EDITOR’S NOTE: Blake Hounshell is editor of the On Politics newsletter for the New York Times. Previously, he was senior editor for Washington and politics at Politico.
In Ohio, Donald J. Trump ousted JD Vance for third place and won the Republican Senate primary. In a race at the West Virginia House, Trump catapulted a longtime Maryland politician to the election of the state’s incumbent governor.
Still not convinced of Trump’s extraordinary impact on the GOP base? Keep an eye on Bo Hines. It is the purest test yet of the former president’s influence.
Hines, a 26-year-old former college football recruit who was often compared to North Carolina Rep. Madison Cawthorn prior to Cawthorn’s recent troubles, is running for a seat in the US House of Representatives representing the suburban area south of Raleigh.
And that’s just the beginning of his ambitions. “Governor of North Carolina, and the ultimate goal would be president,” Hines said in a 2015 interview about his future aspirations — when he wasn’t old enough to buy alcohol.
Hines is just one of eight candidates in the Republican primary due Tuesday, but both Trump and the Club for Growth, the influential anti-tax group, have backed his bid.
Their combined brawn could well make him the GOP contender in North Carolina’s only competitive home race this fall. If so, it would be a testament to Trump’s power to throw a total novice voter into the fray — and a profound statement of the reality of modern American politics.
“He’s good looking, he has no experience — so he’s perfect,” said Christopher A. Cooper, a political scientist at Western Carolina University.
A talented athlete who entered politics
The tale Hines and his allies prefer to tell is about a bright young MAGA star on the rise who makes a virtue of his football record. In announcing his support, Trump called him a “proven winner on and off the field” and a “fighter for conservative values.”
An introductory ad shows the contestant jumping rope and lifting weights in the gym. “Bo Hines trained for the gridiron,” says the narrator, “learning the values that only true competition can teach.”
Hines was indeed a highly respected athlete. A football phenom as a prep in Charlotte, he was named an all-American freshman as a wide receiver at North Carolina State. Before he quit football a few years later, scouts considered him a potential NFL prospect.
But then he began to turn to politics.
“After my freshman year, I transferred to Yale University to study political science and witness the legislative process on Capitol Hill firsthand,” reads the meager biography on his campaign website. “After graduating from Yale, I got a law degree from Wake Forest School of Law to escape leftist Ivy League propaganda.”
In interviews from the time of his posting, Hines is open about his political ambitions. But prior to this campaign, his political work experience consisted of internships in the offices of several Republican politicians.
One of those internships for South Dakota Senator Mike Rounds lasted just 12 days, according to LegiStorm, a website that tracks congressional staffing. Hines was paid $216.65 for a job he has described as helping Rounds develop alternatives to the Affordable Care Act.
Another was for Eric Holcomb, the governor of Indiana. Hines told an interviewer the job was to “minimize Indiana’s bureaucracy.”
“Fairly strong” campaign perks
Hines, whose parents are wealthy entrepreneurs, has poured three-quarters of a million dollars in family money into his campaign. North Carolina election records show that he only contested three state elections, none of which were primary elections. In the first three months of 2022, his campaign reported zero donations of more than $199 from people in the district and only six from across the state of North Carolina. Any single donation under $200 can be made anonymously.
Luckily for Hines, the Club for Growth Action, the group’s super PAC arm, has announced it will spend $1.3 million to support him in the primary. That’s an enormous sum for a house race.
Before settling in the 13th Ward, Hines had looked around for a suitable perch. He announced his intention to challenge Representative Virginia Foxx, a longtime Republican incumbent in the west of the state, before the redistribution changed those plans. In April, he and his wife changed their address to a home in Fuquay-Varina, a city in southern Wake County, the most populous part of the county.
Some Republicans in deep red Johnston County, a fast-growing rural community, have criticized Hines for, in the words of a local group leader, “just trying to pick a district to win,” as the leader of a local group said expresses local group. And Hine’s main opponent, an attorney named Kelly Daughtry, who is the daughter of a former State House majority leader, has attacked him as a carpet digger.
The Hines campaign, which declined to make him available for an interview but did issue a series of detailed questions about his candidacy, notes his upbringing in Charlotte and his time at NC State, located in Raleigh just north of the district line.
Daughtry spent more than $2.5 million on the race and contributed nearly $3 million of her own money. She’s also taken heat for her past donations to Democrats, including Cheri Beasley, the presumptive Democratic nominee for the Senate, and Josh Stein, the state’s attorney general.
Several people with access to private polls said Hines appears to be a few percentage points ahead of Daughtry. In North Carolina, if no candidate receives at least 30% of the vote, the top two finishers advance to a runoff.
The question for Hines is whether Trump’s support and the Club for Growth’s endorsement will be enough to overthrow him, while Daughtry’s campaign hopes her local credibility and success as a lawyer will appeal to the sort of older partisans who are inclined to do so appear in the primaries for election. Early election numbers indicate relatively low voter turnout in the district.
“Make Sure You Know What You Believe”
Hines has used different terms to describe his political philosophy over the years. In a 2017 interview with The Hartford Courant, he said he was “not a social conservative.”
He added: “I guess I call myself a social libertarian. I’m much more liberal on certain social issues. I think it’s part of our generation. My hope is that going forward, the Republican Party won’t get so bogged down by 80-year-olds in Congress trying to regulate how people live their lives.”
Those comments, which the campaign says were “taken out of context,” earned Hines a negative ad from a super PAC supporting one of his opponents. Hine’s position on reproductive rights is that “Abortion should be made illegal throughout the United States. No exceptions.”
Though Hines has previously spoken glowingly of Cawthorn — hailing him as a “stalwart leader in the conservative movement,” appearing on Instagram posts together and highlighting his support — he has lately attempted to distance himself from the congressman, who has many Republicans Has snubbed Washington and North Carolina with his claims that lawmakers used cocaine and had orgies, his reckless driving habits and a leaked nude video.
“We’re not alike. We have completely different backgrounds, completely different pasts,” Hines said in a recent interview with Axios. “Our only resemblance is our age and our socially conservative values.”
In a January 2021 podcast interview, long before the Club for Growth and Trump endorsements, Hines spoke about running a grassroots campaign focused on bringing economic development, rural broadband, and infrastructure to his prospective constituents.
Now, Hines has a Telegram account where he publishes more MAGA-friendly posts, accusing Democrats of being “the real segregationists,” declaring “war” on the police, and “waging a war” in Ukraine.
During his speech, which Trump delivered at a Johnston County rally last month, Hines said he was running for office because “I’m not going to sit on the sidelines and watch radical, Marxist leftists destroy our country for the next generation. “
Echoing a line of attack he deployed against Daughtry, he continued, “Neither will I stand up for cowardly RINO Republicans trying to dismantle the America First movement.”
A few weeks earlier, in another podcast interview with self-improvement guru Matt Beaudreau, Hines shared some wisdom he’d picked up throughout his career.
“If you’re not real, people are very intelligent,” he said. “You see through this.”
He advised other young people who want to enter politics: “Before you try to tell others what to believe, make sure you know what you believe.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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