Lt. Governor Mark Robinson, R-N.C., speaks to the crowd at a rally for former President Donald Trump Saturday, April 9, 2022
Mark Robinson has aligned himself closely to Donald Trump. Chris Seward/AP

Democrats Say Mark Robinson Is Dangerous. They’re Rooting for Him Anyway.

“Mark Robinson has a position on abortion that is more extreme than Republican legislators’ positions,” one GOP strategist said about the Republican candidate for governor in North Carolina.

Democrats are looking to an unlikely source to help bring a blue wave to North Carolina this November: a Republican candidate for governor.

Mark Robinson, currently the state’s lieutenant governor, has referred to feminists as ‘Fem-Nazis,’ claimed there is a “transgender movement” that is “demonic” and a “mass delusion,” called LGBTQ people “filth,” continues to deny the 2020 election results, and has supported a no-exceptions abortion ban. Robinson has since denied ever supporting an abortion ban and avoids talking about the subject altogether, stating he prefers to promote a “culture of life.”

Despite warning that Robinson is a dangerous extremist, Democrats are rooting for him to win the Republican primary, seeing him as their best hope at motivating members of their party and independents to come out and vote.

One state Democratic insider told NOTUS there’s no reason for Democrats to put money behind boosting Robinson in the Republican primary just yet — a risky strategy Democrats have deployed in past races — because polls show him performing very well in his own in the three-person race. But Robinson is the Democrats’ preferred matchup.

“We look forward to highlighting and making sure that swing voters know all about Mark Robinson, his record, and his rhetoric,” Morgan Jackson, political consultant to state attorney general and Democratic candidate for governor Josh Stein, said.

Democrats are treating Robinson, who was endorsed by Donald Trump, as if he’s already the Republican nominee in the state, hoping the North Carolina electorate will continue to trend away from the former president and his political acolytes. Trump’s lead in the state diminished from 3.6 points against Hillary Clinton in 2016 to just over a percentage point over Joe Biden in 2020. That said, Republicans have continued to win statewide elections for Senate in the state since 2014.

Some prominent Republicans in the state have already warned that Robinson is a liability for the party. Among them, Paul Shumaker, a longtime GOP consultant who led North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis to his current seat, said he knows Democrats are hoping Robinson is the Republican nominee.

“Mark Robinson has a position on abortion that is more extreme than Republican legislators’ positions,” Shumaker, who supports Robinson’s primary competitor, former state prosecutor Bill Graham, said. “What’s more problematic for Republicans though is Mark Robinson’s comments about women that Democrats will link to his position on abortion.”

Robinson’s campaign did not respond to NOTUS’ request for an interview.

Democrats have proactively sought matchups against candidates like Robinson before; during the 2022 midterm cycle, the Democratic Governors Association, under the chairmanship of North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, boosted far-right candidates’ bids in their Republican primaries.

The Democratic campaign arm funded commercials about Maryland state Rep. Dan Cox, for example, then the Trump-endorsed Republican candidate for governor who has questioned the results of the 2020 election, supports restrictions on abortion and opposes tighter restrictions on guns. Cox went on to win the Maryland primary and lose the general election (he is now running for a House seat). Likewise, in Pennsylvania, it was widely reported that Democrats put money behind boosting Doug Mastriano, the far-right candidate who helped charter buses to the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. He appeared to have been in the crowd that crossed the Capitol fences and campaigned on appointing presidential electors who could “decertify” ballot machines. Mastriano, similarly, beat a crowded Republican field in the GOP primary for governor, only to lose to Josh Shapiro in the general.

North Carolina Republican Sen. Thom Tillis recalled a time in 2014 when Democrats, led by former Senate Majority Leader and Democrat Harry Reid, spent money in the Republican primaries leading into the general election senate race between Tillis and former Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan.

“The Democrats spent nearly $7 million in the primary trying to prevent me from winning, in favor of another candidate that they knew they would crush in the general election,” Tillis, who is supporting Graham’s candidacy, said. “I have no doubt that they are doing everything they can to get Robinson elected.”

Robinson’s grip on conservative voters grows stronger in the state — emboldened by former president Trump, who, as recently as December, voiced support for Robinson’s campaign during a speech at Mar-a-Lago. Trump compared Robinson to Martin Luther King Jr during the speech.

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Since announcing his run for governor in April, polls show Robinson with a healthy lead in the primary over three other candidates — though they also show 49% of Republican primary voters are still undecided within the party, suggesting their unfamiliarity with the candidates.

That said, not all Republicans in the state are wary of Robinson’s candidacy. Last August, Robinson announced that Sen. Ted Budd “proudly endorses” his campaign.

“Mark is a great candidate. I think the more people get to know him, the more they’ll like him. I’m a strong supporter,” Budd told NOTUS. “He’s doing a great job getting around the state, connecting with voters, and representing their interests.”

Tillis, meanwhile, said he’s not supporting Robinson because of his record as lieutenant governor, rather than a concern about his rhetoric. Tillis specifically pointed to Robinson, who sits on the state’s Board of Education as lieutenant governor, missing 60% of the board’s meetings.

“It’s not personal to me, it’s a qualification thing. The people that are supporting [Robinson], I have to ask, would you hire him in your C-suite?” Tillis asked. “The answer would be ‘no’ because he doesn’t have the experience appropriate for a CEO. Now we’re talking about making him Chief Executive Officer of one of the largest, most consequential states in the nation.”

Robinson won the lieutenant governor’s race having never held elected office before, just years after gaining traction in a viral video defending gun rights. He won in a crowded 15-person primary field, and campaigned during the pandemic to win the general, replacing another Republican lieutenant governor; his past remarks on transgender people, Holocaust denialism, abortion rights, and the like, didn’t hold back his candidacy then.

But Democrats see this as a different race and are banking on increased turnout over abortion rights. A year after the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling overturning Roe v. Wade, North Carolina Republicans enacted a ban on most abortions after 12 weeks in July 2023, overriding Cooper’s veto.

North Carolina has a hefty list of offices up for election in 2024 — and Robinson isn’t the only Trump ally who could end up on the ballot in November. House Freedom Caucus member Rep. Dan Bishop has announced his bid for attorney general in 2024; Bishop is another Trump ally whom Democrats hope to tie together in their message against Republican extremism. Bishop, notably, was the author of the repealed and highly contentious “bathroom bill” in the state that once restricted transgender people from using bathrooms aligned with their gender identity.

“Mark Robinson is an internet troll whose horrific 18th-century dogma will endear him to the right-wing MAGA fanatics needed to win his primary,” Philip Shulman, spokesperson for the liberal PAC American Bridge said. “But, [it] will be his Achilles’ heel in the general election.”

Calen Razor is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow.