North Carolina Lt. Gov. Dan Forest received an early, high-profile endorsement for governor Tuesday — before Forest has formally declared his intent to run for the position.
“I’m supporting Lt. (Gov.) Dan Forest,” said Rep. Mark Meadows, a Republican who represents western North Carolina and serves as chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus. “He’ll make a great nominee and hopefully a great governor.”
Forest, a socially conservative Republican, was among the strongest supporters of North Carolina’s controversial House Bill 2 dealing with transgender bathroom access. He won his second term as lieutenant governor in 2016, defeating Democratic candidate Linda Coleman by more than 300,000 votes. Forest won more votes than anyone running for state office with the exception of Republican Steve Troxler, the state’s commissioner of agriculture. Forest received more votes than President Donald Trump did in North Carolina.
Term limits will keep Forest, 49, from running for re-election in 2020. He said last year he wanted to be governor and hinted that an announcement could come shortly after the election.
“I think anybody that runs for lieutenant governor is not running for lieutenant governor to say, ‘I’m just going to do this and then I’m going to go home.’ ... I would love to serve as governor of the state some day, but we also love what we do,” he said in August of 2016.
Forest has a campaign page, urging voters to join the “Run Forest Run Club.” But it makes no mention of a run for governor. It does include a link for donations. Forest has raised more than $267,000 in 2017, according to the North Carolina State Board of Elections.
“We believe the foundation we’re laying, a grassroots foundation across the state, would be beneficial to (running for governor),” Forest said last year.
Democrat Roy Cooper won the governorship in 2016, defeating Republican Pat McCrory. With no incumbent Republican running for the office, a large primary field could form with many candidates sensing their opportunity.
McCrory has not ruled out a run in 2020, saying he would make a decision after the 2018 elections.
Meadows, however, doesn’t think many Republicans will oppose Forest.
“Not if they’re smart,” Meadows said when asked if he thought other Republicans would run. “I think Lt. (Gov.) Dan Forest will be the nominee.”
Meadows, 58, has traveled the state in recent months, fueling chatter that he was considering a run for governor.
“I have no interest in being governor of the the state of North Carolina,” Meadows said. “Although I’ve been all over the state and everyone is believing that I’m running for statewide office, I have no plans nor inclination to do so.”
Brian Murphy: 202.383.6089; Twitter: @MurphinDC