2024 North Carolina primary elections: Breaking down governor, council of state races
WUNC has all the coverage you need this election season. Be sure to check out our Races To Watch stories for everything you need to know about candidates in statewide, congressional and legislative elections. Subscribe to WUNC's Politics Podcast, check out our new “Main Street” series, listen to Due South’s election preview, and follow Capitol Bureau Chief Colin Campbell on social media. Additionally, reporter Rusty Jacobs has you covered on all things related to redistricting and election integrity. Early in-person voting for the primaries begins Feb. 15, and election day is March 5.
Six of the 10 Council of State officials elected in 2020 will leave their posts (including State Auditor Beth Wood, who’s already resigned) this year. Some are seeking higher office, and others, like Labor Commissioner Josh Dobson, are leaving politics.
Here’s a look at some of the most interesting races in the primary for statewide offices:
The GOP is hoping to take back the governor’s office for the first time since Gov. Pat McCrory lost his reelection bid in 2016. Current Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper is term-limited from running again.
Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson is the clear frontrunner, with most polls so far showing a big lead over his opponents: State Treasurer Dale Folwell and Salisbury attorney Bill Graham. Both question whether Robinson’s history of comments about women, the LGBTQ community and other groups would make it hard for him to win in November. Opponents of Robinson have also blasted him over his legal and financial troubles.
Graham has pledged to spend millions of dollars of his own money on the race, and so far, he’s used it to run TV ads attacking Robinson over his social media posts about the Holocaust.
Folwell, meanwhile, is highlighting his record as state treasurer and in other government leadership roles. He’s been endorsed by the State Employees Association of North Carolina and former Republican Gov. Jim Martin.
Attorney General Josh Stein is already looking to the general election, with his campaign focusing its attacks on Robinson. But first, he’ll have to face four other Democrats — all of whom are Black — in the primary.
The best known of the four is former N.C. Supreme Court Justice Mike Morgan. He drew attention for his campaign launch video highlighting his history as one of the first Black students to integrate a New Bern elementary school, but he’s struggled to get support from other prominent Democrats.
Many of them endorsed Stein early on, including Cooper, former Gov. Jim Hunt, House Democratic Leader Robert Reives and former Congressman G.K. Butterfield. Stein’s fundraising advantage — he’s brought in $5.7 million in the second half of 2023 alone — will be hard to overcome.
The three lesser-known candidates are Chrelle Booker, mayor pro tem of the small mountain town of Tryon; Marcus Williams, an attorney from Lumberton who ran against Stein for attorney general in 2016; and Gary Foxx, a law-enforcement officer from Edgecombe County.
Redistricting prompted Congressman (and former state senator) Jeff Jackson of Charlotte to run for attorney general rather than seeking a second term in what’s now a Republican-leaning district.
He faces a fellow Democrat, Durham County District Attorney Satana DeBerry, for the nomination. Both candidates have experience as prosecutors, but DeBerry said in launching her campaign that she’s “a serious lawyer and a serious person — not a national social media following” — a reference to Jackson’s fame on TikTok, where he posts videos offering an insider’s look at the workings of Congress.
Jackson’s national profile could give him an advantage in the race, as well as in fundraising. Jackson had raised $2 million by the end of December, while DeBerry's campaign brought in just $43,821. Tim Dunn of Fayetteville is also running.
The winner will face Republican Congressman Dan Bishop, who won’t be on the primary ballot because no other GOP candidates filed for the race.
Mecklenburg County state Sen. Rachel Hunt — daughter of former Gov. Jim Hunt — is the clear frontrunner on the Democratic side.
She raised more than $400,000 in the second half of 2023, well ahead of the other Democrats and Republicans seeking the largely ceremonial office.
The other Democrats running are former state Sen. Ben Clark of Fayetteville and Mark H. Robinson of Sampson County — no relation to the current lieutenant governor.
The Republican field includes 11 candidates with no obvious frontrunner, which could lead to a runoff if no candidate gets 30% of the vote in March. The best-known candidates on the GOP side include former state Sen. Deanna Ballard of Watauga County, state Rep. Jeffrey Elmore of Wilkes County, Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neill, Rockingham County Sheriff Sam Page, Rockingham County attorney Seth Woodall, and Hal Weatherman, a longtime aide to former Lt. Gov. Dan Forest.
With Folwell giving up his position to run for governor, two Democrats and three Republicans are vying to replace him.
On the Democratic side, state Rep. Wesley Harris of Mecklenburg County faces Gabe Esparza. Esparza has worked as an investor and senior official at the U.S. Small Business Administration; he would be the first Latino member of the Council of State if elected.
Harris, meanwhile, touts his background as an economist, and his campaign has dubbed him the “nerd we need.” Both Democrats spoke about their campaigns on WUNC’s “Due South” recently.
On the Republican side, the best-funded candidate is Brad Briner, who manages investments for New York billionaire Michael Bloomberg. He has loaned his campaign $500,000. The other GOP candidates, A.J. Daoud and Rachel Johnson, have raised much less.
Incumbent Mike Causey, a Republican, has had a rocky year. His GOP colleagues in the legislature have taken away some of his powers over the Office of State Fire Marshal, and he’s come under fire for personnel practices and his handling of proposed homeowners insurance rate hikes.
In the primary, he faces former state Rep. Robert Brawley of Mecklenburg County and Andrew Marcus, an attorney and volunteer firefighter from Chapel Hill.
On the Democratic side, state Sen. Natasha Marcus of Mecklenburg County is running after her Senate seat was redrawn. She faces Mitchell County business owner David Wheeler, who has dubbed the incumbent “Rate Hike Mike.”
N.C. Supreme Court
Three candidates are seeking to fill the state Supreme Court seat that Justice Mike Morgan, a Democrat, vacated last year.
Republican N.C. Court of Appeals Judge Jefferson Griffin is unopposed in the GOP primary. But on the Democratic side, incumbent Justice Allison Riggs — appointed to the seat by Cooper last year — faces Superior Court Judge Lora Cubbage.
Before joining the appellate courts, Riggs was one of the lead attorneys at the left-leaning Southern Coalition for Social Justice, which has been involved in lawsuits challenging actions by the Republican legislature.
Regardless of who wins this seat in November, Republicans will continue to have a majority on the state’s highest court until at least 2028.
WUNC Digital Producer Mitchell Northam contributed to this story.