Decrying identity politics and a loss of traditional values, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest officially launched his campaign Saturday to unseat Roy Cooper as governor of North Carolina.
The Republican, in his second term as lieutenant governor, has long made it known that the governorship is in his sights, but he officially announced his intentions at a rally at the Winston-Salem Fairgrounds.
He joins state Rep. Holly Grange of Wilmington in the Republican primary for the governor’s office.
In a speech to supporters, Forest said he wanted to create a new vision for North Carolina, one that includes a stronger anti-abortion stance and a rejection of socialism, an ideology he said young people in the state have grown more favorable of.
He pitched his ticket around unifying North Carolina, which in the words of his campaign meant “rejecting identity politics that seek to divide people and inflame public discourse.”
“We have a real problem in North Carolina, and it is one we see all across the nation,” Forest said. “People are trying to divide us and use identity politics ... Politicians kindle the flames of divisiveness because they know they can raise more money if they make people angry and afraid.”
While his roughly 10-minute speech touted his viewpoints against abortion rights, expanding school choice for North Carolinians and being more competitive on recruiting businesses to the state, the largest cheer Forest received was after he denounced socialism.
“Regardless of what Nancy Pelosi says, or crazy Bernie Sanders said, or (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez), socialism does not work,” Forest said to a round of applause.
“We have a bit of a problem because a lot of our young people hear socialism and think it means social good,” Forest said. “… But socialism is as far away from social good as you can get.”
To unseat Cooper, Forest will likely have to win over the portion of voters that split their ticket between President Donald Trump and Cooper, who managed to beat former Republican Governor Pat McCrory by a slim margin in 2016 even as Trump carried the state.
Many viewed McCrory’s loss in 2016 as a repudiation of his support of House Bill 2, known as the “bathroom bill,” which prohibited local governments from enacting anti-discrimination protections for LGBT people and required people in government facilities to use bathrooms matching the gender on their birth certificates.
At the same time as his rally, the Democratic Governors Association put out a press release calling Forest the “chief architect” of HB2.
In an interview, Forest said he doesn’t think he needs to have a specific message for those voters who went with Cooper last time. Rather, he said, he would be focused on building a message for the entire state.
“I think everyone wants to unify right now, not just in our state, but across the country,” he said. “I think it’s probably one of the biggest challenges that we face. The flames are just being stoked out there, and it is time to stop.”
Forest said Cooper hasn’t shown a real desire to sit down with Republican leaders in the General Assembly and hash out differences over the budget. Drawing a line over Medicaid expansion in the state, rather than signing what Forest called “a good budget,” was a mistake, he said.
“I think health care is a real issue, I don’t think anyone denies that,” Forest said. “I think we need to have a serious forum in our state to bring people together to ask what is the best way for North Carolina to deal with the health care issue. But to hold up the budget, which is a really good budget that can move a lot of things forward, I would say that is one (mistake).”
Forest added that he plans to roll out his own health care policy.
“I think we should develop a North Carolina plan; it doesn’t have to be a federal government plan,” Forest said. “Medicaid comes with a lot of strings attached to it and is not always the best form of health care either for the poor.”
On the “born alive” bill, which would have brought new penalties for medical professionals who allow abortion survivors to die, Forest said the law should have been passed.
“The governor said we just didn’t need it,” Forest said. “But my take is, if it is not needed, then go ahead and sign it and tell people you stand for life.”
Forest’s campaign highlighted anti-abortion viewpoints, indicating he will try to make the topic one of the main points of contention in the 2020 election.
While his speech did not directly mention Trump, he said his campaign was committed to supporting the president, who will likely visit the state often in 2020.
North Carolina stands to be a key state in the 2020 election, and the Republican convention will take place in Charlotte next summer.
“We have been supporting the president all along,” Forest said. “We think the president is popular because he has done what he has said he was going to do and he is delivering on his campaign promises. And I think people appreciate that.”