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Dan Bishop, run-of-the-mill Republican

Dan Bishop at a podium
Steve Harrison
U.S. Representative Dan Bishop (R-N.C.) kicked off his campaign with a press conference at Maggiano's. He's running for North Carolina attorney general.

A version of this news analysis originally appeared in the Inside Politics newsletter, out Fridays. Sign up here to get it first to your inbox.

Just kidding.

Kind of.

But as the Republican Party stampedes ever further to the right, politicians who were once the vanguard of the conservative movement, like Bishop, find themselves with plenty of company.

Tuesday’s North Carolina Republican primary accelerated that shift, highlighted both by Mark Robinson’s expected easy win in the governor’s primary and Michele Morrow’s shocking victory over incumbent Catherine Truitt for state superintendent of public instruction.

Morrow was at the Jan. 6 riot with three of her children (though she said she didn’t go in the U.S. Capitol). She once posted on social media a call to “ban Islam” and “ban Muslims from elected offices.” (She has apologized.)

Tuesday’s primary results — which saw other establishment Republicans like state Rep. Jon Hardister torpedoed — so alarmed the generally pro-Republican N.C. Chamber that the group called the GOP primary results “a startling warning of the looming threats to North Carolina’s business climate.”

But back to Bishop, a Waxhaw congressman who is running for attorney general against Charlotte Democratic Rep. Jeff Jackson.

During the fight over transgender bathroom rights and HB2 in 2016, Bishop and then-Gov. Pat McCrory were the Democrat’s biggest pinatas. McCrory, remember, so enraged the left that he once had a man hit his car with a tree limb at a traffic light in Myers Park.

But like a torch relay, the left’s rage has been passed on — to Donald Trump, to Robinson. And now perhaps Morrow.

Will attacks resonate — or be drowned out?

Democrats and Jackson will likely paint Bishop as an extremist: the father of the “bathroom bill”; someone who opposes funding for Ukraine; who refused to certify the 2020 election; who wants to ban all abortions.

But will those negative attacks be drowned out by anti-Robinson material, such as him putting “six million” in quotes in a social media post about Jews killed in the Holocaust?

(Robinson, in particular, is going to devour the news cycle for the next eight months. Just 24 hours after winning the GOP primary, the Huffington Post dropped a story about Robinson saying “I absolutely want to go back to the America where women couldn't vote." Snopes.com said the quote was taken out of context.)

One theory is that a narrow group of swing voters will see the entire GOP ticket as too radical and will reject them en masse, giving Democrats statewide wins that were elusive in 2022.

Another theory is that swing voters are becoming normalized to the rightward shift of the Republican Party, from the top of the ballot on down.

Perhaps Robinson makes Trump seem reasonable.

Perhaps Morrow makes Robinson seem reasonable.

Perhaps they all make Bishop appear ... like a run-of-the-mill, establishment Republican.

Instead of swing voters rejecting the ticket, will they view the Republican candidates as a buffet — perhaps picking Trump, passing on Robinson, passing on Morrow, picking Bishop?

Will abortion be a major issue?

It’s unclear how potent of an issue HB2 is. It happened eight years ago. And America's views on transgender issues have shifted to the right on issues like athletes playing on the sports teams that match their gender identity, as well as medical procedures to help minors transition to a different gender.

When Bishop opposed funding for Ukraine, he was an outlier. Now it’s pretty common for House Republicans — and, polls show, Republican voters.

There is one particular weakness that’s fresh: abortion.

Bishop is one of 125 House Republicans who co-sponsored the “Life at Conception Act,” which says that humans “include each and every member of the species homo sapiens at all stages of life, including the moment of fertilization, cloning, or other moment at which an individual member of the human species comes into being.”

The bill doesn’t have a carve-out to protect in vitro fertilization, according to an article in Business Insider. (Since IVF usually results in creating more embryos than are used, defining the unused, frozen embryos as fully living people could raise hurdles for the procedure.)

Bishop has counterattacks, of course. He has mocked Jackson as a “Chinese Social Media Star” for his prolific use of TikTok, which sets up an interesting vote for Jackson as Congress is likely to soon consider a vote to ban the app unless China divests from it.

And he will paint Jackson as a “woke liberal” who is soft on crime.

Jackson on Thursday was one of two North Carolina Democrats — along with Rep. Don Davis — who voted for the Larken Riley Act, which requires Immigration and Customs Enforcement to issue detainers and take custody of immigrants lacking permanent legal status who commit theft-related crimes, such as shoplifting.

Long drought for Republicans

No North Carolina Republican has been elected attorney general since 1896.

Dallas Woodhouse, the former executive director of the state Republican Party, said he believes Republicans are still at a slight disadvantage in Council of State races, which Democrats have historically won.

He said if Trump can win North Carolina by two percentage points — which would be halfway between his 2016 and 2020 margin of victories — he gives Democrats a slight advantage in most state races.

But if Trump can win by three or even four points, he believes the slate of Republicans running statewide will be swept into office.

Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.