Hello, World: Meet Mark “The Mobilizer” Robinson-Instant GOP superstar!

A week in North Carolina politics is like a year anywhere else. (At least sometimes.)

This past week produced a bunch of memorable events. Topping the list was the overnight political superstar status that’s been conferred on the state by lieutenant governor Mark Robinson, who won the GOP primary to succeed term-limited Democratic governor Roy Cooper. Not yet settled is the contest for the most apt nickname for the firebrand Robinson: hot contenders in the Alliteration Division are Repulsive,” “Revolting ” and “Repugnant,” with polls saying that one’s too close to call.

But a rival monicker quickly came from nowhere to shake up the race, namely Mark “The Mobilizer, Robinson — that’s because the nominee’s mobilizing prowess was evident by lunchtime on the day after “Super Tuesday,” which some here called Wacky Wednesday, y’all. But he was mainly mobilizing the opposition.

“Look, Ma — they noticed!”

First off, Robinson’s victory mobilized the media legions: his long string of conspiratorial catcalls was all over the mainstream press: The New York Times, Washington Post, social media, TV news, major podcasters — you name it, they  were all in a froth.

With seven months of campaign yet to go, this attention could have serious impact — much more, say, than the already-forgotten chatter about the presidential race of a briefly interesting but ephemeral  ex-governor, whose name was, uh  — give me a minute — Vicky, Rikki, something like that . . . .

But Mobilizer Mark’s significance was  substantially manifest at the grass roots of the other party within 48 hours. It was a scene missed by the big media, but captured live by this correspondent. It happened in a modest storefront in the central Carolina town of Burlington.

Burlington is in Alamance County, renowned as a hotbed of the Ku Klux Klan back in the day, Neo-Confederates now. Its 35-foot statue of a rebel soldier guards the county courthouse surrounded by a thick wrought iron fence and plenty of Don’t-Tread-On-Me attitude.

The county voted against Obama twice by ten-point margins, and for Trump in 2016 by 14 and in 2020 by 8. It was a locus for pandemic mask and mandate defiance. When Hispanic Democratic Ricky Hurtado managed to unseat a Republican state rep a few years back, the supermajority GOP legislature promptly re-drew the district and pushed Hurtado out in 2022.

Glimpsed by the Alamance courthouse awhile back . . .

That same year the hard-bitten Republican Sheriff Terry Robinson turned back a Black challenger by 17 points. The County Commission, in a county with 14% Hispanic and 20 percent Black residents, is of course all white and Republican.

Not a promising record. But on Thursday, March 7, when the Alamance County Dems gathered for their monthly meeting on North Main Street, instead of gloom, the joint was jumping: the room was packed, extra chairs had to be brought in, and the very diverse crowd was seriously fired up.

Another view of Alamance . . .

County Chair Ron Osborne, whose family has lived in central North Carolina for 200-plus years, opened the session by noting that the date, March 7, was the 59th anniversary of the “Bloody Sunday” voting rights march in Selma, Alabama, which led to passage of the Voting Rights Acts. It was a vivid reminder that the struggle for voting rights and against vote suppression is again hot and heavy in this pretty Deep Southern state. His pep talk brought cheers, and reminded folks that Mobilizer Mark’s  civil rights “record” includes calling the  movement “crap,” MLK a communist, and jeering at the late Rep. John Lewis, who had his skull cracked in the historic Selma melee.

Chairman Osborne also noted that a year ago, the county Democrats‘ bank account was $2000 in the red; but that night, they had a balance in excess of $12,000. To be sure, in a statewide political campaign, $12K is just a drop in the ocean. But at this point, the positive balance and upward trend were important morale boosters. And besides, the Alamance Dems had just had a serious infusion of the power of Mobilizer Mark Robinson. Yes, his impact on the Alamance opposition, just since “Super” Tuesday, was electric.

“You better stop, tell me, what’s that sound? A roomful of Democrats in Burlington town . . .”

The energy and drive evident in the Alamance crowd was infectious. And then, as the meeting broke up, the mood was supercharged by a rock-em sock-em SOTU performance from the president himself blaring from car radios, followed by the  ultra-creepy GOP chaser by Alabama Senator “Kitchen Katie” Britt.

Sure, there’s still a long way to go here. Robinson got the GOP governor nod with well over 600,000 votes. His Democratic rival, Attorney General Josh Stein, won his primary easily, but tallied only 475,000.  It’s been sixteen years since 2008, when Barack Obama last eked out a Democrat win in a presidential race in the state, and that was by a hair, less than 15,000 votes of 4.5 million cast.

The hits just keep on coming . . ..

But after months of negative polls, doom-and-gloom punditry and bedwetting about their standard-bearer’s age and supposed decrepitude, the rebound in morale here was palpable. While  Alamance is but one county among 100 in the state, Carolina Dems now have a unique combination to work with: a revived and raring-to-go president on the one side, and the specter of Mobilizing Mark Robinson breathing down their necks on the other.

Robinson launched his gubernatorial campaign in Alamance last spring, at a racetrack renowned for anti-vaxx rallies. He has since criss-crossed the state, spewing hate messages against just about any and all groups other than NRA zealots and anti-abortion and homo/transphobic crusaders.

The Trumpian theocratic base has lapped it up: The Leader Himself came to Greensboro a week ago to endorse Robinson, and call him “MLK times two.”

Alamance Dem Chair Ron Osborne is listening, and working . . .

But there’s now also talk of big Dem campaign money and organizing muscle being deployed here by deep-pocketed national Democratic groups and PACs. If that comes through, and the renewed enthusiasm on display in Burlington spreads, the North Carolina campaign looks like it should be one heckuva fight, worth all the attention the political gurus and junkies can spare. . . and  it might even make some history.


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