Kane is seeking the job at this weekend’s annual state convention in Greensboro, where presidential candidates Ron DeSantis, Mike Pence and Donald Trump are the featured speakers.
Whatley has led the party since 2019, during which the party has built supermajorities in the N.C. General Assembly and helped Ted Budd win a hard-fought election to the U.S. Senate in 2022.
Kane says his efforts are gaining support from business leaders, who generally told him they have had little contact with Whatley. “Most of them didn’t know who Michael was,” Kane says.
A request for comment by Whatley was not immediately returned.
Among Kane’s endorsees are Lee-Moore Capital CEO Kirk Bradley; Glen Raven CEO Allen Gant Jr.; former Curi CEO Dale Jenkins; former Waste Industries CEO Ven Poole; developer Bubba Rawl and lawyer Larry Robbins.
Kane says he also has “100% support” from his father, John Kane, one of Raleigh’s most prolific developers.
Kane has never been to a state GOP convention but he is a delegate this year. His interest in the post stems largely from his concern over election integrity, he says. He doesn’t think the N.C. GOP has moved aggressively enough to ensure fair representation by party members at the state’s polls. About 17% of voting precincts didn’t have a Republican judge in the 2022 election.
The N.C. GOP also needs to increase its fundraising from within the state, Kane says. Support from the national groups, including the Republican National Committee, has exceeded in-state funding, he says.
An issue dividing N.C. Republicans has been criticism of U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, who has taken centrist positions on some issues that conflict with more conservative stances in the state GOP platform. Fifty-three county parties have voted to censure the Republican senator, and Kane says he shares that frustration over Tillis’ voting in Congress.
“One of the biggest problems we have is that the majority of politicians abandon the platform of the party for which they were elected,” he says. “We need to take stands on things that we believe in.”
Tillis is widely credited with helping usher in historic Republican gains while serving as a Mecklenburg County lawmaker.