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Former North Carolina justice enters Democratic primary for governor in 2024

a senior Black man wearing glasses, a red tie and a black judge's robe. two black bars on side of image
North Carolina Judicial Branch
Associate Justice Michael Morgan's official portrait.

A second prominent Democrat has entered the primary for North Carolina governor in 2024.

Michael Morgan, a former state Supreme Court justice who stepped down early from the high court last week, announced his campaign Tuesday. He is challenging Attorney General Josh Stein to become Gov. Roy Cooper's successor after the Democratic governor reaches the end of his term limit next year.

Cooper, who hired Stein to lead his consumer protection division when he was the attorney general, formally endorsed him as a successor after months of publicly praising his work as the state's chief prosecutor.

But Morgan was not deterred by the governor's support for his opponent. The Democrat from New Bern, who now resides in Raleigh, contends he is the most qualified to lead the Tar Heel state after serving on the bench for more than 30 years in four different judgeships.

“My vision is to provide all North Carolinians with fair opportunities in which they may thrive and succeed,” Morgan said Tuesday. “I am running on a platform that calls for a change to the system that allows the working people, children and families of North Carolina to be ignored and taken for granted.”

North Carolina's gubernatorial race is expected to be among the most competitive and expensive in the nation. While Republicans have controlled the General Assembly since 2011 and currently hold a supermajority, they have only controlled the governor's office for four of the last 30 years.

Primaries will be held in March. Republicans have a full slate of gubernatorial candidates, including Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, State Treasurer Dale Folwell, former U.S. Rep. Mark Walker, former state legislator Andy Wells and retired health care executive Jesse Thomas.

Morgan faces an uphill battle to compete with Stein, who raised $6 million in the first half of the year and landed early endorsements from many of the state's top Democrats.

“Thousands of North Carolinians have already embraced his vision for a safer, stronger North Carolina, and we’re building a campaign to win,” Stein campaign spokesperson Kate Frauenfelder said Tuesday.

Morgan told The Associated Press he is not concerned about Stein's fundraising head start.

“My opponent certainly has the superior treasury, but I have the superior candidacy,” he said.

The former justice is focusing his campaign around five key topics: public education, affordable health care, gun violence prevention, criminal justice and pocketbook issues affecting every household. He pledged to challenge the status quo that he said allows a select few to assert power over all of the state’s residents.

On Monday, Cooper appointed Democrat Allison Riggs, an appellate judge and longtime voting rights attorney, to the state Supreme Court to fill the vacancy left by Morgan. Had Morgan run for reelection to the court next year, the 67-year-old would have hit the mandatory retirement age for judges about halfway through the new term.

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Hannah Schoenbaum is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

The Associated Press is one of the largest and most trusted sources of independent newsgathering, supplying a steady stream of news to its members, international subscribers and commercial customers. AP is neither privately owned nor government-funded; instead, it's a not-for-profit news cooperative owned by its American newspaper and broadcast members.
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