On Super Tuesday, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper (D) secured his party’s nomination with a whopping 87% of the vote in the nation’s first gubernatorial primary of the 2020 cycle. He will take on his current Lt. Governor, Dan Forest (R), in the general election in November. And, Jim O’Neill (R) is now set to challenge current Attorney General Josh Stein (D). Primaries were also held for multiple State House and State Senate seats – two incumbents will soon need to pack up their offices in Raleigh.
Governor Cooper was first elected in 2016 by a little over 10,000 votes, defeating a damaged Republican incumbent in a state that President Donald Trump (R) won by approximately 173,000 votes. He only recently announced his re-election campaign in December. He is running on the accomplishments of his first term and he continues to campaign hard for Medicaid expansion – which is playing a lead role in the state’s ongoing budget stalemate. Governor Cooper does has a massive fundraising advantage, pulling in nearly $4 million last period compared to the $1.4 million Lt. Governor Forest raised.
Confirming years of speculation, Lt. Governor Forest officially launched his campaign for the state’s top office last August. Lt. Governor Forest is staunchly conservative and when the controversial passage and enactment of HB2 thrust the state into the national spotlight, he was one of its most ardent defenders. In his kickoff speech the Lt. Governor had a theme of unity rejecting the type of identity politics at work across the country today.
North Carolina is set to be one of the only competitive gubernatorial races this cycle. A state’s demographics and general political climate certainly can change over four years, but it’s worth noting that the Lt. Governor received more votes than the President in 2016 and much more than Governor Cooper. And, it remains to be seen how voters feel about the unpleasant budget fight that has taken up so much time and headlines.
Moving down ballot, incumbent Attorney General Josh Stein (D) did not have a primary challenger and will face Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neill in November. O’Neill lost the Republican nomination in 2016 due to what he deemed was “a late start” in campaigning – a mistake he did not make this cycle; he has been active on the trail since he announced last February. He brands himself a “Trump Conservative” and is running on his record as a prosecutor. He has promised to clear the decades-old backlog of untested rape kits, combat the heroin and opioid crisis, and fight against the notion of sanctuary cities.
Attorney General Stein – similar to Governor Cooper – has a huge cash advantage over O’Neill and it will be needed. Stein narrowly won in 2016 and this race is viewed as a top target for Republicans. Since his inauguration, he has been on front lines in fights against the Trump Administration and, according to Pew Trusts, on nearly every high-profile action state AGs have taken. Voters will certainly have a distinct contrast of the two candidates come November.
Want to know more about the North Carolina primary results or any of the other state legislative contests held yesterday? Contact Meghan Holihan.
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