Wake County GOP hosts first Governor's Debate ahead of 2024 election

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Tuesday, September 12, 2023
Wake County GOP hosts first Governor's Debate ahead of 2024 election
The Wake County GOP is hosting a Governor's Debate on Tuesday night, featuring three of the five declared Republican candidates for the office.

CARY, N.C. (WTVD) -- The Wake County GOP is hosting a Governor's Debate on Tuesday night, featuring three of the five declared Republican candidates for the office.

"It's a tremendous opportunity for them," said Steve Bergstrom, the Wake GOP Chair.

Former Congressman Mark Walker, State Treasurer Dale Folwell and businessman Jesse Thomas will participate. The candidates will share a table in a debate which Bergstrom said is meant to emphasize greater interaction.

"We've kind of lost the ability to have civil discourse on political issues. Instead, we're focusing on snippets and soundbites. This gives a great opportunity for the voter to really understand who each candidate is and what they'll do for North Carolina and for them individually, for their families, for their communities, and for the state as a whole," Bergstrom explained.

Bergstrom said there will be about eight topics featured in the debate, part of a combination of questions from the group's executive leadership board and others.

"Wake County represents, as far as Republicans, 12% of all Republicans in the state. So we are a key county as far as turning out not only the vote for the presidential election, but for any statewide race. So I think it's important for these candidates to realize that and to really speak to the voters about the issues that are important here in Wake County," said Bergstrom.

While Republicans have had recent success in statewide and legislative races, they have historically struggled in gubernatorial campaigns. Since 1901, just three Republicans have won the seat, with the most recent being Pat McCrory from 2013-2017. Of the three who won, only James Martin won re-election.

The governor's authority in North Carolina is weaker than that of other states. Thirty-six states have a veto-override threshold of 2/3 votes, while North Carolina's threshold is just 3/5. Republicans have utilized that supermajority in both chambers to override several vetoes from Governor Roy Cooper during this legislative session.

"Just contrast what we've seen in the General Assembly when Republicans didn't have a supermajority and a Democratic governor to now when they do have a supermajority," said Dr. David McLennan, a professor of Political Science at Meredith College.

For Democrats, a victory in the Governor's race and gains in either the House or Senate, would allow them to essentially restore power to the Governor's veto authority. For Republicans, a victory would allow the party to move forward with legislation as long as it holds simple majorities in both chambers.

"I think this will be one of those expensive, highly-watched gubernatorial races in the state and the country," said McLennan.

Two candidates -- former state legislator Andy Wells and Lt. Governor Mark Robinson -- are not participating in Tuesday's debate.

A representative for Wells' campaign tells ABC11 that due to a miscommunication over scheduling, he had a prior conflict and is unable to attend. However, he will participate in Wednesday's debate, which will also include Walker, Folwell, and Thomas, in Charlotte.

A spokesperson for Lt. Governor Robinson's campaign did not respond to a request for comment regarding his decision to not participate or if he plans to participate in future debates during the primaries.

"You see a number of politicians saying, you can only go down when you're that high in the polls," said McLennan, citing recent examples of Donald Trump in the first Republican Presidential debate last month, and Ted Budd, who did not participate in primary debates during last year's Senate run; Budd did participate in a general election debate.

A report last month compiled by Cygnal found Robinson had the highest favorability and net favorability in the field, though also the highest unfavorable rating.

In a crowded field, McLennan shared analysis of the current state of the race.

"Mark Robinson both embraces Donald Trump and is embraced by Trump and his supporters. And the others are trying to get the business conservatives, the traditional conservatives, the more moderate-leaning Republicans perhaps to come out and vote for them," McLennan explained.

Bergstrom said it's up to individual candidates to decided whether they choose to debate.

"Every candidate has the right to run their campaign as they see fit and what's going to be good for them as far as winning in 2024. We have a great slate of Republican candidates for governor whether they choose to debate or not," Bergstrom said.

Tuesday's debate begins at 7 p.m. at MacGregor Downs Country Club in Cary.