RALEIGH — New N.C. GOP Chairman Michael Whatley sat down with North State Journal last week to discuss his vision for a “reset” of the state party. In part 2 of that interview with Whatley, he noted the importance of the upcoming 2020 Republican National Convention and applauded the special host committee that is handling most of the arrangements.
“I think Charlotte did a fantastic job hosting the Democratic Convention and they’re really, really strong,” said Whatley. “They [Charlotte] was chosen for this for a reason, and I think the city’s going to be able to put together a very good event. I think the state’s going to look really good coming out of this.”
Charlotte was the site of the 2012 Democratic National Convention, which was held at Time Warner Cable Arena (now called Spectrum Center). Republicans’ choice of Charlotte for their convention further confirms the Old North State as the epicenter of national battleground states.
“Absolutely, we’re the eye of the hurricane,” said Whatley. “We’re a top-four state for President Trump’s reelect. Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Florida are going to be absolutely critical.
“We’re going to have the most expensive Senate race in the country, and we’ve got a fantastic opportunity to pick up a Republican governorship,” Whatley added. “I think when you look at all of this on a national scale, yeah, we are the eye of the hurricane.”
On the topic of Republican governorships, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest has made no secret of the fact that he’s going to be running. Whatley said that if Forest manages to not have a primary opponent then “obviously, we support him on day one.”
Heading into 2020, the U.S. Senate primary race between Sen. Thom Tillis and Tucker Garland will draw a lot of attention — and money.
“Obviously, Thom has advantages as an incumbent,” said Whatley. “And Tucker has advantages running as an outsider. So far at this point, we’ll wait and see who comes out of that and make sure that we have the party in a position to help whoever comes up the primary.”
Whatley said he sees tremendous opportunities for the NCGOP and Republicans in the state going into 2020, and highlighting economic freedom and education messages is part of it.
“There’s a reason why we’ve gone from 1% to 2% economic growth under President Obama to 3% or 4% under President Trump, and we need to remind all of North Carolina that that’s the case,” said Whatley.
Whatley pointed to the changes the state has seen under Republican leadership, citing tax cuts, regulatory relief and business recruitment.
“We are looking at North Carolina record job increases,” Whatley said. “We’re looking at record wage increases, we’ve got nationally low unemployment for women, for African Americans, for Hispanics.”
But highlighting the positive messages coming out of Republican policies is just one side of Whatley’s pitch. He focuses on the priorities of the Democrats to provide a contrast.
“The Democratic Party is the party that is pushing socialism,” said Whatley. “It is the party that is pushing the Green New Deal. It is the party that is pushing socialized health care. We need to talk about what those policies mean.
“They also want to roll back the tax cuts and raise taxes and take more money out of the economy. What does that mean?” added Whatley. “Why in the world would we want policies that would roll back the successes that we’ve seen in North Carolina since 2010 and in the United States since 2016?”
Despite raising teacher pay and education spending for the last five years and expanding school choice, Whatley says Republicans have not effectively communicated those popular moves to citizens. Whatley says that will be a priority.
On education policy, Whatley said, “There’s no reason for Republicans to hide on an issue where they’re frankly delivering for all of the kids in North Carolina.”
When asked further about overall party messaging, Whatley said the party needs to be consistent and Republicans need to juxtapose what they are doing versus that of the Democrats in terms of themes like “economic freedom versus socialism.”
“We need at the state level to talk about economic growth versus the ‘go back’ policies from the Democrats. We need to talk about tax relief versus tax hikes,” Whatley said. “We need to talk about all the education spending and school choice versus the Democrats’ plan.”
The battle to get the message out may be an uphill one in the traditional media, Whatley said, but that “we need to engage, and we need to be able to put our messages out” even if the reporting is “slanted.”
Whatley said it’s critical that voters know that where Republicans have said they are going to do tax relief, regulatory relief or education programs that they’ve followed through and delivered just like President Trump has.
“You look at President Trump – ‘Promises Made, Promises Kept’ is one of the most popular themes in terms of his reelect for a reason,” said Whatley. “He has actually gone in and kept every promise that he’s been able to keep.”