The first Republican debate in the North Carolina primary for governor in 2024 will be on Tuesday, in Wake County, where presumed frontrunner, Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, works. But he’s not going.
Most of his opponents are, though. They include:
▪ State Treasure Dale Folwell, who says “my track record is that I attack problems and not people.”
▪ Former U.S. Rep. Mark Walker, who says his campaign is the “next step toward preserving American greatness and building a stronger state, one community at a time.”
▪ Retired health care executive Jesse Thomas, who describes himself as the “no-nonsense” candidate.
▪ And former state Sen. Andy Wells, who as of Monday had not yet confirmed whether he would attend.
The Wake County Republican County is hosting the debate, which will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday at MacGregor Downs Country Club in Cary. It is a fundraiser for the county party and will follow a dinner outside. The dinner before the debate is sold out, but the Wake County Republican Party is still selling debate-only tickets for $25.
The debate may set the tone for the primary election six months away. Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein is the only Democrat who has announced his campaign for governor as of Monday.
“We consider this to be a job interview,” Wake County Republican Party Chair Steve Bergstrom told The News & Observer about the debate.
Bergstrom said that Robinson has done several other events with the Wake County GOP before this, and did not give a reason for declining the debate invitation. Wells had not yet confirmed attendance as of Friday, Bergstrom said.
“We have excellent candidates across the board,” Bergstrom said.
He added that it’s a chance to hear candidates talk about issues beyond soundbites in media or in advertisements.
On Friday, Walker’s campaign spokesperson Jonathan Bridges confirmed that Walker had considered declining the debate after Robinson did, then chose to remain a part of it.
Bridges said that during the debate on Tuesday the budget will be at the forefront of everybody’s minds, and what it means for North Carolinians. Other questions include, “How is the governor going to work with the legislature?” Bridges said. “Voters need to know what to expect with a Republican governor.”
Folwell told The News & Observer in a recent interview that what he offers as a Republican gubernatorial primary candidate “is the ability to govern and explain conservatism without offending people.” He said his campaign “is not about rage, it’s about courage.”
Robinson’s campaign declined to comment about the debate.
A second primary debate is also scheduled Wednesday in Charlotte.