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North Carolina Republicans Wave Off Concerns That Their Candidates Are Too Extreme

The state’s business lobby warned that the GOP’s nominees could hurt business — hearkening back to the fallout from the 2017 bathroom bill.

North Carolina Charlotte
North Carolina’s Chamber of Commerce expressed concern that some of the GOP’s candidates could hurt the state’s business interests if elected. Chuck Burton/AP

North Carolina’s conservative business lobby has already sounded the alarm bells that the state’s Republican Party is becoming too extreme. But elected Republicans in North Carolina don’t sound too worried.

“Many of the races we were watching turned for candidates that do not share our vision for North Carolina,” the state’s Chamber of Commerce said in a statement following Super Tuesday — a sentiment that hearkened back to the 2016 backlash over an anti-trans bathroom bill signed by former Republican Gov. Pat McCrory. The fallout fractured the state and ultimately helped usher Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper into office.

Now the chamber is citing candidates like Michele Morrow, Republicans’ nominee for state superintendent of public schools, who has promoted QAnon conspiracy theories and called for the death of Democrats like former President Barack Obama and Cooper. Her election to the chamber is a “startling warning of the looming threats to North Carolina’s business climate.”

Their concerns also extended to the Republican nominee for labor commissioner, Luke Farley, who ran on a platform to ban COVID-19 vaccine requirements for workers.

But many sitting North Carolina Republicans aren’t echoing these concerns.

“[North Carolina] earned its ranking as a great state for business because its legislature has lowered taxes and regulations,” Rep. Virginia Foxx told NOTUS. “I think smart businessmen and women will still consider North Carolina one of the most desirable states to be in.”

“I wish them good luck,” Rep. Patrick McHenry said in response to a report that Connecticut Democrats wanted to lobby businesses to leave North Carolina in favor of a more liberal political environment in New England.

Over the weekend, many North Carolina Republicans in the state attacked President Joe Biden’s acknowledgment of Transgender Day of Visibility as it overlapped with Easter Sunday.

“Why would Joe Biden choose the most important day to Christians to honor transgenders?” Rep. Richard Hudson, chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee, tweeted. “Shameful.”

Foxx retweeted statements by House Speaker Mike Johnson, who called the president’s actions “outrageous and abhorrent.”

The pile-on was indicative that North Carolina’s GOP isn’t too worried about embracing conservative culture wars — even on issues that rocked the state’s politics in recent memory.

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North Carolina lost hundreds of millions of dollars when the NBA moved its 2017 All-Star Weekend out of Charlotte in response to the bathroom bill. PayPal scrapped plans for a North Carolina expansion, musicians canceled bookings in the state, and more — all in reaction to the legislation.

“We not only lost thousands of jobs, but it ruined North Carolina’s reputation nationally,” said Democratic political strategist Morgan Jackson, who consults on Democratic gubernatorial candidate Josh Stein’s campaign. “Even two years after it was repealed, one of the first questions Gov. Cooper got from CEOs he was trying to recruit to North Carolina is: Where does that bill stand? Is it completely repealed?”

That said, the Chamber of Commerce isn’t completely alone among conservative voices in the state in expressing concern that some of the GOP’s candidates are going too far.

Sen. Thom Tillis cautioned Republican lawmakers, recalling how the backlash to Obama in 2010 enabled Republicans to seize control of the state’s general assembly and to ultimately enact their conservative agenda in the following years.

“It’s not episodic, it’s systemic. That’s exactly how I became speaker because liberals went too far in a purple state,” Tillis said. “And if conservatives go too far in a purple state, they will give it back to the liberals who will eventually do the same thing and turn it over.”

“We can be cooler headed, can maintain a good conservative set of priorities to maintain that leadership. That’s our choice.”

Meanwhile, Democrats are banking that the backlash to Republican candidates will increase turnout among their ranks. The chamber’s statement affirmed what they already believed about the Republican nominees.

“When you see an incredibly conservative business entity like the N.C. chamber saying this is even too much for them, I think that tells you the opportunity that it should present to Democrats and the challenge it will present to Republicans this fall,” Jackson told NOTUS.

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