2020 North Carolina Election: Breaking Down Statewide Races

Sep 21, 2020

WUNC has all the coverage you need this election season. Check out our 2020 Voter Guide for information on absentee ballots and more. And be sure to check out our Races To Watch stories for everything you need to know about candidates in statewide and legislative elections. Subscribe to WUNC's Politics Podcast, and follow reporters Rusty Jacobs and Jeff Tiberii on Twitter.

This year, North Carolina voters will make crucial decisions at the polls that could impact state politics and laws for at least the next decade.

In addition to casting their ballot in the race for the White House, North Carolinians will also vote in statewide races for governor, lieutenant governor, U.S. Senate, the state attorney general, the state supreme court, and U.S. House races.

And this year, more voters than ever before are expected to cast their ballots by-mail.

Across North Carolina, in addition to the Presidential election, there are 19 statewide races that will appear on every ballot.

With that in mind, here’s everything you need to know about North Carolina’s statewide races in 2020.

WUNC Voter Guide (L = Libertarian Party; C = Constitution Party)

U.S. Senate

  • Shannon W. Bray (L)
  • Cal Cunningham (D)
  • Kevin E. Hayes (C)
  • Thom Tillis (R) – Incumbent

Cal Cunningham (left) seeks to unseat incumbent U.S. Senator Thom Tillis (right).
Credit Campaign Photos

In addition to putting Joe Biden in the White House, taking back control of the U.S. Senate is a priority for Democrats this year, and Cal Cunningham winning this seat would go a long way in helping them accomplish that goal. Sen. Thom Tillis has held this seat since 2014, when he defeated Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan. Sept. 18 projections from FiveThirtyEight shows Cunningham having an advantage in the race, the margin ranging from four to 11 points, depending on the poll.

Cunningham is a North Carolina native, a UNC-Chapel Hill graduate and a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve. Cunningham unsuccessfully ran for U.S. Senate in 2010, but this time around has broken a state record for U.S. Senate fundraising by passing the $7.4 million mark in July. Tillis serves on four committees in the Senate – for Armed Services, Veterans’ Affairs, Judiciary, and Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs. Following the death of longtime Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Tillis said he would support President Donald Trump's nominee.

Tillis and Cunningham have debated once and have two others set for Sept. 22 and Oct. 1.

Governor

  • Roy Cooper (D) - Incumbent
  • Steven J. DiFiore (L)
  • Dan Forest (R)
  • Al Pisano (C)

Democrat Roy Cooper (left), the incumbent, faces Republican Lt. Gov Dan Forest in the 2020 race for Governor.
Credit Campaign Photos

By winning in 2016, Roy Cooper made former Republican Governor Pat McCrory the first sitting North Carolina governor to lose a re-election bid. Cooper – a 63-year-old Democrat who is a native of North Carolina – is seeking reelection in a year where he has been tasked with guiding the state through hurdles presented by the coronavirus pandemic. Criticizing him nearly every step of the way has been Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, who defeated state Rep. Holly Grange in the primary for the GOP’s bid to the governorship. Earlier this year, Forest sued Cooper over some of the coronavirus-related executive orders, arguing that Cooper shouldn’t be able to issue the orders on his own. Forest later dropped the lawsuit.

Cooper and Forest will debate on Oct. 14. A Sept. 18 projection from FiveThirtyEight showed Cooper having as much as a 19-point advantage in the race.

Lt. Governor

  • Yvonne Lewis Holley (D)
  • Mark Robinson (R)

Mark Robinson (left) faces Yvonne Lewis Holley (right) in the race for Lt. Gov of North Carolina.
Credit Campaign Photos

Regardless of who wins, the outcome of this race will be a historic moment as it will mark the first time in the state’s history that a Black person has been elected as Lieutenant Governor of North Carolina.

On the Democratic ticket is state Rep. Yvonne Lewis Holley, who has represented the 38th District in the NC house since 2013. Earlier this year, Cooper appointed her to the Andrea Harris Social, Economic, Environmental and Health Equity Task Force. Her opponent is a political newcomer in Mark Robinson, a 52-year-old from Greensboro who served in the Army Reserves as a medical specialist. A former factory worker, Robinson is an advocate for gun rights and gained fame after a video of him speaking at a Greensboro City Council meeting in 2018 went viral. Robinson won out over eight other candidates in a crowded GOP primary, including state Sen. Andy Wells.

NC Attorney General

  • Jim O’Neill (R)
  • Josh Stein (D) – Incumbent

A former member of the North Carolina Senate, state attorney general John Stein was elected to this post in 2016. He grabbed headlines recently when he joined a group of Democratic state AG’s suing the U.S. Postal Service over policy changes that they argue have undermined mail-in voting. Stein’s opponent, Jim O’Neill, is the District Attorney for Forsyth County. On Sept. 8, O’Neill spoke at a rally for President Donald Trump in Winston-Salem. In 2017, O’Neill talked to WUNC about when and how his office pursues the death penalty. One area where Stein has a big advantage over O’Neill is in Twitter followers; Stein had more than 28,800 while O’Neill had fewer than 600 as of Sept. 21.

NC Auditor

  • Anthony Wayne (Tony) Street (R)
  • Beth A. Wood (D) – Incumbent

Beth Wood, the 17th Auditor of North Carolina, has been in office since 2009 and is the first woman to hold the position. Her next term will be her fourth, if she is re-elected. Her opponent is Wilmington native Anthony Street, who holds degrees from UNC-Wilmington and UNC-Pembroke. Despite being put on probation after being charged with stalking in 2018 – among other criminal charges dating back to 2012 – Street won the Republican nomination for state auditor with 56% of the vote, defeating Tim Hoegemeyer.

NC Commissioner of Agriculture

  • Steven Troxler (R) - Incumbent
  • Jenna Wadsworth (D)

Steven Troxler, 68, has held this post since 2004 and is seeking his fifth term. He was the first Republican elected to the position since 1908. In 2016, Troxler won more than 68 percent of the vote. Jenna Wadsworth, 31, is currently serving as the Wake County Soil and Water Conservation District Supervisor. She was elected to the office in 2010 and is the vice chair of the board. She supports the legalization of cannabis, calling it “a viable pathway forward for our farmers.” During a virtual candidate forum on Sept. 9, Wadsworth said she wants a garden on the grounds of every school in the state and called the state’s child hunger rate “criminal.” Both Troxler and Wadsworth are famers and graduates of N.C. State University.

NC Commissioner of Insurance

  • Mike Causey (R) - Incumbent
  • Wayne Goodwin (D)

Whoever wins this race, the office will be familiar to them. Mike Causey, 70, has held this job since 2017 after defeating Wayne Goodwin, 53, in the 2016 election. Causey was the first Republican elected to the post in state history. A former representative in the North Carolina State House, Goodwin was elected Commissioner of Insurance in 2008 and won his bid for re-election – over Causey – in 2012. Since losing the 2016 election, Goodwin has been the President and CEO of Seaboard Strategic Consulting, LLC. Goodwin is a graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, while Causey is a graduate of High Point University. Goodwin told the News & Observer that he will “fight employers who illegally cancel health insurance” while Causey said he will “continue to crack down on fraud and corruption.”

NC Commissioner of Labor

  • Josh Dobson (R)
  • Jessica Holmes (D)

Current state labor commissioner Cherie Berry – you may recognize her name and face from any elevator you’ve stepped into in North Carolina – announced in April 2019 that she would not seek re-election. Berry, 73, has held the job since 2001 and served under four different governors. Succeeding her will be someone under the age of 40. On one side is state Rep. Josh Dobson, 39, who has been the 85th District’s NC House Representative since 2013. He has a master’s degree in public administration from Appalachian State University. Jessica Holmes, 36, is a Wake County commissioner and was the youngest person ever elected to the board in 2014. She is a graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, has been an attorney and is a lecturer at N.C. State. Holmes told Indy Week in 2019, “I believe that workers deserve a better advocate. (Berry) has failed to be that advocate and that voice.”

NC Secretary of State

  • E.C. Sykes (R)
  • Elaine Marshall (D) - Incumbent

Elaine Marshall, 74, has been North Carolina’s Secretary of State since 1997 and is seeking a seventh term in office. She has served under five different governors and has twice ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate. Her opponent is E.C. Sykes, 60, a native of North Carolina and the founder of a real estate investment fund. Sykes was previously the CEO of a manufacturing company and also served as Director of Faith and Religious Liberty for U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s 2016 presidential campaign. Cruz came to North Carolina to campaign for Sykes in February. Sykes has been endorsed by the Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion non-profit. If re-elected, Marshall said her plan for the next four years is to “help enable North Carolinians to better respond to the economic dislocation and disruption caused by the virus.”

NC Superintendent of Public Instruction

  • Catherine Truitt (R)
  • Jen Mangrum (D)

Current state superintendent Mark Johnson did not seek reelection for this office and instead chose to run for lieutenant governor. He placed third in the Republican primary behind nominee Mark Robinson and state Sen. Andy Wells. Seeking to replace him are two women who both have experience in teaching. Jen Mangrum, 56, holds degrees from UNC-Wilmington, ECU and UNC-Greensboro, and has been a teacher or professor in the state since 1987. Mangrum ran unsuccessfully for state Senate in 2018. Catherine Truitt, 49, has degrees from the University of Maryland and the University of Washington and has worked in schools since 1997. Truitt was also an education adviser to former Gov. Pat McCrory. Mangrum has said that “equality in education” is her top priority, while Truitt said hers is to “ensure all NC students have the opportunity to receive a high quality education.”

NC Treasurer

  • Ronnie Chatterji (D)
  • Dale Folwell (R) - Incumbent

Dale Folwell, 61, is a former member of the North Carolina General Assembly and is seeking his second term as state treasurer. His opponent is Ronnie Chatterji, a 41-year-old Duke professor. An economist with degrees from UC Berkeley and Cornell, Chatterji once served on President Barack Obama's Council of Economic Advisers. He also once worked for Goldman Sachs as a financial analyst and is a member of Governor Cooper’s Entrepreneurial Council. Folwell is a graduate of UNC-Greensboro and said if reelected he would “continue to attack problems, not people” and remain “loyal to those that teach, protect and serve and taxpayers like them.” Chatterji told Indy Week that he believes he has “the right skills to unlock the power of this office to make a positive impact for everyone in this state.”

NC Supreme Court Chief Justice - Seat 01

  • Cheri Beasley (D) - Incumbent
  • Paul Newby (R)

Cheri Beasley, 54, was appointed to Chief Justice in 2019 by Gov. Roy Cooper after serving as an Associate Justice since 2012. She succeeded Mark Martin, who retired. Beasley is the first Black woman ever to serve as Chief Justice of the state’s Supreme Court. She began her career in law as a public defender in North Carolina’s 12th District and later became a District Court Judge there. Paul Newby, 65, has been an Associate Justice on the North Carolina Supreme Court since 2004. He is currently the court’s only Republican and he is its longest-serving member. He was previously an assistant U.S. Attorney.

Beasley and Newby participated in an interview with UNC-TV on Aug. 31 and a forum with The Federalist Society on Sept. 10. The Chief Justice is also the top administrator for the state court system. Newby and Beasley were asked whether they would examine racial biases in court proceedings or decisions, and Newby said race doesn't factor into victims' desire for justice. Beasley said she's already begun working to identify and remedy any racial inequities.

NC Supreme Court Associate Justice - Seat 02

  • Phil Berger, Jr. (R)
  • Lucy Inman (D)

Both Phil Berger, Jr. and Lucy Inman are currently Judges in the North Carolina Court of Appeals. Berger, 48, was previously the District Attorney in Rockingham County and unsuccessfully ran for U.S. Congress in 2014. Inman, 59, is a former newspaper reporter, law clerk and civil litigator, who was elected to the Court of Appeals in 2014. Inman’s grandfather, Jonathan Daniels, was the editor of the Raleigh News & Observer, a White House press secretary under President Franklin Roosevelt, and an adviser to President Harry Truman. Inman has more than 30 years of experience in law.

NC Supreme Court Associate Justice - Seat 04

  • Tamara Barringer (R)
  • Mark Davis (D) - Incumbent

When Cooper appointed Cheri Beasley to Chief Justice, he appointed Mark Davis to replace her. Prior to that appointment, Davis had served on the Court of Appeals since 2013, worked in private practice and was also general counsel for former Gov. Beverly Perdue. Tamara Barringer is a former member of the North Carolina state Senate, where she represented District 17 from 2013 through 2019. She lost her bid for reelection to Sam Searcy. She is also a Clinical Associate Professor of Legal Studies at UNC-Chapel Hill.

NC Court of Appeals Judge - Seat 04

  • Tricia Shields (D)
  • April C. Wood (R)

April Wood, 47, has been a District Court Judge in Judicial District 22B since 2002, winning reelection four straight times. She was previously a private practice attorney. Tricia Shields, 60, ran for the Court of Appeals in 2014, but was unsuccessful in her bid. However, Shields is a former President of the NC Association of Defense Attorneys and has worked in law since 1985. She is also a professor at Campbell University.

NC Court of Appeals Judge - Seat 05

  • Lora Christine Cubbage (D)
  • Fred Gore (R) 

Lora Cubbage has been a Superior Court Judge since 2016 and is currently serving a term in Judicial District 18 that ends in 2026. She was previously a District Court Judge and an assistant DA for Guilford County. Cubbage has degrees from N.C. A&T and UNC-Chapel Hill. Fred Gore began his legal career working in the Durham County District Attorney’s Office as an assistant DA. He became a District Court Judge in 2015. Gore is a graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, the Appalachian School of Law and is a military veteran, having served in Iraq and Kuwait.

NC Court of Appeals Judge - Seat 06

  • Gray Styers (D)
  • Chris Dillon (R) - Incumbent

After running unsuccessfully in 2010, Chris Dillon, 55, was elected to the Court of Appeals in 2012 and is now seeking a second term. He is a graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill and also teaches classes there and at Campbell University. Dillon has also worked in private practice, banking and real estate. Gray Styers, 57, has degrees from Wake Forest and UNC-Chapel Hill. This is his first time running for elected office. Styers has worked as an attorney, judicial clerk and law professor. He is also a former President of the Wake County Bar Association.

NC Court of Appeals Judge - Seat 07

  • Reuben F. Young (D) – Incumbent
  • Jeff Carpenter (R)

A graduate of Howard University and the NC Central University School of Law, Reuben Young, 63, was appointed to the Court of Appeals in 2019 by Cooper. Previously, he was the Interim Chief Deputy Secretary of Adult Corrections and Juvenile Justice. Young has also been a Special Superior Court Judge, Secretary for the Department of Public Safety, and legal counsel to the Governor’s Office. Jeff Carpenter, 48, has been a Superior Court Judge since 2016, when he won an election for Judicial District 20B. He is a graduate of UNC-Charlotte and Campbell University School of Law. Carpenter was once a North Carolina State Trooper and was also a trial attorney for 13 years.

NC Court of Appeals Judge - Seat 13

  • Chris Brook (D) - Incumbent
  • Jefferson G. Griffin (R)

A JAG Officer and Captain in the North Carolina National Guard, Jefferson Griffin, 40, has served as a District Court Judge in Wake County since 2015. He was previously an assistant district attorney in the county. Griffin is a graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill and NC Central School of Law. Chris Brook, 40, is also a UNC-Chapel Hill graduate and was appointed to the Court of Appeals last year. He has never run for an elected office before. Brook was previously the Legal Director for the ACLU of North Carolina. In responding to a questionnaire from the News & Observer, both candidates somewhat agreed that the state’s courts aren’t accessible enough for average North Carolinians, with Brook responding "no" and Griffin saying "we can always improve access to justice."