Chatham’s Kimrey Rhinehardt planning bid for U.S. Senate


Chatham resident Kimrey Rhinehardt has confirmed her intended candidacy for U.S. Senate in an exclusive interview with the News + Record.

She hopes to fill Sen. Richard Burr’s (R) seat after the longtime legislator’s term expires in 2022. In 2016, Burr announced his plan to retire at the end of his final term after more than 25 years in Congress.

Rhinehardt, a long-time Republican, first suggested potential candidacy in a Twitter post on Feb. 15; if she qualifies for the ballot, she’ll seek office as an unaffiliated candidate.

“I will run for U.S. Senate if Lara Trump steps foot in North Carolina,” she tweeted.

Lara Trump — who is married to Eric Trump, former President Donald Trump’s second-oldest son — has hinted for more than a year that she might pursue Burr’s vacated position in 2022. When Burr voted to convict Donald Trump in his second impeachment trial last month, the senator inadvertently elevated Lara Trump’s chances, according to Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican.

“My friend Richard Burr just made Lara Trump almost the certain nominee for the Senate seat in North Carolina to replace him if she runs,” he said in an interview with Fox News.

The endorsement garnered wide-spread attention and support from far-right conservatives, many of whom maintain the unfounded theory that Trump won November’s presidential election.

Since then, Lara Trump has been silent respecting her political aspirations. But Rhinehardt’s mind is already made up.

“It is my plan to run for U.S. Senate in 2022,” she told the News + Record.

Rhinehardt will represent a more traditional and centric set of ideals than Trump. Many of her policy opinions reflect those promoted by Burr, for whom she worked as a congressional staffer when he was still in the House of Representatives. Earlier, Rhinehardt had served on N.C. Senator Lauch Faircloth’s (R) staff before briefly working under the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee.

After seven years working in the Capitol, Rhinehardt accepted a position with the UNC system as a federal lobbyist and eventually settled in Chatham County where she has been for the past 15 years. Four years ago, she founded Gray Zone Strategies LLC, a consulting firm she still operates.

Since her college days as a political science major at Appalachian State University, Rhinehardt has studied America’s complicated and demanding systems of governance. More than 20 years serving in the political arena has prepared her well for the rigors of Congress, she says, and attuned her acumen to address today’s unique governmental challenges.

But Rhinehardt will not represent the Republican Party when she seeks office next year. After decades working for the Republican cause, her life changed on Jan. 6 when a mob of Trump supporters ransacked the Capitol building. Rhinehardt could no longer oblige the party’s deviation from her principals. A few days later she refiled with the Board of Elections as an unaffiliated voter.

And she wasn’t alone. Thousands of North Carolina voters — most of them Republicans — have changed their registrations to unaffiliated in the last two months. As Rhinehardt pointed out in a tweet Wednesday, citing data from the N.C. Board of Elections, unaffiliated voters in the state exceed Republicans. There were 2,351,160 registered unaffiliated North Carolinians as of Feb. 27, the latest available data, compared to 2,155,265 Republicans. Democrats numbered 2,479,574.

Rhinehardt interprets those figures as evidence that party politics misrepresent today’s political climate.

“I want North Carolina’s voices to be heard. I don’t want it to be a party-driven message,” she said. “Because most people that I know don’t sit down and think about the issues facing their family in a political way. They don’t sit down and say, ‘What would the Republican Party suggest that I do?’ or ‘What would the Democratic Party suggest that I do?’”

To Rhinehardt, politics has lost its “framework of common sense,” and a polarized two-party system compounds the problem.

“I believe there is an important opportunity for a new voice that doesn’t have to submit to the will of a major party to just speak truth to the voters,” she said, “give them more options, talk about policy issues in a way that factors in more than just ‘What does my political party say that it needs to be?’ Frankly, all I care about is what do North Carolinians say that they want? And then, we work toward a solution.”

‘An uphill battle’

Rhinehardt hopes North Carolina voters will identify with her platform. But, she said, “this will be an uphill battle any way you look at it.”

Even to get her name on the ballot will take concerted effort. As an unaffiliated candidate, Rhinehardt needs 84,000 signatures of support from potential constituents in advance of election season. Normally, her campaign would knock on doors and otherwise meet with voters face-to-face. In the midst of a public health crisis, though, Rhinehardt is loathe to the idea of compromising anyone’s safety.

“I don’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable,” she said. “I don’t want to get sick and I don’t want anyone else to get sick.”

But under state law, the signatures she needs cannot be obtained electronically.

“A big surprise was that the signatures must be in ink,” Rhinehardt said. “But to have to obtain an ink signature during, again, a public health crisis, I come back to the word nonsensical.”

She has not yet devised a solution to her quandary, Rhinehardt said, but her campaign may start with an online canvass.

“We could launch an online campaign where registered voters could signal their interest in signing a petition,” Rhinehardt said, “and we could send them a petition electronically that they can sign and someone may pick it up, or it can be mailed to us.”

Obtaining signatures is just the first of Rhinehardt’s challenges, though. Her platform will face push back from wing adherents to both parties who resent a moderate position.

Her position

With the coronavirus pandemic ongoing — and its ramifications likely to linger beyond midterm elections — Rhinehardt’s “priority number one” is shoring up public health initiatives.

“And embedded in that is ensuring that North Carolinians have access to employment, the ability to start a small business and thrive and the ability for our children to return to the classroom,” she said.

Addressing the concerns in North Carolina’s education system wrought by the pandemic are essential, Rhinehardt said, but schools returning to the way they functioned before COVID-19 will not constitute “a problem solved.”

“I think one of the things that the pandemic has shown us is that we have a unique opportunity to think differently, and to innovate,” she said, “and to explore ways that this crisis has exposed holes in our education systems from prenatal all the way up through the lifelong learners.”

The pandemic has also exposed healthcare failures, and potential solutions have sparked vitriolic debate among Washington lawmakers.

“I believe that the state of North Carolina has done a pretty good job of managing through the pandemic,” Rhinehardt said, “But I think the federal government could do a much better job of coordinating the financial support for states and localities.”

She does not advocate a system of government wherein Congress reserves expansive authority over state programs, Rhinehardt said. “I guarantee you North Carolina needs different responses than the state of California.”

But when states call for federal assistance, the U.S. government should respond, she said.

“The state should not have to convince the feds of realities that actually exist.”

As for free-market enterprise and individual liberty, Rhinehardt agrees with traditional Republican belief that “regulations can create unnecessary burdens and put roadblocks in the way of the goals that we’re all trying to achieve,” she said, “which is to fulfill the dreams of the American people, and in North Carolina to fulfill the dreams of North Carolinians.”

Still, she said, “I believe that regulation is a necessary and important aspect of the way we govern.” Striking the appropriate balance, then, requires “a constant evaluation of whether or not regulations are meeting their intended purpose. And policy makers are charged with performing this evaluation with input from the stakeholders, i.e. North Carolinians.”

Balance and compromise are fundamental to Rhinehardt’s understanding of good government. Her stance will upset some party loyalists, but Rhinehardt doesn’t care.   

“I know that much of what I said would never allow me to emerge from a Republican primary,” she said.

Neither will all of her policy preferences resonate with staunch Democrats.

“But that that’s not my goal,” Rhinehardt said. “My goal is to look at the facts, present the facts to the people of North Carolina — who are very smart, and can evaluate things for what they are — and then let’s go solve the problem.”

Reporter D. Lars Dolder can be reached at and on Twitter @dldolder.