RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Former Republican Gov. Pat McCrory on Wednesday announced he’ll run for the U.S. Senate in North Carolina, shaking up the calculus in the expanding field to succeed retiring Sen. Richard Burr with the entrance of a veteran of statewide politics.
McCrory, who served as governor for four years through 2016, revealed his plans on his morning radio show in Charlotte, where he also served a record 14 years as mayor. McCrory had said in late 2019 that he would strongly consider a Senate bid in 2022. He has quietly built a team of experienced consultants and fundraisers.
“I’m in,” he told listeners on WBT radio, citing his long record of public service. “I’m going to run for the U.S. Senate because I’m simply the best for the job of all the candidates that are considering to run … and if I wasn’t I wouldn’t run.”
Former President Donald Trump narrowly won North Carolina in last year’s presidential race and Democrats have targeted Burr’s seat as a prime pickup opportunity to expand their razor-thin Senate edge.
McCrory enters the campaign as the most well-known among any announced candidate, surging past recent U.S. Rep. Mark Walker, who unveiled his bid in December to try to secure early GOP primary support. Current U.S. Rep. Ted Budd and Lara Trump, the daughter-in-law of Trump and a North Carolina native, also are considering runs for the Republican nomination.
Upon news on Monday that McCrory would announce his run at some point this week, Walker released a statement that read in part:
“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? McCrory has routinely attacked conservatives including President Trump and if Pat wasn’t good enough for Trump’s administration, he’s not good enough for our state.”
Chris Cooper, a political science professor at Western Carolina University, said McCrory’s prominence in the state means he’s currently the likely frontrunner for the Republican nomination.
“He has shown that he can win statewide office,” Cooper said. He also noted that McCrory’s radio program, in which the former governor focuses on the latest political news, has offered good preparation: “He’s been doing as much training as anybody could in running for the Senate.”
2020 Senate primary candidate Erica Smith and current state Sen. Jeff Jackson are among several Democrats competing for the opportunity to take back the seat held by the Republican Burr since 2005. Former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley also is expected to join the field soon. Burr announced years ago that his third six-year term would be his last. A Democratic victory would help a party clinging to a small edge in the Senate in which Vice President Kamala Harris can break tie votes.
In a video announcement, McCrory emphasized that 50-50 split in the Senate, adding that the Harris vote is “giving the left everything they want to radically change America for generations to come.”
“It’s time we join together and take back the Senate from Kamala Harris,” McCrory says in the video. Harris, however, has yet to cast many votes that have granted the policy wishes of far-left Democrats.
McCrory, 64, has been on the sidelines of hard-nosed state Republican politics since losing his gubernatorial reelection by barely 10,000 votes to current Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper in 2016. He ran for governor two other times, losing to Beverly Perdue in 2008, and defeating Walter Dalton in 2012.
Sticking to previous gubernatorial campaign themes, McCrory pegged himself as an outsider who would bring “conservative common sense” to the Senate.
“I built my career outside of Washington. As a mayor and governor, I took on the tough fights. The liberals attacked me for it,” McCrory says.
The ex-governor also will have to maneuver carefully in regards to Donald Trump, who also won North Carolina’s electoral votes in 2016. Trump remains wildly popular among the GOP faithful and continues to promote unsubstantiated accusations of voter fraud during the 2020 election.
McCrory at times criticized Trump during the 2016 campaign. Walker, meanwhile, has embraced Trump, calling himself the most “pro-Trump congressman” from North Carolina when on Capitol Hill.
“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?” Walker asked in a news release this week. A Lara Trump candidacy, with a likely endorsement from her father-in-law, would turn the GOP primary upside down.
McCrory’s gubernatorial term was marked by working with the Republican-dominated legislature to pass a massive tax overhaul, transportation funding reform and vouchers for low-income children to attend private schools. He said his policies helped begin a “Carolina Comeback” economic recovery.
But he was blistered in the final months of his failed reelection bid for agreeing to sign the legislature’s 2016 “bathroom bill,” which required transgender people to use public bathrooms aligned with the gender on their birth certificate.
The North Carolina Democratic Party released a statement Wednesday morning that addressed McCrory’s time as governor:
“North Carolinians remember exactly who Pat McCrory is — a failed politician who signed hateful and divisive legislation into law, hurt our national reputation, and damaged our state’s economy. From his toxic record blocking Medicaid expansion, signing a monster voter suppression bill, and serving his wealthy special interest donors over hardworking North Carolinians, to his multiple statewide losses, it’s clear that Pat McCrory is wrong for our state. North Carolinians voted him out of office in 2016 because of that failed record. We have some free advice — don’t quit your day job, Pat.”
— CBS 17 contributed to this report