State Treasurer Dale Folwell and former Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen. (Image: Office of the Treasurer and DHHS)
When news broke Thursday President Joe Biden plans to tap Dr. Mandy Cohen to lead the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a Republican gubernatorial candidate wasted no time in attempting to capitalize on it.
State Treasurer Dale Folwell, who announced his run for governor in March, took the first shot at the state’s former Secretary of Health and Human Services.
“Pray for our country,” Folwell wrote on Twitter Friday morning. “As a member of the NC Council of State, my observation is that the actions of Dr. Mandy Cohen during Covid resulted in more disease, death, poverty and illiteracy. As NC Governor, I would be hard pressed to ever follow her lead at CDC if chosen by the POTUS.”
Folwell then re-tweeted his own message, duplicating it in the timeline of his feed on the social media site.
Cohen gave frequent, widely watched public health updates throughout the most deadly and uncertain period of the pandemic, becoming one of the most prominent and recognizable faces in state government. Along with Cooper, she also bore the brunt of conservative backlash to government COVID precautions.
Cohen left the state Department of Health and Human Services in late 2021, becoming CEO of Aledade Care Solutions in March of 2022.
Folwell, who himself had a tough bout with COVID-19 during the pandemic, is hardly the only elected Republican to criticize Cohen and Gov. Roy Cooper for their efforts to combat the pandemic. Republicans strongly criticized many COVID precautions at the state and national levels throughout the international health crisis the World Health Organization says led more than 1 million American deaths.
Lt. Governor Mark Robinson, who will face Folwell in the GOP primary for governor, was highly critical of even the suggestion people should get vaccinated.
In a video that made the rounds online, Robinson told a crowd at a conservative event it is not the job of elected officials to encourage people to take a vaccine. Those doing so should be voted out of office, Robinson said.
The most powerful elected GOP leaders in the state—N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger (R-Rockingham)—were then among the prominent Republicans in North Carolina promoting vaccination as the best method of beating COVID-19.
Robinson, also a member of the council of state, had no public reaction to Cohen’s potential ascent to leadership of the CDC as of Friday. Former Congressman Mark Walker, who also joined the GOP primary race last month, has also not weighed in publicly.
State Attorney General Josh Stein is the only Democrat to yet announce a run for governor. Libertarian Mike Ross is also running, but most political observers in the state are expecting a general election face-off between Stein and the victor of the Republican primary.
With Robinson taking a commanding lead in early polling in the GOP primary race, both Folwell and Walker are working to differentiate themselves and gain favor with primary voters. Both men have suggested they are better bets in a statewide election due to Robinson’s frequently caustic rhetoric, which has included sexist, anti-Semitic and anti-LGBTQ statements. Both have also taken to Twitter to take subtle — and not so subtle — jabs at Robinson.
“In 25 years of public service, I have never shirked my responsibilities or pretended to be anything but a consciences conservative,” Folwell wrote on Twitter back in April. “It’s ok to tell people what you believe without offending them. Voters want the real thing.”
“I know that voters shouldn’t be underestimated and want to be spoken to like adults,” Folwell wrote. “And that what they hear makes common sense when it comes to attacking problems and not people.”
Last month Chris Cooper, a professor of political science at Western Carolina University, told Newsline to expect a ramping up of fiery rhetoric in the GOP primary race even as Walker and Folwell have tried to sell themselves as calm, steady conservatives rather than political flame-throwers.
“Folwell’s pitch has been ‘slow and steady, that’s how I’ll win the race – and I’m not going to draw much ire,’” Cooper said. “And I think he’s right. He’s not going to draw much ire. But drawing ire can also draw deep, deep pockets.”
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