On Saturday, former Congressman Mark Walker entered the 2024 North Carolina Republican gubernatorial primary after months of speculation. Announcing his candidacy at a campaign launch event held at Triad Baptist Christian Academy in Kernersville, the former pastor stated he was running to “fight” for the state.
“We need a representative of the state…to push back on the federal government, and we need somebody willing to engage,” Walker said.
Walker’s entrance into the field currently makes him the closest challenger to GOP frontrunner Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson. A Civitas poll released last month by SuveryUSA found Walker to be the second-highest polling candidate currently in the race at eigh%, as opposed to Robinson’s lead at 43%. However, in that poll 42% of women and 31% of men remain undecided in the GOP gubernatorial primary race.
Walker is not Robinson’s only challenger. In March, State Treasurer Dale Folwell entered the race, characterizing himself as an economically-focused, policy-driven candidate. Currently, Folwell polls at 4%.
“All people want is for someone to speak to them like adults, and for it to make common sense,” said Folwell in an interview with WRAL.
Both Walker and Folwell have made veiled criticisms of the Lt. Gov., referencing Robinson’s past controversies and use of rhetoric that has alienated some potential voters, even within the GOP.
“It’s so crucial to select the right candidate that can withstand scrutiny that’s going to come with this position,” said Walker in his launch speech on Saturday.
“Voters like candidates who attack problems, not people,” said Folwell to WRAL.
Walker has promoted himself as someone willing to “build bridges” with non-traditional Republican voters, citing his efforts to support HBCUs.
Meanwhile, Robinson has built an image as an uncompromising conservative.
“The establishment is scared of me because I can’t be controlled and I won’t be tamed,” said Robinson during his campaign launch in April.
Walker and Folwell’s targeting of Robinson has set up the potential for the primary race to be focused on differences in style rather than substance. All three candidates share similar viewpoints on hot-topic issues, such as abortion, school choice, and the economy.
“Walker will base his campaign on being a compassionate conservative that generated results in Congress while building consensus. Robinson will use his personal story and his brand as a conservative warrior to motivate conservative grassroots voters. State Treasurer Dale Folwell will focus on his experience and record of successful governance,” said American Majority NC Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse.
As the campaign season kicks off, here are where the three candidates stand on issues relevant to North Carolina voters:
All three candidates hold staunch pro-life positions.
Walker publicly backed Senate Bill 20, which restricts abortions in NC after 12-weeks, and was present for the General Assembly’s overturning of Gov. Cooper’s veto of the bill last week.
Walker has been consistently pro-life throughout his political career. While in Congress, Walker earned an “A+” rating from Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, an anti-abortion advocacy group.
Folwell also backed SB20, stating in a tweet he “would sign” the legislation if it advanced to his desk as governor.
Robinson also threw his support behind the bill, but has been public in his belief that restrictions should go further, stating in a radio interview that Republicans should be willing to “move the ball” on the issue.
“And when I say to move the ball, what I mean is to continue to try to save lives in the womb, and to continue to do the hard work it’s going to take to enhance those lives once those individuals are born.” said Robinson on the K.C. O’Dea Radio Show.
During his campaign launch speech, Robinson voiced support to restrict abortion following the detection of a fetal heartbeat at around six weeks. He’s also said he wants to create a “culture of life” in North Carolina, voicing support for reform of the state’s adoption system and focusing on issues of public safety and veteran health and financial security.
Robinson has been open with his experience with abortion, admitting that he once paid for his now-wife Yolanda Robinson to have the procedure in 1989. Now, Robinson says his action over thirty years ago was “wrong.”
Education and school choice
In his campaign launch video, Walker stated he wanted to “expand educational opportunities.”
Walker has backed Senate Bill 406, nicknamed “Choose Your School, Choose Your Future” by its proponents. If passed, the bill would expand eligibility for Opportunity Scholarship vouchers statewide.
“This NC Senate bill, allowing the money to follow the student, would be a huge start [in transforming education],” Walker said in a tweet in late March.
Speaking to Carolina Journal in April, Walker also spoke on the need to “root out indoctrination” in the state’s public schools.
In a statement to Carolina Journal, Folwell said this week, “As Governor, my mission/goal would be to have the smartest 4th graders in the US who are in a safe environment. That gets you the smartest workforce 10 years later and other positive benefits for community colleges and universities.”
Robinson has also backed Senate Bill 406, stating in a tweet that it “is a step towards ensuring every child has access to quality education, regardless of their background or financial situation.”
All three candidates have made economic concerns primary components of their campaigns.
Walker criticized “out-of-control inflation, high taxes, and an endless gravy train of government handouts” in his campaign launch video, promising to “cut taxes for working families [and] get spending under control.”
Folwell, who has controlled the state’s purse since becoming State Treasurer in 2017, said the next “NC governor will have to mathematically protect NC from the federal government and its debt addiction,” to Carolina Journal.
During his stint in the NC House, Folwell gained a reputation as fiscally conservative legislator, voting against minimum wage increases and proposed budgets.
Robinson’s statements on the economy has been decidedly more protectionist, blaming NAFTA for his previous job losses and personal economic struggles.
During his campaign launch speech, Robinson stated he would “lower taxes for everyone” and would attract businesses to the state.
“We have an opportunity in this state to build an economy that works for everyone, regardless of where you live,” said Robinson. Robinson used his State of the State response this year to praise the Republican-led General Assembly for the fiscally conservative policy of the last decade.
All three candidates have made statement’s emphasizing the importance of public safety in North Carolina.
Speaking to Carolina Journal, Walker criticized Gov. Cooper’s “Gavin Newsom-approach on crime,” stating that it puts North Carolinians “in a vicarious position” and “stymies business.”
Folwell has spoken on the issue to Carolina Journal, saying “public safety is never easy, but can be simpler when there is more business and tax revenue to fund it and when citizens are actively engaged in church, family and life.”
During his campaign launch speech, Robinson said “families want to feel safe in their homes, this can’t happen when law enforcement officers are demonized, vilified, and mocked.”
the road ahead
The Republican gubernatorial primary is scheduled for March 5, 2024, the same day as the state’s GOP presidential primary. The winner of the gubernatorial primary is expected to face NC Attorney General Josh Stein, the Democratic frontrunner, in the general election on November 5, 2024.