RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina State Treasurer Dale Folwell announced on Saturday he will run for governor in 2024, a bid that will likely require him besting Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson to earn the Republican nomination.
While Republicans have controlled North Carolina's legislature since 2011 and won a majority on the state Supreme Court last November, they have struggled to enter the Executive Mansion. The GOP has won just one gubernatorial general election since 1992, and 2012 winner Pat McCrory served for just four years.
Folwell, a former legislator, school board member and state unemployment office chief who was first elected treasurer in 2016, said he would bring competence to operating government in a fiscally sound manner and look out for working people if elected.
“The root word of ‘governor’ is to govern, and what that means is to be the CEO of the biggest business in the state,” Folwell told The Associated Press in an interview. “And based on my track record of saving lives, minds and money, I’m uniquely qualified to do that.”
The state constitution prevents Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper from seeking a third consecutive term.
Folwell had said in September that he was strongly considering a run for governor after encouragement from several Republicans. He revealed his plans first at Saturday's Republican Party convention for Forsyth County, where he lives.
The disclosure came two days after Robinson said he’d hold an April 22 rally at an Alamance County race track, where he’d make a “special announcement” about 2024.
Robinson's campaign adviser declined to reveal his specific plans, but Robinson has said previously that he was fairly certain that he’d run for governor.
Robinson, who was elected the state's first Black lieutenant governor in 2020 in his first run for office, released an autobiography last year and is a popular speaker at conservative churches and events.
Attorney General Josh Stein announced his bid for the Democratic nomination for governor in January, taking direct aim at Robinson for speeches in which critics say he disparaged LGBTQ+ people, women and abortion rights. Last Sunday, Robinson criticized churches that fly a “rainbow flag.”
Robinson hasn’t apologized for certain remarks, saying he wasn’t attacking the LGBTQ+ community -- but rather it was a judgment on reading materials in the public schools. He also said he can separate his religious views from his governmental responsibilities. But some Republicans are worried about whether Robinson can win the general election in the closely divided state.
Folwell had already criticized Robinson's governing style months ago.
With his announcement, Folwell pointed out that the public didn't even know who Robinson was a few years ago. Since then, Folwell told AP, Robinson has “spent all this time attacking people instead of attacking the important problems that our citizens are facing.”
Folwell, meanwhile, said he's attractive to voters because they feel like as an elected official “I’m doing the right thing on their behalf.”
“They're going to respond to somebody who speaks to them like adults," he added.
Folwell said his timing to get in the race had nothing to do with Robinson's upcoming announcement — he wanted to reveal his plans first to his fellow local Republicans.
Robinson or his campaign didn't immediately respond to an email Saturday seeking comment about Folwell's entry.
Folwell, 64, ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in 2012 before winning his current statewide job four years later.
While treasurer, he’s focused upon efforts to curb health care costs for state employees and retirees and for the poor as a way to improve their well-being. As McCrory's unemployment office chief he helped carry out system reforms and implement new technologies.
The state treasurer manages the state’s investments and its massive government employee pension funds. His office also oversees the health insurance program for state workers and teachers and their dependents.
The State Health Plan has been sued over its decision — defended by Folwell — to decline covering gender-affirming treatments for transgender employees and their children.
While delivering the Republican response to Cooper’s State of the State address earlier this month, Robinson focused on his life story while promoting fiscal responsibility and respect for law enforcement and public school teachers.
Folwell also talks about growing up in poverty. Folwell said his young adulthood included working as a trash collector and in motorcycle shops before going to college and becoming a CPA. He then worked for an investment firm.
Former U.S. Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C., also has expressed interest in a gubernatorial bid. Candidate filing for the March 2024 primary is held in December, but anyone else seeking to challenge Robinson will feel pressure to enter this spring.
At the end of 2022, Folwell reported $47,000 in cash in his campaign account, compared to $2.2 million held by Robinson’s campaign, according to state filings.