Salena Zito / Jan. 12, 2021

How Mark Robinson Beat Bloomberg's Billions to Win North Carolina's Second-Highest Office

Robinson was just a guy who resonated with people, connecting with them on issues they face every day.

As one of 10 children growing up in extreme poverty in Greensboro, North Carolina, Mark Robinson has defied a lot of odds in life: an alcoholic and abusive father, foster care stints and an overwhelmed single mother.

After joining the Army Reserves right out of high school, he married and had two children while drifting through various jobs making furniture, a profession that kept evaporating as each plant he worked for relocated to Mexico.

In 2018, he attended Greensboro’s city council meeting to voice his frustration over the town’s decision to ban a local gun show and found himself giving an off-the-cuff yet deeply impassioned speech. Despite not owning a gun at the time, Robinson argued for four minutes in defense of the Second Amendment and ended up garnering national attention. This year, with few resources and no electoral experience, Robinson became the first black lieutenant governor-elect of North Carolina.

“I didn’t expect the reaction that I received from that speech,” Robinson said. “I thought maybe a couple of friends would see it and that was about it. When it went viral …?a lot of people encouraged me to get a radio show and things of that sort.”

But he decided against courting fame, because “in order to affect real change, there’s no better place to do that than in the political arena.”

So, Robinson ran for lieutenant governor, and became the first black Republican to win a major seat in the state since the 1890s. He also earned more votes in his state than the two top Republicans on the ticket: President Donald Trump and Sen. Thom Tillis, and nearly as many as Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who will now have a member of the Republican Party as his second-in-command. If Cooper is successful in his rumored run for U.S. Senate in 2022, Robinson will ascend to the state’s highest office.

Robinson’s win is astounding for any number of reasons, but especially because he managed to beat the $8 million spent by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in his state to take him out. The funds came via the Beyond Carbon Victory Fund, an environmental justice campaign Bloomberg launched last year that boasts a $500 million budget dedicated to electing state and local candidates “who are climate champions.”

In his upcoming role as the new lieutenant governor, Robinson will chair North Carolina’s energy council.

On Bloomberg’s bid to turn his ticket blue, Robinson is matter-of-fact.

“Just because you have money, that money does not always translate into votes,” he said. “Our message was simple: We’re 100 percent pro-life; we stand up for our Second Amendment, our God-given right to self-defense, school choice, caring for our veterans and standing up for law enforcement and law and order.

"You just can’t sway people because you want them to think the way you do. People see right through that.”

In short, Robinson was just a guy who resonated with people, connecting with them on issues they face every day. His message might have ruffled the feathers of the politically correct, but no one could ever doubt its authenticity. He never assumed he knew better, a mistake Bloomberg made with both his fly-by-night run for president and his push for more progressive candidates in smaller races across the country.

“If Michael Bloomberg’s failure to have any impact on the 2020 race tells us anything, it shows message and messenger are more important than money,” said Paul Sracic, a political science professor at Youngstown State University.

Bloomberg also came up short in two other down-ballot races in 2020. Despite pouring $2.5 million of Beyond Carbon funds into Democrat Chrysta Castaneda’s bid for a seat on the Texas Railroad Commission, she lost — helping cement decades of GOP power on the energy-regulating board. And even with his $6.5 million drive to put three progressive candidates onto the Arizona Corporation Commission, which regulates the state’s utilities, only one Democrat was successful, allowing Republicans to hold their majority.

Bloomberg dumped another $100 million into Florida through his Independence USA PAC to grease the wheels for Biden and down-ballot Democrats, only to see the needle move backward for his party in that state. Not only did Trump get 1 million more votes in Florida than he did in 2016, but Republicans also expanded their majorities in both state chambers while ousting two Democrats from congressional seats in the Miami-Dade area.

Meanwhile, the $60 million Bloomberg spent to support Democrats in House races across the country gained the party nothing. No Republican incumbent lost a seat in the House of Representatives, and the Democrats lost at least a dozen seats in the lower chamber to GOP challengers.

Even the $60 million Bloomberg spent pushing gun-control candidates through his organization Everytown for Gun Safety had little to no effect. This year saw a record for new gun ownership in America: almost 5 million people are new gun owners, with 40% of them women.

Bloomberg’s spokespeople did not return calls for comment, but one of his top political advisers, Kevin Sheekey, told the Associated Press last month: “At the end of the day, a win is a win and Joe Biden will take office in January and Donald Trump will leave. We feel quite good about … the end result.”

At the same time, there is no denying that Bloomberg’s Goliath attempts to conquer every level of American politics this year fell to scores of Davids across the country — including Mark Robinson. “I chuckled to myself about this on more than one occasion,” Robinson said. “Michael Bloomberg lives in an ivory tower in one of the greatest cities in the world. This guy has billions of dollars and here he is trying to take out little old Mark Robinson. It really is bizarre and if you wrote this as a movie, nobody would believe it. But here we are.”

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