An Early Look at the 2024 North Carolina Governor’s Race

Elections & Politics Policy Brief #113 | By: Ian Milden | December 4, 2023
Photo taken from: https://www.wunc.org/

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North Carolina is one of the few states that holds elections for Governor during the same years as Presidential Elections. This year’s election for Governor is expected to be one of the most competitive races in the country. This brief will take a look at the race before the March primaries.

Analysis

North Carolina has had competitive statewide races in recent years. While Republicans have won more consistently in federal races, Democrats have managed to win some of the statewide offices, such as the Governor’s office, on a consistent basis. Incumbent Governor Roy Cooper (D-NC) is term-limited out of office in 2024 after serving two terms as Governor and the state Attorney General for four terms before that.

The Democrats are likely to nominate current Attorney General Josh Stein (D-NC). Stein has won two competitive races for Attorney General on the same ballot as Governor Cooper. Before that, Stein served as Cooper’s deputy in the state Attorney General’s office. Stein also served in the North Carolina State Senate. The Democratic party has coalesced around Stein and many prominent current and former federal and statewide officials have endorsed Stein.

Republicans are expected to have a competitive primary between Lieutenant Governor Mark Robinson and state treasurer Dale Folwell. Fowell had a long career in the North Carolina state legislature before he became the state treasurer. Robinson is the favorite to win the Republican nomination, and he was recently endorsed by Phil Berger, the Republican leader in the state senate. Robinson won the Lieutenant Governor’s office in 2020 when the previous Lieutenant Governor, Dan Forrest, decided to challenge Roy Cooper for the Governor’s office and lost. North Carolina elects the Governor and Lieutenant Governor separately. The Lieutenant Governor’s role is largely ceremonial in North Carolina other than breaking ties on state senate votes. Robinson had not been in public office before he was elected Lieutenant Governor in 2020.

Since Robinson’s candidacy for the Governor’s office was announced, he has come under scrutiny for some of his past comments. After the Parkland, Florida school shooting, Robinson mocked the shooting survivors. He also appeared on the podcast of a conspiracy theorist and criticized the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Robinson also once spoke in support of shooting protesters. Robinson has also spoken positively about genocidal authoritarian leaders like Adolph Hitler and Mao Zedong. He has gained popularity with Republican activists for his controversial statements about guns, abortion, and the LGBTQ community.

Democrats may prefer to run against Robinson in the general election because his controversies may persuade unaffiliated voters, suburban voters, and moderate voters to support Stein in the general election. Democrats have struggled to consistently win statewide races in North Carolina due to increasing struggles in rural areas that have not been offset completely by gains in urban and suburban areas. Democrats have relied on ticket-splitting voters to win the Governor’s office and Attorney General’s office in the past two election cycles. The number of ticket-splitting voters is declining, and the margins in these races have been extremely narrow.

Regardless of whom the Republicans decide to nominate, I would expect the race to remain competitive until the general election arrives in November of 2024.

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