Through newspaper advertisements, email blasts and door-knocking, some local Republicans are trying to spread the word that Hines, Trump’s favored candidate in the 13th Congressional District, is a carpetbagger. In their view, the former president was misguided in endorsing Hines over homegrown conservatives invested in local party politics.
The revolt against Trump by conservatives who adore him, while rare, isn’t the first of its kind this year. Trump has issued scores of midterm endorsements, in some cases for candidates who are all but unknown to local GOP officials and activists.
“It feels like it’s incumbent on us to make sure everybody understands that Bo Hines may be a fine fellow — I don’t know him — but the truth of it is he’s not a resident of the district,” said Linwood Parker, chair of the Johnston County Republican Men’s Organization and former mayor of Four Oaks. “He’s coming in, just trying to cherry pick a district he can win.”
The conservative men’s group, which formed last fall and meets in an outbuilding behind a Four Oaks gas station on the second Saturday of the month, is not endorsing any particular candidate in the race. Parker cited three other Republicans on the primary ballot who are from the district, who he believes would better represent voters’ interests.
Trump is set to appear in the eastern North Carolina county this weekend to rally on behalf of Hines and two other endorsed candidates ahead of the state’s May 17 primary. For Senate, Trump’s support is behind Rep. Ted Budd, who struggled in recent months to take the lead over former Gov. Pat McCrory, but has turned a corner as outside spending has skyrocketed in his favor. Also booked for the rally is Rep. Madison Cawthorn, the freshman congressman from the western part of the state who has angered top House Republicans after talking about orgies and cocaine.
Earlier in the election cycle, Hines campaigned for other congressional seats elsewhere in the state. He filed to run in the newly redrawn 13th district on March 2; less than two weeks later, Trump issued his endorsement, describing the 26-year-old as an “unwavering America First patriot.”
A Charlotte native who most recently resided two hours away in Winston-Salem, Hines is in the process of moving to Fuquay-Varina, located in southern Wake County, according to his campaign spokesperson. He intends to update his voter registration in time to vote in the upcoming primary.
POLITICO reported in December that Hines attended a meeting at Mar-a-Lago with Trump, Cawthorn and Senate candidate Mark Walker, in part organized by David McIntosh, president of the conservative Club for Growth. The men tried to broker an arrangement that would clear the Senate field for Budd while also providing landing places for other candidates in several North Carolina races that remained in flux.
A series of court-ordered changes to North Carolina’s congressional map this winter derailed Hines’ original plan of running in a district closer to home. He ended up running in the incumbent-free 13th district, which includes all of Johnston and parts of three other counties.
Asked why Hines decided to run in a district where he has no obvious connections, spokesperson Rob Burgess provided a statement calling Hines “the only true America First, social conservative endorsed by President Donald Trump in this race.” He noted that Hines lived nearby while attending North Carolina State University, where Hines played football for the 2014 season before transferring to Yale.
Parker, the past chair of the Johnston County Republican Party and a former state party executive committeeman, listed several local newspapers in which his group began placing ads hitting Hines this week. They hope to continue running those and radio ads even after the rally, in advance of Donald Trump Jr. headlining a Reagan Day dinner in Johnston County April 14. Parker declined to say where the group was getting the money for the ads, but said they would follow campaign finance disclosure requirements.
The print advertisement, which begins with “Welcome President Trump,” outlines the county’s consistent conservative voting record and touts its role in helping to secure Trump’s victories in the state.
“The Republican Party has been fortunate to be able to provide sound leadership and conservative government to the people of Johnston County over the past 34 years,” the ad states. “The reason has been our unity and the support of local candidates who campaign on issues important to the citizens of Johnson County.
“WE CAN’T SUPPORT Bo Hines, a candidate from WESTERN N.C. for our congressman,” it continued.
A second local group, Citizen Advocates for Accountable Government, is also trying to leverage its network of hundreds of local conservative activists to turn voters away from Hines, even as it enthusiastically backs Budd for Senate. CAAG, which has grown in numbers since it formed last year to advocate at the state legislature on issues like election fraud and critical race theory, began dispatching members two weeks ago to knock on doors and talk to voters about Hines.
Dale Lands, the group’s founder, said they’ll do so every weekend until the primary, and will have volunteers at polling places across the district throughout early voting and on Election Day. They’re endorsing Johnston County resident DeVan Barbour in the congressional race.
“We’re all America First people, but we don’t need Mr. Trump or anybody else bringing candidates in who don’t know nothing about farming, don’t know anything about agriculture and the roads here and the needs we have,” Lands said.
A separate conservative group with a voting guide, North Carolina Grassroots Government, has endorsed Hines in the race.
While Lands plans to attend the Trump rally on Saturday to hand out literature promoting Barbour and cautioning against Hines, Parker said he won’t attend.
The chair of the Johnston County Republican Party, meanwhile, said he still hasn’t decided whether he’ll attend Trump’s rally, which is being held a few miles away from his house. Darryl Mitchell, the chair, said there has “been very little communication at all” with the local party about the rally, and that he is not aware of any locals who are scheduled to speak.
State party rules bar county parties from endorsing in primaries, and the Johnston County GOP has said it will support whoever receives the nomination. Mitchell said he is hearing concerns about Hines’ residency from some primary voters, but isn’t sure how far the anti-Hines sentiment has actually spread.
“Obviously, you hear a lot of stuff about him not living in the district,” Mitchell said. “You do hear that, but how much, it’s hard to tell.”
“Bo-flex” ads, a term some local GOP operatives have jokingly used to describe B-roll of the former athlete pumping iron and jumping rope, have already begun airing in the district, paid for by Hines’ campaign and the House Freedom Caucus’ super PAC.
A super PAC for the Club for Growth, which has endorsed Hines, has also just launched a $1.2 million ad buy to support him in the primary, a spokesperson confirmed.
Hines has posted photos and video on social media of him door-knocking and placing yard signs outside local homes. His campaign did not directly answer a question about what events Hines has hosted there or if he has received local endorsements, but said Hines “has been focused on making this a true grassroots effort” and has “placed such a high importance on talking directly to voters” face to face.
Hines attended an event held March 19 by the Harnett County Republican Party, but left prior to a candidate forum that his campaign agreed he would participate in, according to a person with knowledge of the event.
In a midterm election year when Trump is attempting to assert his influence through a flood of primary endorsements, North Carolina isn’t the only place where local conservative activists are trying to stop his endorsed candidate from securing the Republican nomination on the grounds of carpetbagging.
In Tennessee, the Republican-controlled legislature gave final approval last week to a bill that would effectively disqualify Trump’s pick in the 5th Congressional District, Morgan Ortagus, because she only moved to the state last year.
Supporters of Ortagus, a former Trump State Department spokesperson, have since sued Tennessee over the legislation. Key Republican activists insist she lacks basic knowledge of the area, citing an interview on conservative radio when Ortagus was unable to name interstates that run through the district or past governors of the state.
In Georgia, a Republican effort is underway to try to drive down support for Trump’s Senate pick, retired football star Herschel Walker, who returned to the state last year after decades away. His GOP opponents like Gary Black, the state agriculture commissioner, argue they’ve spent years investing in Georgia Republican politics and are more familiar with the issues facing the state.
Renee Ellmers, a former North Carolina congresswoman who represented part of Harnett County and is now running for the new congressional seat, said she plans to attend the weekend Trump rally and make her case to voters there, despite Hines’ endorsement and his coveted speaking slot.
“I know a lot of the voters from NC-13 will be there,” Ellmers said. “My plan is to reach out to as many voters as I possibly can.”
Parker said Johnston County Republicans activists were “surprised” Trump felt the need to bring in an outside candidate for a primary “in an area where he had good support before.”
“This thing was disappointing. I’m sure Trump doesn’t know,” Parker said of Hines’ lack of local roots. “He probably don’t realize it. That’s the reason we’re doing the ads.”