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Politicians should 'attack problems, not people,' says Dale Folwell, announcing 2024 run for NC governor

WRAL News logo: MainLogo WRAL News 3/28/2023 Will Doran, WRAL state government reporter

North Carolina Treasurer Dale Folwell says his decision to run for governor was based in his belief that voters will value a steady hand at the wheel over lambastic political rhetoric.

“The majority of North Carolinians are not associated with either political party,” Folwell said in an interview Monday. “All people want is for someone to speak to them like adults, and for it to make common sense.”

Folwell, who announced his campaign plans Saturday, could face a tough battle against Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, who is also expected to enter the GOP primary for the state’s top executive office. Robinson’s fiery pro-gun, anti-gay rhetoric has won him a passionate following in conservative circles.

But for now, Folwell noted, he’s the only Republican candidate to have officially announced a campaign to fill the seat being vacated by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who can’t run again due to term limits. On the other side of the aisle, Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein has also announced he will run for governor.

Robinson’s popularity among party activists has made him the presumptive favorite to win the nomination if he chooses to run for governor. But Folwell, 64, noted that whoever wins the primary has to be a strong candidate for the general election, too.

"Voters like candidates who attack problems, not people,” he said.

Folwell said comments like that weren't intended to target Robinson, or any other specific politician. Robinson's spokesperson didn't respond to a request for comment

Folwell’s announcement over the weekend caused immediate ripples in state politics.

Mecklenburg County Rep. John Bradford, the only remaining Republican to represent the Charlotte area in the legislature, quickly announced he's strongly considering a run for treasurer next year, to replace Folwell.

Another prominent Republican lawmaker lamented what he sees as an all-but-guaranteed loss for Folwell, if Robinson also gets into the race.

Robeson County Sen. Danny Britt wrote on Twitter that “there is not a soul that can beat Lt. Governor Robinson in a primary. We will lose what has been a fiscally strong Treasurer who will be nothing more than a speed bump in the primary. It will be a complete stomp down.”

His tweet was “not an insult” to Folwell, Britt added. “Just facts.”

GOP insiders have said Robinson’s comments about the LGBTQ community could hurt his chances to become governor and potentially hinder North Carolina's ability to recruit businesses. Nonetheless, likely Republican voters view Robinson more favorably than other possible GOP candidates.

Despite being a political newcomer in 2020, Robinson beat numerous well known Republican politicians in that year’s primary for lieutenant governor. He easily won the nine-person race; the second-place finisher received fewer than half as many votes as Robinson.

A survey late last year of likely Republican primary voters looked at hypothetical match-ups between Robinson and other potential GOP candidates for 2024. Almost 60% of likely GOP primary voters would opt for Robinson, while about 6% said they’d vote for Folwell, according to the poll released by GOP political consulting group The Differentiators. Thirty-four percent were undecided.

A potential matchup between Folwell and Robinson could serve as a microcosm of nationwide debates within the Republican Party: Whether voters prefer old-school conservative ideals like fiscal conservatism, or if the party has shifted to put a heavier focus on more populist culture war issues.

A former state lawmaker from Forsyth County, Folwell was high-ranking member of GOP leadership when Republicans took power at the General Assembly in 2011 for the first time in a century and quickly went about passing massive changes to many aspects of state law. Thom Tillis, then the Speaker of the House and now a U.S. Senator, picked Folwell as his top deputy. He served as speaker pro tem for two terms, then was elected state treasurer in 2016.

His 2024 campaign will likely focus heavily on his work as treasurer. That includes overseeing North Carolina’s pension plan — far healthier than just about any other state’s — as well as other financial management, like his work to keep health insurance premiums frozen for all state employees over the last five years, even as private sector health insurance premiums have risen drastically.

It’s what he knows, he said, and is passionate about it.

"I got where I am by climbing my own ladder, not pulling other people off of theirs,” he said. “At the end of the day, whoever may file, I'm going to keep being who I've always been and let them be who they are."



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