vote, and former Vice President Mike Pence polled at 8%. Just more than 20% of respondents in the poll said they were undecided in the primary race. DeSantis was the only candidate to outperform incumbent President Joe Biden in the survey. The poll had DeSantis pulling ahead of Biden narrowly, with only a 0.7% lead. In a separate poll conducted the week before the convention, both Trump and DeSantis beat Biden; DeSantis by 6 points and Trump by 3.

Also in the poll but not at the NCGOP Convention, former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley polled at 5% among NC Republican primary voters with Sen. Tim Scott, R-SC, at 1%.

florida gov. Ron desantis

Source: Twitter, Mark Edwards, Nash Co GOP Chairman.

First up, DeSantis spoke to party faithful on Friday night with remarks that ran like a list of conservative accomplishments for his home state.

Among other things, DeSantis reminded the audience that as governor of Florida he signed measures that prohibited the purchase of Floridian land by the CCP, banned ESG investing, and banned sanctuary cities. He pointed out that under his tenure the state also passed a heartbeat bill, Voter ID, constitutional carry, and $2.7 billion in tax relief.

DeSantis told delegates and members of the NCGOP that his proudest achievement was “drawing a very clear line in the sand” that “the purpose of our schools is to educate kids, not to indoctrinate kids.”

He referred to efforts to remove Critical Race Theory from K-12 education, remove pornographic books from school libraries, and enact universal school choice.

“Leadership is about doing what’s right when you have intense opposition,” he said. “Leadership is about delivering results to the people that you represent.”

former vice president mike pence

On Saturday afternoon, Pence spoke at the “First in Freedom” luncheon. Pence’s speech was much more contained – focusing on family, patriotism, and faith.

Pence spent a noticeable share of his speech on the recent Trump indictments. Pence told the crowd, “It’s important in America to remember that you are innocent until proven guilty.”

He also urged the audience to pray for the former president and his family then made a promise that, if elected president, he would “uphold the rule of law, clear house at the top levels of the Department of Justice, and restore the confidence of the American people in equal treatment under the law.”

He rejected Trump’s call for Pence to “return” electoral votes back to the states following the 2020 election. He said Trump presented him with the option to choose “between him and the Constitution.”

The former vice president stated he “chose the constitution and always will.” He continued, “Anyone who puts themselves before the Constitution should not be president of the United States.”

Pence’s speech repeatedly came back around to national security. Pence criticized the withdrawal from Afghanistan under the Biden administration and said that America must continue to support the Ukrainians in their fight against the Russian invasion. It contained significantly fewer references to the southern border than DeSantis’s remarks on Friday evening.

former president donald trump

Source: RNC Twitter

Trump headlined the Saturday evening event, the Grand Old Party Dinner.

Speaking to a capacity crowd, the former president discussed a wide array of topics and pushed back against those he believes hate the United States and want to destroy it.

“For seven years we’ve been engaged in an epic struggle to rescue our country from the sinister forces who actually hate it and want to destroy it,” said Trump. “These forces are much stronger than China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran all put together. If we have the right leader, all of those countries are absolutely no threat. Together we stand up to the globalists; we stand up to the Marxists; we stand up to the RINOs [Republicans in name only]; we stand up to the communists and the environmental extremists; we stand up to the open borders fanatics, the radical left democrats and their lawless partisan prosecutors, and the fake new media.”

During the speech, Trump promoted the accomplishments of his former administration and put forth an ambitious domestic and foreign-policy agenda in the event he wins the Republican nomination and ultimately the presidency in 2024, The agenda centers on ending the war in Ukraine, improving care for U.S. military veterans, brokering fair trade deals, redeveloping major U.S. cities, gaining independence from China, making the U.S. the No. 1 manufacturing superpower in the world, and taking a hard line stance against illegal immigration with a focus on deportations.

Trump did not shy away from attacking the record of President Joe Biden. “For three years, Joe Biden and his corrupt allies in Washington have waged economic warfare on the hardworking citizens of our country,” said Trump.

North Carolina’s Republican primary election is scheduled for Super Tuesday, March 5, 2024.

Brenee Goforth and Zach Rounceville contributed to this report. Read their coverage of the convention here and here.