RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A North Carolina state legislator entered the 2020 Republican gubernatorial race Thursday, a decision that denies Lt. Gov. Dan Forest a cleared path to the GOP nomination after preparing for years for a bid.
State Rep. Holly Grange of Wilmington announced her candidacy in a campaign video that highlighted her as one of the first female West Point graduates. It also touched on themes designed to connect with the party's conservative base that will vote in the March primary, such as immigration, gun ownership, abortion and backing President Donald Trump.
"I'm a proud pro-business, law-and-order, Trump-supporting conservative," she says in the video. "And if you give me your vote, you have my word I'll fight every day to make North Carolina proud."
The Republican nominee is likely to take on Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who is planning a re-election bid. His campaign announced this week it had over $5.6 million in the bank as of this month.
In an interview Thursday, Grange, who has served in the legislature since 2016, downplayed policy differences with Forest, a favorite of social conservatives. But she said her military and legislative experience provides some contrasts with Forest.
"I think it's healthy to have a competitive primary," Grange said, but "I think the important issue is to beat Roy Cooper."
Forest won elections for lieutenant governor in 2012 and 2016 and has been laying the groundwork for a gubernatorial campaign with a statewide organization and volunteers. He plans a formal campaign kickoff next month.
"There are no political coronations in America, and everyone must earn their way," Forest said in a release. "Primaries tend to make everyone stronger, so this will only help us prepare for the race with Gov. Cooper."
While Forest presides over state Senate debate, he can't file legislation. But he's found policy niches around items like student financial literacy and rural broadband in schools.
Forest also was a strong supporter of North Carolina's "bathroom bill," which in part required transgender people to use the public bathroom corresponding to the sex listed on their birth certificates. Grange was among voices in the legislature in early 2017 that sought to remove from the books the 2016 law also known as House Bill 2. Cooper and Republicans ultimately approved what was a partial repeal.
The Democratic Governors Association sounded gleeful about the possibility of a revived HB2 debate. The law became a 2016 gubernatorial campaign issue favoring Cooper, an HB2 opponent. Another HB 2 debate "is the last thing the North Carolina Republican Party needs, and their nightmare has only just begun," DGA spokesman David Turner said in a release.
Politicians will look carefully at Forest's campaign fundraising report due next week for signs of whether he's been weakened politically by the April indictment of a prolific donor to independent committees that are supporting Forest. A federal grand jury accused Greg Lindberg of trying to bribe the state's insurance commissioner. Forest has not been accused of any wrongdoing.
Grange, 58, said she was in the third graduating class that included women at the U.S. Military Academy. She worked in the Army Corps of Engineers before leaving active duty following the birth of their second child. Grange and her husband, a former Army general, now operate a security and armament business for government and private clients.