Former North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory announces bid for US Senate seat in 2022

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Brian Murphy, Théoden Janes
·9 min read
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Former North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory’s career in politics is not over.

McCrory, a Republican who served one term as the state’s chief executive and 14 years as Charlotte’s mayor, has launched a campaign website announcing his run for North Carolina’s open U.S. Senate seat in 2022.

McCrory made the official announcement on his popular WBT radio show Wednesday morning. He is leaving the show.

“I’m in. I’m in. I’m going to run for the U.S. Senate because I’m simply the best for the job,” McCrory said. “Of all the candidates that are considering to run for the U.S. Senate — Republicans and Democrats — I am the best for the job, and if I wasn’t, I wouldn’t run.”

McCrory joins former U.S. Rep. Mark Walker as top-tier candidates in the Republican field to replace Richard Burr, who is not running for a fourth term in 2022. U.S. Rep. Ted Budd is considering a run, as is North Carolina native Lara Trump, the daughter-in-law of former President Donald Trump, and Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson.

McCrory, 64, served as Charlotte’s mayor from 1995 to 2009. He lost his race for governor in 2008, but won a decisive victory in the 2012 gubernatorial election. He lost a bitter reelection campaign in 2016 to Democrat Roy Cooper, falling by 10,277 votes.

He has hosted a weekday morning talk show on WBT-AM since 2017 and also made regular appearances on NBC’s “Meet The Press.” McCrory passed on a 2020 rematch with Cooper, but announced in late 2019 that he would seriously consider a U.S. Senate run.

Those prominent public positions give McCrory a huge edge in name identification over Walker and Budd, according to polling done for McCrory’s campaign this month.

McCrory has 89% name ID among likely Republican primary voters in the state compared to 32% for Walker and Budd. McCrory leads in a three-way race and in head-to-head match-ups, according to a polling memo addressed to McCrory and campaign strategist Paul Shumaker.

The memo, obtained by The Charlotte Observer, did not contain polling on Lara Trump.

A return to politics has been on McCrory’s mind for a while. In September, during an interview with McClatchy about U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis’s reelection bid, he said that he was having fun serving on boards, doing the radio show and appearing on national television.

“I miss the leadership,” McCrory said at the time.

On Monday on his radio show, while teasing to Wednesday’s announcement, McCrory said he was driven by questions about how best to fill his days.

“I’m doing a lot of thinking about my next moves in my twilight years, in the last quarter of my life. How do we be relevant? How do we make a difference? How do we leave this place a better place than when we arrived?” McCrory said. “... How can we be an influencer in leaving this Earth a better place than when we arrived? And that’s part of my faith responsibility.”

On Wednesday, McCrory said he has handled crises before and is equipped to help solve problems in Washington.

“We need someone from outside Washington, D.C., to help solve Washington problems. We need North Carolina solutions in Washington because we know how to solve problems here in North Carolina. From the coast to the Piedmont, all the way to the mountains, I know the state and I know its people,” McCrory said.

Time as governor

McCrory’s tenure as governor is most remembered for the fight over House Bill 2, North Carolina’s so-called “bathroom bill,” which limited LGBTQ protections and stopped local authorities from expanding their own nondiscrimination ordinances.

But before the 2016 battle over the bill — which generated national headlines and negative economic consequences in the middle of his reelection bid — McCrory and his Republican colleagues in the legislature remade much of state government.

They cut income taxes while expanding the list of services that could be taxed, raised school teacher pay, ran budget surpluses, overhauled the way the state funded transportation and passed the $2 billion “Connect N.C.” bond that paid for repairs and expansion to parks, universities and infrastructure across the state, The News & Observer reported at the time.

McCrory, again with state lawmakers, refused to expand Medicaid, cut unemployment benefits and passed a voter ID law that was later overturned for targeting Black citizens — drawing the ire of Democrats. A toll road project in Mecklenburg County hurt McCrory, too.

But HB2 came to define his final year in office. The state law came in response to Charlotte adding LGBTQ protections to its nondiscrimination ordinance in February 2016. Republicans passed the law a month later, which required, among other provisions, people to use bathrooms in schools and other government buildings based on the gender listed on their birth certificate.

It led to a backlash by businesses, major corporations and prominent sports organizations, including the NBA and NCAA, which pulled events from the state. The issue may have cost him another four years in the governor’s mansion during a year in which Trump and Burr won their statewide contests.

Democrats raised the issue as soon as McCrory joined the race.

“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,” said Bobbie Richardson, chairwoman of the North Carolina Democratic Party, in a statement. “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.”

In March 2017, legislators and Cooper reached a compromise on legislation that included a moratorium stopping local governments from passing their own nondiscrimination ordinances through the end of 2020. McCrory urged support for it, The Charlotte Observer reported at the time. He called it “a common-sense reset that respects privacy and allows the Supreme Court to resolve this issue for our nation once and for all.”

It passed, despite objections from liberals and conservatives, and Cooper signed the bill.

McCrory’s run for the Senate comes as transgender issues are again at the forefront of state and national politics. North Carolina lawmakers are considering bills that, critics say, would prohibit transgender girls from competing on girls’ high school sports teams, ban gender-related medical care for nonadults and allow doctors to refuse care to LGBTQ individuals, The News & Observer reported previously.

Senate race

The Senate is currently divided 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats. North Carolina is among the states that may decide which party controls the chamber. And it is one of five states where the Republican incumbent is not running for reelection.

The stakes are high to fill a open seat in North Carolina, which last had a vacancy in 2008.

“Right now, (Vice President) Kamala Harris is the one breaking the tie. I don’t want Kamala Harris to break the tie,” McCrory said, who decried the leadership of the “radical left.”

Walker, who has been in the race since December, didn’t wait for McCrory to declare his candidacy before coming out swinging.

“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 said in a statement Monday after McCrory teased an announcement.

Walker, 51, from Greensboro, served three terms in the U.S. House. He did not run for reelection in 2020 after his district was redrawn into a Democratic-leaning one. He announced his Senate bid in December and has been calling himself “the most conservative and pro-Trump” member of the delegation.

Walker said in 2019, when he passed on challenging Tillis, that Trump would back him in his 2022 Senate run. Trump has not weighed in on the race publicly.

“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,” Walker said.

McCrory met with Trump before his inauguration at Trump Tower in late 2016 to discuss potential jobs in the administration, including in the Department of Energy, according to leaked documents obtained by Axios. McCrory did not get a job in the administration.

McCrory supported Trump in the 2016 race, but called out some of his language.

Trump, though still banned from Twitter and other social media outlets, has been endorsing candidates — for Senate and other positions — through statements. Trump carried the state twice and remains the most popular figure in the party, one reason Lara Trump’s possible candidacy has loomed over this race.

“I’m not a big fan of incumbents who happen to not win reelection have to go walk off into the sunset. I’ve been there. I think they can stay relevant and I think President Trump should stay relevant,” McCrory said during a February appearance on “Meet The Press.”

Trump has blasted Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and other congressional Republicans, namely those who voted to impeach or convict him in January. He remains the head of the party.

McCrory said issues and Democratic overreach will unite Republicans in the 2022 midterms and beyond.

“There are issues that are going to unite us two years from now and four years from now. History tells us that,” McCrory said in February. “And that fact of the matter is issues trump everything.”

Republicans have won the last four Senate races in North Carolina and six of the last seven.

No more radio show

According to recent surveys, McCrory has held steady as one of the most popular Republican candidates among those who have said they are running and those who were said to be considering a bid.

The results of a Meredith Poll published last month showed McCrory to be the preference of more than 16% of intended Republican primary voters, while a BUSR/UNLV Lee Business School poll conducted late last year had him favored by 23% of North Carolina Republicans and Republican-leaning independents.

The only individual to rate higher than him, in both surveys, was Lara Trump. She polled at 24% in the BUSR/UNLV poll and 27% in the Meredith Poll.

Wednesday marked McCrory’s final day as host on his morning show — “The Pat McCrory Show with Bo Thompson.” On Monday, McCrory said among his options were to continue “on this incredible radio show,” thanking his co-host, producer and others at the station.

He asked, rhetorically, if he should “just continue to have incredible fun and try to educate and influence people. Or do I got back to the profession that’s been a calling of mine since I ran for city council in 1989.”

Axios Charlotte reported in February that it’s the most popular morning show in Charlotte, having held the No. 1 position for its time slot for seven straight months in 2020 and having grown to 90,000 listeners per week.

This is a developing story and will be updated.