N.C. set for first $100 million governor's race
Robinson campaign gearing up for major fundraising effort
North Carolina is used to high-dollar U.S. Senate races. The governor's race could soon join that club.
As Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson continues to lay the groundwork for a 2024 run for governor, his campaign is signaling that it will take an unprecedented amount of money to win.
In a fundraising email, the Robinson campaign said it expects $100 million to be spent on the race — which would be a North Carolina record by a long shot. "I've been told that the Governor's race will be the most expensive we have ever seen," the email states, asking recipients to chip in.
Perhaps it’s simply fundraising hyperbole, but a $100 million governor race is definitely not out of the question. Governor races have steadily grown more expensive over the last few cycles, primarily driven by Gov. Roy Cooper’s fundraising prowess.
Attorney General Josh Stein, the presumptive 2024 Democratic nominee, will likely be able to tap into those same channels. Plus, Cooper is currently the chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, with the ability to pour millions in outside spending into the race if needed.
2020 governor’s race: ~$70 million
In 2020, the governor race cost somewhere around $70 million. Gov. Roy Cooper’s re-election campaign spent a whopping $41 million, with another $10 million or so coming from the Democratic Governors Association and other allied PACs.
Then-Lt. Gov. Dan Forest’s campaign spent about $11 million, with another $5 million or so coming in outside spending.
2016 governor’s race: ~$60 million
Incumbent Gov. Pat McCrory spent $17 million in campaign money, with about $8 million coming in outside spending. The Cooper campaign spent $24 million, plus benefiting from about $7 million in outside spending, according to Facing South.
The Center for Public Integrity put the outside spending a little higher, estimating about $19 million.
2012 governor’s race: ~$20 million
McCrory’s successful gubernatorial campaign spent roughly $11 million. Democratic Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton, pushed into the race late when Gov. Bev Perdue suddenly announced she wouldn’t stand for re-election, spent just $4 million. Combined with outside spending, the total reached somewhere in the $15 million to $20 million range, according to the Center for Public Integrity.
What will 2024 spending look like?
Just for a little context, U.S. Senate campaigns are much more expensive because of outside spending from national groups. In 2020, U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis spent $24 million from his campaign fund and Cal Cunningham spent about $52 million. But with outside spending included, the race came in at a record-setting $300 million. That’s because both parties viewed North Carolina’s seat as key to their path to control of the chamber.
North Carolina’s 2024 governor’s race won’t come close to those numbers. But it almost certainly will become the most expensive in North Carolina’s history. With Cooper term-limited, the race is an open seat — meaning both candidates will have to spend considerable money building name ID statewide.
Look for the Stein campaign to spend somewhere around $50 million to $60 million.
I don’t see a path for Republicans to out-raise and out-spend Democrats in this cycle. The Democrat money machine is powerful and well-cultivated in North Carolina. Republican fundraising is far behind. But to stay competitive, the Robinson campaign will need to raise at least $35 million — a far greater number than any Republican gubernatorial candidate has ever raised before. It will be tough to get there, but it’s possible.
Outside spending will be a significant X-factor. Both candidates have a solid line on national spending: Robinson from his connections to the NRA and a rising national profile; Stein from his connections to Cooper.
All-in, a $100 million governor’s race is probably about accurate.
6 things of note
Duke Energy imposes rolling blackouts as temperatures dip into single digits
As temperatures plunged toward single-digit lows across North Carolina, Duke Energy took the unusual step of deliberately cutting power to its customers. The company said this was necessary to prevent more widespread outages as electricity demand spiked. Gov. Cooper tweeted that he spoke with Duke CEO Lynn Good to “express urgency” about getting the power back on.
You can’t help but wonder whether these Christmas Eve blackouts are tied to North Carolina’s push to retire Duke’s coal-fired plants and replace them with renewable energy sources. A bipartisan bill passed in 2021 set the goal of reducing Duke’s carbon emissions by 70% by the end of the decade.
Clearly, the ability to reliably heat people’s homes in dangerously cold weather is more important than so-called clean energy. If Cooper’s N.C. Utilities Commission won’t get to the bottom of what caused these blackouts, the General Assembly must.
Tillis votes against $1.7 trillion omnibus bill; Rep. Dan Bishop rips it on Tucker and Twitter
A North Carolina representative has become one of the nation’s leading voices against the $1.7 trillion boondoggle omnibus bill that passed both chambers in Washington last week.
In a viral Twitter thread and brief interview with Tucker Carlson, U.S. Rep. Dan Bishop ripped the budget proposal supported by both Democrat and Republican leaders in the Senate. The omnibus deal clocks in at over 4,800 pages all-in, Bishop says, including billions in wasteful spending.
"It's a betrayal by Republican senators," Bishop told Tucker.
The next day, U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis voted against it after saying it was full of wasteful spending and "misguided priorities." U.S. Richard Burr didn't vote on it.
2024 Republican primary for governor is "over," polling firm says
Polling continues to show that Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson is in a dominant position in the 2024 gubernatorial primary on the Republican side. In fact, it may well already be over.
The Differentiators released a poll last week showing Robinson with a massive lead in a head-to-head matchup with potential rivals for the nomination, like Treasurer Dale Folwell, former Gov. Pat McCrory, or former U.S. Rep. Mark Walker. "It's over," Differentiators partner Jim Blaine told WRAL, describing Robinson's polling position as "shockingly high."
These results were part of the first public poll released by The Differentiators, the political consulting firm led by former Berger chief of staff Blaine and press secretary Ray Martin. The company just launched a polling service called Differentiator Data (you can also follow them on Twitter @DifferentData).
They released the results of a recent poll gauging the 2024 governor's race primaries (see above), but also polled the state attorney general race primary, as well. They found U.S. Rep. Dan Bishop with a slight advantage over Forsyth County DA Jim O'Neill, who has won the Republican nomination in the past.
Here's hoping Differentiator Data continues to make public polls like this. There are a number of polls active in North Carolina — High Point University, Meredith and ECU, to name a few — but they generally only poll big-name races and a few generic-ballot questions. It's great to be able to get a read on primary contests and down-ballot races, too.
Hal Weatherman preps run for lieutenant governor
Former lieutenant governor chief of staff Hal Weatherman is now planning to run for the office himself. Weatherman has formed a candidate committee and taken the first steps toward raising money for a statewide campaign for lieutenant governor in 2024.
Weatherman served as chief of staff for Lt. Gov. Dan Forest and orchestrated his two winning campaigns for the office. Before that, he served as chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Sue Myrick (also Forest’s mother) and managed eight of her successful re-election campaigns. Most recently, Weatherman was district director for Congressman Madison Cawthorn and has run a political organization pushing for electoral integrity. (In the interest of full disclosure, he was also my boss when I worked on the Dan Forest for Governor campaign.)
Weatherman is a master of old-school politics and has deep connections in Republican circles across the state. He’ll be a formidable candidate.
Richmond County state rep jumps into Labor Commissioner race
Last week, we mentioned that N.C. Rep. Jon Hardister is eying a run for Commissioner of Labor in 2024. He’s now planning a January announcement.
It looks like he’ll have a primary. N.C. Rep. Ben Moss, a Richmond County Republican, announced on Twitter that he’ll run for the post, as well. Moss flipped a blue seat red in 2020 to win his first term. Earlier this year, he beat fellow incumbent Rep. Jamie Boles (from Moore County) in a primary after being double-bunked with him in the new electoral districts.
Running for Commissioner of Labor seems to make more sense for Hardister than Moss, and Moss definitely has the capacity to make a big impact in the General Assembly in future terms. However, I’m not super in tune with Sandhills politics. Perhaps Moss wants to avoid another primary battle in his district.
Former Superintendent Mark Johnson becomes Ted Budd's state director
Former N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson has just joined incoming U.S. Sen. Ted Budd's staff as his state director, the transition team announced last week. In the role, Johnson will manage constituent services and economic development initiatives while serving as a liaison between local governments, businesses and organizations and the senator's office.
As you likely recall, Johnson ousted three-term superintendent June Atkinson in 2016, becoming the first Republican to hold the office in a century. Instead of running for re-election, Johnson chose to jump into the crowded primary for lieutenant governor, finishing third with 12% of the vote.
Johnson's new job is an unusual step for a former Council of State member, but could be a good one for somebody who clearly has future political ambitions. House district directors frequently end up running for the big job themselves down the line, though the path isn't quite as clear for a senator's state director. However, Johnson will definitely make political connections that would serve him in a future run for office.
I wrote back in 2018 that Johnson had the chops to be governor, but needed to win re-election to the superintendent job to prove it. I still stand by that statement.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this newsletter misidentified Jim O’Neill’s county.
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