Under the Dome

GOP appeals for unity at N.C. convention

U.S. Senator Richard Burr said North Carolina lawmakers should “absolutely” respond to the Justice Department’s Monday deadline over HB2.
U.S. Senator Richard Burr said North Carolina lawmakers should “absolutely” respond to the Justice Department’s Monday deadline over HB2. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

Facing a divided national party as well as a split in their own, N.C. Republican officials pleaded for unity at their state convention Saturday.

But like national Republicans, they have work to do.

“I’ll go into the voting booth and do one of two things: either not vote for president or vote for somebody I think is qualified to lead the country,” said Bob Orr, a former state Supreme Court Justice and one-time GOP candidate for governor.

Like Orr, many Republicans are reluctant to back Donald Trump, who became the party’s presumptive presidential nominee after his last two opponents quit the race.

Two former GOP presidential candidates, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, have said they won’t vote for Trump. Bush’s father and brother, both former Republican presidents, won’t endorse him.

This week U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan said he’s “not ready” to endorse Trump.

N.C. Republicans have faced their own divisions.

Last week, the party’s executive committee ousted the party’s first African-American chairman, Hasan Harnett, who had been elected by grassroots and Tea Party activists. He was replaced by former U.S. Rep. Robin Hayes. Both are from Cabarrus County.

It appeared that most of the more than 1,000 delegates and party officials at this weekend’s convention support Trump. That includes North Carolina’s two Republican U.S. senators.

U.S. Sen. Richard Burr told a reporter that he would welcome Trump to North Carolina. He said the New York billionaire has brought the party “a new level of excitement.”

“But,” he added, “I’m going to spend all my time focused on my re-election.”

U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis told delegates that “anybody who doesn’t support the Republican nominee is a RINO,” or Republican In Name Only.

State Rep. Mark Brody of Monroe criticized Republicans who won’t support Trump.

“You tell George Bush, Sr. and Junior and Jeb Bush: If you’re not going to support him, turn in your Republican card,” said Brody, who was elected to the party’s national committee.

But Orr, who was state chairman for Ohio Gov. John Kasich, said Trump is “singularly unqualified to be president of the United States and commander-in-chief.”

Rod Chaney, a delegate from Hillsborough, was a Cruz supporter who has yet to come around to Trump.

“He needs to show me why I should vote for him, and Hillary Clinton is not the correct answer,” said Chaney, a pastor. “That would do for a lot of people, it won’t do for me… He did not beat Ted Cruz in the arena of ideas. He bullied him.”

Jack Brosch, a grassroots activist from Charlotte, said he can’t vote for Trump. Why?

“Because I’m a Christian,” he said. He called Trump “pro-abortion and pro-gay marriage.”

“I have a real hard time with that,” he said.

Though Trump won North Carolina’s March primary, Cruz supporters out-organized his campaign in the delegate chase.

Trump will have 29 of the state's 72 GOP delegates by virtue of winning the March 15 primary. Cruz, who finished second, will have 27.

But Cruz won 33 of the 39 national convention delegates elected at 13 district conventions. But Trump won 22 of 30 delegates elected at-large on Saturday.

Jim Morrill: 704-358-5059, @jimmorrill

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