Stage set for contentious, expensive -- and historic -- race for NC governor

Tom George Image
Thursday, March 7, 2024
Stage set for contentious, expensive race for NC governor
Get ready for fireworks as Mark Robinson and Josh Stein offer very different messages in their campaigns for the governor's mansion.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- All eyes on are North Carolina heading into November. While the likely Trump-Biden rematch at the top of the ticket is going to draw national attention, a close second will be the heated race for governor, with Josh Stein taking on Mark Robinson.

Both cruised to their respective parties' nominations, winning by wide margins on primary night. Regardless of the winner come November, North Carolina voters will be making history: Democrat Stein would be the state's first Jewish governor, while Republican Mark Robinson, already the state's first Black lieutenant governor could become the state's first Black governor.

But the political differences between the two are a stark contrast, and it's expected that the race could get ugly and expensive as we head into the fall.

Stein is already hitting the campaign trail at a workspace in Durham. He touted his experience as attorney general, which has historically been a springboard to the governor's mansion, and laid out the choice between him and his opponent.

WATCH: Stein delivers remarks to crowd

Josh Stein addresses supporters after primary win

"The choice that voters have could not be starker, they can elect me, someone who's been fighting for them and delivering as their attorney general or their lieutenant governor who fights job-killing culture wars," Stein told ABC11.

Meanwhile, on stage at his victory party Tuesday night in his hometown of Greensboro, Robinson began a pivot to the center, focusing on economic issues as a contract where he sees the GOP as having an advantage -- saying the difference between him and his opponent was that he was on a winning team and his opponent on a losing one.

WATCH: Robinson addresses supporters

Lt. Gov Mark Robinson gives victory speech to supporters in Greensboro.

"(Stein's) team had teacher pay frozen for six years, my team turned that around, made us the No. 1 business destination in the country two years running," he said.

ABC11 was unable to reach the Robinson campaign on Wednesday but did speak with the chairman of the Wake County GOP, who said he believes that strategy of focusing on those kitchen-table issues will be a winning strategy for Republicans.

"It's the economy, it's immigration, it's crime in the community, and education and those are the issues that are going to resonate with every voter from President on down to county commissioner," said Steve Bergstrom.

Some political analysts expressed belief that it will be hard for Robinson to dodge the likely attacks coming from Democrats, who have labeled his comments about subjects such as Israel and LGBT issues controversial and hope to paint him as an extremist.

"The truth is he came to political prominence for the most part, a far-right culture warrior. And that has been his persona. That has been his approach to politics. And again, there's voluminous record of pretty extreme statements that he has made that will be very hard for him to run away from," says NC State Political Science Professor Steven Greene.

As both try to craft their messages, both are also prolific fundraisers, with $30 million raised between the two candidates, all gearing up for a down-to-the-wire slugfest during the next eight months.

"I expect it's going to be very negative. And again, you have two individuals there offering very different perspectives on what North Carolina needs. So a very clear choice for the voters for sure," Greene said.

While North Carolina has gone Republican in every presidential race since Barack Obama in 2008, there is also a history of ticket-splitting in the race for governor. Democrats have held the governor's mansion almost exclusively since 1993. Republican Pat McCrory's one term between 2013 and 2017 was the only exception. Term-limited Gov. Roy Cooper has endorsed Stein, while Robinson, who has the support of the Trump base, is hoping to flip the seat back after eight years of Democratic control.