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Lawyer Graham’s personal funds help in gubernatorial bid against Lt. Gov. Robinson in North Carolina

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson remained the top fundraiser in the GOP primary campaign for North Carolina governor entering 2024, but a recent rival has used his own personal fortune to compete with him monetarily.

Robinson’s campaign said it raised close to $3.4 million for the second half of 2023, according to campaign finance reports due late last week at the State Board of Elections. Bill Graham, a Salisbury trial lawyer who announced his bid for the Republican nomination in October, loaned his campaign $2.8 million of the $2.9 million it had collected through Dec. 31, his campaign’s report said.

Graham, whose personal loans have helped him run television advertising statewide, had said in October that he would invest “at least $5 million of his own resources” in the campaign. Graham, who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2008, told The Associated Press in an interview in January that he was on track to spend that amount for the March 5 primaries.

On the Democratic side, Attorney General Josh Stein’s gubernatorial campaign had an overwhelming monetary advantage over his four other primary rivals, including former state Supreme Court Associate Justice Mike Morgan, who announced his candidacy in September. Current Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper is term-limited from running again this year and has endorsed Stein to succeed him.

Stein’s campaign raised $5.7 million in the last six months of 2023 and had almost $11.5 million in cash entering January — large numbers aligned with what the Josh Stein for North Carolina organization announced a few weeks ago that it would report to the State Board of Elections. His campaign has taken in $16.9 million since early 2021.

Morgan’s campaign report said it raised $119,300 during the second half of 2023 and had $32,100 in cash entering January.

Robinson, a candidate popular within the GOP base and aligned with former President Donald Trump, highlighted in a news release the $9.9 million that his campaign reported raising since early 2021 and nearly $4.3 million in cash on hand. Graham’s campaign finance report said it had $161,600 in cash starting the new year. Robinson also reported more than 31,000 contributions from July through December.

State Treasurer Dale Folwell, who is also seeking the Republican nomination, reported raising $111,900 in the second half of 2023, his report said. He was sitting on almost $1.3 million in cash entering January, which came in large part from $1 million he loaned his campaign last June.

Other Democratic candidates for governor — Gary Foxx, Marcus Williams and Chrelle Booker — reported minimal or no activity during the most recent reporting period.

While finance campaign reports were due at the board Friday, several gubernatorial candidate filings weren’t posted online by the state elections board until this week.

Robinson’s and Stein’s campaigns have largely focused on each other and a potential general election competition, should they both win their primaries. But Graham and Folwell have criticized Robinson, questioning his ability to win in a November matchup in light of harsh comments and social media postings addressing LGBTQ+ people and the role of women.

Graham, who counts U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., among his supporters, has run TV advertisements citing past Robinson posts that discuss Jews and the Holocaust as evidence that he’s not suitable to serve as governor. Robinson’s campaign has pushed back, saying that his comments are being distorted and that he’s a strong supporter of Israel.

Robinson, in turn, has attacked Graham in speeches about his lawsuits involving hog farm operations in eastern North Carolina. Graham rejected accusations from Robinson that local farmers were punished in the litigation.

Gary D. Robertson, The Associated Press