Former North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory is planning to launch his Republican campaign for Senate this week — and immediately become a front-runner in a race that could determine the future control of the chamber, according to people familiar with his plans.
McCrory’s decision is an attempt at a comeback after narrowly losing his reelection bid in 2016. Politico first reported McCrory’s plans.
Republican pollster Glen Bolger claimed in a memo Monday that McCrory has a “significant lead” over the only other major GOP Senate candidate in the race — former Rep. Mark Walker — and North Carolina US Rep. Ted Budd, who is also considering a Senate campaign.
Bolger said McCrory is “well-positioned” to be the party’s Senate nominee in 2022 due to his “very strong image” and his ability to message “against Washington insiders.” The memo, obtained by CNN, is addressed to McCrory and veteran GOP strategist Paul Shumaker, who did not respond to requests for comment.
Walker, a pastor, has already obtained the support of some social conservatives, including former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, and Budd in the past has won over the support of fiscal conservatives, including the Club for Growth. Other potential Senate candidates include Lara Trump, former President Donald Trump’s daughter-in-law and campaign adviser, who is considering a bid but has not yet taken any public steps toward a campaign.
While Trump twice won North Carolina, other Republicans have been more vociferously supportive than McCrory when asked about the former President’s place in the party.
In an interview in February, the former governor-turned-radio-host argued that conservative values would guide Republicans in rebuilding the party’s path back to power. But he did emphasize he was “a strong supporter” of the former President, and said he disagreed with North Carolina GOP Sen. Richard Burr’s vote to convict Trump for inciting the January insurrection at the Capitol.
McCrory also redirected a question about the riot away from Trump and toward violent “extremists” on both sides, pointing to the violence and looting in cities like Portland, Oregon, Minneapolis and Charlotte, North Carolina, in the wake of protests around police shootings. He argued that extreme political views on the right and left that led to violence were unacceptable.
“We’re all in different stages of the grieving process,” McCrory said then. “Some people are in withdrawal. Some people are still in anger. Some people are still very suspicious of how it happened. We’re not ready yet to get back into the policy but we need to get there pretty quick.”
“Policy will trump all,” he added.
While Walker views himself as a “bridge builder,” he is clearly aligning himself with the former President. He said in a statement that he was the “most conservative and pro-Trump” member of Congress from North Carolina, and noted that while McCrory had won his governor’s race in 2012, he also had lost gubernatorial campaigns in 2008 and 2016.
“With taking back the Senate majority hinging on our success in North Carolina, why would we gamble on Pat McCrory — a career politician who has lost more statewide races than he’s won,” asked Walker in a statement.
McCrory’s fight over North Carolina’s “bathroom bill,” which required people at government-run facilities to use the bathrooms that corresponded to the sexes on their birth certificates, could help him connect with Republican primary voters.
But it could hurt him in a general election. The law caused a backlash among corporations and LGBT groups, and reportedly cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars as businesses moved major events like the NBA All-Star Game to other states. Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper repealed and replaced the law in 2017.
Burr’s looming retirement has set up one of the most competitive Senate races in the country. Democrats hope to win his seat, after Democratic candidate Cal Cunningham’s sex scandal sank his 2020 campaign against GOP Sen. Thom Tillis.
State Sen. Jeff Jackson and former state Sen. Erica Smith are in the race, but other Democrats, including Cheri Beasley, the former chief justice of the state Supreme Court, are expected to join them. Former NASA astronaut and political neophyte Joan Higginbotham is also considering a Senate campaign.