RALEIGH — With a win in a Republican lieutenant governor primary packed full of experienced, well-known politicians, Mark Robinson, an African American gun rights advocate from Greensboro, was likely the biggest news coming out of Super Tuesday in North Carolina.
Former U.S. Congresswoman Renee Ellmers, state superintendent of public instruction Mark Johnson, state Sen. Andy Wells of Catawba County, former state Rep. Scott Stone of Mecklenburg County, and Greg Gebhardt — a West Point grad and top staffer to state House leadership — are just a few of the candidates that ran and lost to Robinson in this race.
“We knew we were going to be in first, but we just weren’t sure if we were going to break 30,” Conrad Pogorzelski III, Robinson’s campaign manager, told NSJ. “So obviously we were thrilled to have that happen.”
With 33% of the vote, Robinson comfortably cleared that 30% threshold to avoid a runoff. No other candidate broke 15% of the vote. NSJ spoke with Robinson and asked him how he achieved this.
“I think the thing that put us over the top was our strong conservative message,” Robinson said. “Our message was to the point; it was simple; it was common sense. I think that’s what people embrace these days… And No. 2 has got to be our volunteer base. We had hundreds of volunteers working polls, knocking doors, doing phone calls. Our volunteers really made the difference in this campaign.”
Robinson told NSJ he went on a tour of the state, intending to hit all 100 counties — ultimately visiting 97 before election day. He said this allowed him to build the grassroots support that made his win possible. Learning from the online success of Trump, the campaign also focused on achieving a “great digital media game.” Robinson said, “Our social media was head and shoulders, 10 times, above our closest opponent.”
The straight-talking style in which Robinson delivers his message gained him a social media following even before he decided to run for office. He is arguably best known for a viral 2018 speech where he tells the Greensboro City Council not to interfere with residents’ Second Amendment rights. That video was seen, according to his website, an estimated 150 million times. Despite being pigeon-holed early as “the guy from the gun speech video,” Robinson said his success in the campaign shows he was able to broaden his message to include all issues conservatives care about.
“The more we travel, the more I started to meet people who knew me as a candidate for lieutenant governor and not for the city council speech,” Robinson said. “There were some other candidates who thought we were just one-dimensional, but we had several opportunities to show that that was not the case. Our campaign is well-versed on all the issues, and we’re pushing for more than just protecting the Second Amendment.”
The main issues Robinson said he focused on when speaking to voters across the state are ending indoctrination in schools, protecting the unborn, ending sanctuary cities, fighting for veterans and law enforcement, and voter ID.
Robinson said during his travels across the state he was “embraced very well” by the conservative grassroots, and suggestions that they are racist or would reject people like him are false. He also made clear that he does not believe he is alone in the black community as a conservative and will be pushing hard for votes from the black community.
“There are a lot of strong conservative black people out there that still have not abandoned the Democratic Party, and those are the folks that we’ll be going after,” he said. “We’re not going to allow these people to spread these false rumors that Republicans are racists and Republicans are this or that. We’re going to tell our story. We’re going to tell folks that if they want to be victors instead of victims, they need to join in with the Republican Party. They need to join in with the conservatives and take control of their lives and forge their own destinies.”
Robinson told NSJ that his philosophy on rising above his circumstances and being a “victor not a victim” was in part due to his childhood, being raised in an impoverished family of 10 children in Greensboro with an alcoholic father who was at times abusive to their mother. After time in foster care, he and his siblings were later reunited with their mother.
“We overcame a lot of struggles. I learned a lot of important lessons growing up in that household about faith and about family and about staying together and hanging in there and overcoming the odds. We learned a lot about that. I think that upbringing is what really shaped my conservative values.”
Robinson said his campaign plan won’t change moving into the general election. “Doesn’t matter who it is. We all know what they stand for. We all know what they’re pushing. We just want to show those differences between our party and theirs, and what they’re standing up for and what we’re standing up for.”
In addition to his recent success, Robinson has seen some controversies surface. One issue surrounds whether he owes money to the IRS and the other issue is whether he claimed endorsements from sheriffs who had already endorsed other candidates.
“None of those things are a problem. And none of those things will affect our campaign whatsoever,” Robinson said when asked by NSJ. “The tax thing that was posted, that was completely false. We don’t owe the IRS anything. The endorsements with the sheriffs, that was an honest mistake. We called both sheriffs and we hashed it out with them. We took care of that.”
Now that the primary is over, Robinson said he is confident that the campaign will be able to galvanize support from conservatives. This will include raising more money from larger donors, since the Democratic candidate will likely be well-funded.
“That’s how we were able to drive the victory was through small dollar donations, mostly $250 and less. So we’re certainly looking forward to being able to draw from bigger donors during the general election — so we’ll see how that goes. We’ve had a great response in the last week from folks who are getting on board with us. We’re sure we’re going to be able to do well in that area.”