HomePoliticsWhat you need to know about North Carolina's race for governor

What you need to know about North Carolina’s race for governor

North Carolina has been an underappreciated political battleground of late and has not received the same attention as nearby Georgia or Florida or the traditional campaign hotbeds of the Rust Belt.

That will change in 2024, in part because of a potentially historic gubernatorial race pitting North Carolina’s centrist tendencies against the rise of populist conservatism in the era of Donald Trump.

The Republican candidate is Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, a 55-year-old who would become the state’s first black governor. Democrats have chosen Attorney General Josh Stein, a 57-year-old who is trying to keep the office under his party’s control after two terms under outgoing Gov. Roy Cooper.

Here are some key dynamics and questions in the match.


Since 1992, Democrats have won seven of eight gubernatorial races in North Carolina, a run that Democrats attribute to nominating center-left candidates who prioritize public education along with economic development. The only Republican governor during that period was Pat McCrory, the former mayor of Charlotte who presented himself to voters as a business-friendly conservative rooted in the pragmatic, problem-solving politics of City Hall.

Robinson doesn’t fit either profile. He once called abortion “child sacrifice.” In various pulpits in the church he has proclaimed men as the rightful leaders in church and society. He once mused that the leaders of the original birth control movement in the US were “witches, all of them.” He has discussed LGBTQ people with words like “trash” and “maggots” and said transgender women should never use women’s restrooms: “Find a corner outside somewhere to go.”

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Donald Trump, the former president and current presidential candidate of the Republican Party, calls Robinson “Martin Luther King on steroids.”

In addition, North Carolina Republicans have nominated Michele Morrow, a mother who homeschooled her children, for state superintendent of public instruction. Morrow has accused public schools of indoctrinating children with liberal views on race and gender, and she has advocated for a new Parental Bill of Rights law. Morrow was also present at the Jan. 6, 2021, rally of Trump supporters and their march to the Capitol — though she has said she never entered the building.


After Robinson and Morrow were nominated, the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce took the unusual step of publicly commenting on the primary results, issuing a statement in March calling the result “a startling warning of the looming threats to the business environment in North Carolina” was mentioned.

There is precedent for Republicans’ conservative social and cultural approach influencing elections in North Carolina. McCory, the last GOP governor, joined more conservative lawmakers in signing HB2, known as the Bathroom Bill, which rolled back protections for LGBTQ+ people and required people in North Carolina to use public restrooms that corresponded to their gender. stated on their birth certificates. .

The response from the business community came quickly. The NBA pulled the All-Star game for professional men’s basketball from Charlotte. Major companies criticized the law. McCrory subsequently lost his 2016 re-election bid to Democrat Roy Cooper, in no small part because of HB2.

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Some conventional Republicans believe the GOP is once again playing with fire, with Robinson at the top.

“The Democrats have the best messenger they can have against Mark Robinson — and that’s Mark Robinson,” said GOP strategist Paul Schumaker. “Because it’s all on video, audio, social media and church websites. These ads are going to write themselves.”


Despite Democrats’ control of the governor’s office, North Carolina has a long history of split results between the governor and the presidency. Cooper, the outgoing Democratic governor, won twice as Trump captured North Carolina’s electoral votes. In 2020, Cooper won reelection by nearly 250,000 votes, surpassing Trump’s vote total, with 2.83 million to Trump’s 2.76 million. Cooper led Democrat Joe Biden by nearly 200,000 votes.

The question becomes whether the ticket split will last another four years in an era of hyper-party politics, especially with Republicans running with such an unapologetically bombastic and conservative slate.

“People want to say North Carolina is a purple state, but personally I believe we are a red state,” GOP vice chair Susan Mills said in an interview. She called Robinson “a very bold and outspoken man, especially when it comes to his Christian faith,” and argued that this would attract new voters, as Trump has done.

State Democratic Party Chairman Anderson Clayton countered that Robinson’s nomination and the direction of the state GOP in general strengthen her party’s base and help attract the kind of swing voters who twice voted for Cooper.

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“We still care about the reputation of our state, and you’re not going to embarrass us,” she said.


Policy and party differences aside, Stein and Robinson have distinctly different biographies.

Before 2018, Robinson’s political activities consisted of voting and unvarnished Facebook posts. He then gave an intense speech at a Greensboro City Council meeting, chiding his hometown politicians for considering stricter gun restrictions.

“I am the majority!” he declared. It went viral online and landed him in the race for lieutenant governor two years later.

Robinson tells a story about growing up in poverty, losing manufacturing jobs and enduring bankruptcy. His version glosses over details of his financial history, including an ongoing investigation into a nonprofit his wife started in 2015. But it gives him a pitch to everyone that endears him, especially to anti-establishment conservative voters.

Stein, meanwhile, is a lawyer who earned multiple Ivy League degrees and served in the Senate before winning two terms as attorney general. Democrats like Clayton argue that his time in that office helps him appeal to centrist voters and avoid being labeled as too liberal. But Stein’s biography at least allows Robinson and Republicans to portray him as a typical Raleigh politician.


Associated Press reporter Thomas Beaumont contributed.

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