Dan Forest is all but running for governor.
Forest, a Republican serving his second term as lieutenant governor, announced on Monday his plans to form an “exploratory committee” to run for governor against Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper.
In North Carolina, there’s no such thing as an “exploratory committee.” Forest plans to repurpose his campaign committee — the Committee to Elect Dan Forest — so it can take donations as he explores a run for governor, spokesman Hal Weatherman said.
Forest, known for being socially conservative and campaigning on his red bus emblazoned with the words “Run, Forest, Run,” has been considered the likely Republican gubernatorial candidate for months. He has already received an endorsement from U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows, a North Carolina Republican who is chairman of the conservative Freedom Caucus. And, over the last 50 years, every North Carolina lieutenant governor has tried to move up the political ladder, the Associated Press reported Monday.
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Asked why Forest hasn’t committed to running for governor, Weatherman said the campaign “wanted to notify the general pubic that we are taking a more formal and concrete step towards the run for the Governorship in 2020.” He added: “With (legislative) session looming and the time commitment that entails, we feel the exploratory committee phase makes a lot of sense at this time.”
Forest released a video on Monday that cast him as someone who would temper divisiveness and promote unity. The video begins with footage of people yelling at each other during protests, then pivots to images of people helping each other.
“There is a better way, a way that begins in seeing the intrinsic value and worth of each of our people. A way that is decent and good and civil,” Forest says in the video.
Forest is no stranger to controversy. In 2016, he defended HB2, North Carolina’s short-lived law that set restrictions on transgender bathroom use. And last year, during the Civitas think tank’s Conservative Leadership Conference, Forest said politics are the “religion of the left” because “they don’t have a hope in God.”
A spokesman for the NC Democratic Party said Forest has spent his political career “speaking only to far-right extremists in his party.”
“From shaking hands with an abusive, radical group and undermining voters’ faith in our elections to dividing people based on their faith and championing HB2, Dan Forest is already the most extreme candidate ever to run for the Governor’s mansion. North Carolina will reject his extremism,” spokesman Robert Howard said in a written statement sent out by email.
If Forest runs, he’ll face an opponent who has more money and is viewed positively by many North Carolinians.
About 44 percent of voters approve of the job Cooper is doing and 35 percent disapprove, left-leaning Public Policy Polling found in an early-January survey.
Pollsters found Forest would trail Cooper by 12 points if he were to enter the race.