Trump endorses Mark Robinson for North Carolina governor and compares him to Martin Luther King Jr.

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Donald Trump has endorsed North Carolina Lt. Gov Mark Robinson for governor, fulfilling a pledge the former president made several months ago.

At a rally Saturday in Greensboro, Trump compared Robinson, who is Black, to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the famed civil rights leader. Trump referred to Robinson as “Martin Luther King on steroids.”

Trump said Robinson wasn’t sure how to respond when Trump compared him to the legendary civil rights leader, telling him: “I think you’re better than Martin Luther King. I think you are Martin Luther King times two.”

“You should like it,” Trump said.

Trump listed Robinson among several candidates that people should vote for in Tuesday's North Carolina Republican primaries, saying “they have my complete and total endorsement." Trump is also on the primary ballot as he seeks to all but eliminate his last remaining rival, former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, from mathematical contention for the GOP nomination.

Despite the lack of a formal endorsement, the ex-president's support combined with strong fundraising and popularity among the GOP's base have helped make Robinson the GOP's front-runner for the gubernatorial nomination.

Robinson's primary rivals — State Treasurer Dale Folwell and trial attorney Bill Graham — have questioned his ability to win the general election in November, particularly in light of harsh comments on LGBTQ+ rights and other issues.

Trump called Robinson, who also spoke at Saturday's rally, an “incredible gentleman" and “great, natural speaker.” Trump recalled, with some imprecision, how Robinson rose to fame following a 2018 speech to the Greensboro City Council in support of gun rights and police that went viral.

That led Robinson to a National Rifle Association board position and being elected the state's first Black lieutenant governor in 2020 in his first bid for public office.

Robinson, a Greensboro native, said in a news release that he was “humbled” to have Trump's endorsement and looked forward to working with Trump to "lead our united Republican ticket to victory in November, and get our state and country back on track.”

Voters also will choose a Democratic nominee for governor on Tuesday. The field includes Attorney General Josh Stein and former state Supreme Court Associate Justice Mike Morgan. Term-limited Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper endorsed Stein months ago.

State Democratic Party Chair Anderson Clayton said the endorsement wasn't a surprise. North Carolina doesn't need a leader in Robinson who would “prioritize job-killing culture wars that take our state backward," she added in a news release.

Statewide elections are usually close affairs in the nation’s ninth-largest state.

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Associated Press writer Jill Colvin in New York contributed to this report.