Heated North Carolina governor's race ahead with Democrat Josh Stein vs. Republican Mark Robinson

Wednesday, March 6, 2024
Heated North Carolina governor's race ahead with Democrat Josh Stein vs. Republican Mark Robinson
North Carolina primary voters set up what is expected to be a high-profile and expensive fall campaign for governor.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- North Carolina primary voters set up what is expected to be a high-profile and expensive fall campaign for governor.

On Tuesday night, ABC News projected that Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson would win the North Carolina Republican Governor primary based on exit-poll analysis. Shortly afterward, ABC News projected that Attorney General Josh Stein would win the Democratic Governor primary based on analysis of the vote.

As widely expected, the two will battle to succeed term-limited Gov. Roy Cooper.

"I am grateful to every North Carolinian who made their voice heard in this election," Stein said in a statement shared by his campaign Tuesday evening. "Tonight, we took the first step toward building a safer, stronger North Carolina. I'm running for governor because I believe in the promise of North Carolina - that where you come from should never limit how far you can go, that every person deserves a fair shot at prosperity, strong public schools, and a safe place to call home. North Carolina faces a defining choice, and I am confident that this November, we will reject Mark Robinson's divisive, job-killing culture wars and instead come together to deliver on North Carolina's promise for every person."

In his own victory speech, Robinson returned fire.

"You see, I have an opponent who doesn't understand what it's like to be at work -- and have the boss man come and take you to a room and sit you down and tell you, 'we're moving this plant to Mexico' and there's nothing you can do about it," Robinson told the crowd of supporters. "I know the sting of the bad federal policy that causes that -- and I am here for the people of North Carolina."

WATCH: Robinson addresses supporters

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

WATCH: Stein delivers remarks to crowd

Josh Stein addresses supporters after primary win

Stein, who grew up in Chapel Hill, served four teams in the Senate, representing the 16th district, from 2008 to 2016.

In 2016, he ran for attorney general, where he narrowly defeated State Sen. Buck Newton, winning the race by .44%, or about 20,000 votes. Four years later, Stein won reelection in an even closer race, beating Jim O'Neill by .26%, or less than 14,000 votes.

Stein will be the third consecutive Democratic Attorney General to seek the Governor's Office, hoping to find the same electoral success as predecessors Roy Cooper and Mike Easley, both of whom ultimately served two terms as governor.

Stein easily brushed off former state Supreme Court Justice Mike Morgan and three other candidates.

Robinson was opposed by State Treasurer Dale Folwell and trial lawyer Bill Graham.

Graham issued a scathing statement after the polls closed, bashing Robinson as an "unelectable candidate in the general election in North Carolina" who "puts a conservative future at risk for everyone, from the courthouse to the White House."

"I decided to enter the race for Governor because I care about winning a conservative future for North Carolina, and I am sick and tired of Republicans losing gubernatorial races," Graham said. "We reached out to folks at the national level with the same interests. I entered this race with the full faith and belief that we would have partners in our fight to win a conservative future. During this process, I was committed to providing the necessary resources to effectively convey our positive message to voters, and we did that. Unfortunately, others decided not to do their part."

Robinson, who would be the state's first Black governor, formally received former President Donald Trump's endorsement during the weekend at a rally. Trump called him "Martin Luther King on steroids," comparing his speaking abilities to those of the late civil rights leader.

"We were able to withstand withering attacks from our opponents, all of which were baseless," Robinson said in his Tuesday night victory speech in Greensboro. "And we firmly stand by what we believe in, who we are, and our story."

Registered Republican Paul Babski, 54, an architect from Apex, said Robinson's life history played a significant role in why he voted for him in the GOP primary on Tuesday.

Robinson has told of losing jobs to the North American Free Trade Agreement and facing personal bankruptcy. A video of Robinson addressing a city council in support of gun rights in 2018 went viral, ultimately leading him to be elected lieutenant governor in 2020.

"I've heard a couple of his speeches and his story," Babski said. "And I like his statement that he's working and will work on bringing manufacturing jobs back to the state."

North Carolina is poised to be one of the most competitive states this fall as President Joe Biden and Trump appear headed toward a likely rematch. The governor's race could have implications for the presidential contest if Democrats can tap into controversies surrounding Trump and Robinson to portray the Republicans as out of step with the state's urban areas and with unaffiliated voters, who are now the state's largest voting group.

Cooper, a Democrat first elected governor in 2016, has continued a long run of Democratic dominance in the governor's mansion in a Southern state that otherwise has shifted rightward. The GOP has won only one gubernatorial race since 1992.

A general election victory by a Republican would essentially neuter veto power that Cooper has used a record number of times to block additional abortion restrictions, stricter requirements for voters and other policies backed by conservatives. GOP legislators have been able to override many of Cooper's vetoes, however.

Robinson, who has a working-class background, is a favorite of the party's GOP base. While he raised more money overall than primary rivals, Folwell and Graham have used personal funds toward late-campaign media buys. They've questioned Robinson's general-election electability, particularly in light of his rhetoric while lieutenant governor and for comments he made on social media before entering politics.

"I'll tell you this ... we're not going to allow these folks to drag this campaign into the mud," Robinson said. "Those who want to go into the mud, feel free. Where we're going is we're going toward the substantive issues that all North Carolinians face -- the things that will make North Carolina great. That will take her to her next level of success."

Those things include education and the economy, Robinson said.


So who is Mark Robinson?

ABC News projects North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson to be the Republican nominee for Governor in the state. This was the outcome that was widely expected, as Robinson had been leading the race. It's expected that he'll square off against state Attorney General Josh Stein, who is leading the Democratic primary, and it looks like it'll be a competitive race. If you're not familiar with Robinson, he first gained attention in 2018 when a video of him speaking at a Greensboro City Council meeting in support of gun rights went viral. In 2020, he was elected as Lieutenant Governor, the state's first Black Lieutenant Governor, and he has been a controversial figure.

A devout Christian, Robinson stays true to his roots by tending toward impassioned, sermon-style speeches. However, those speeches have often veered into inflammatory language, particularly towards the LGBTQ+ community. As recently as February, he said that transgender women should be arrested for using the bathroom corresponding to their gender identity and suggested they "go outside." He has said straight couples are "superior" to gay couples, that "God made him issues, and that anyone in the GOP who doesn't support him will face God's "vengeance.". Suffice to say, he's a controversial figure, not unlike the party's leader, and will represent a significant shift in North Carolina state politics if he's elected to the governor's mansion this November.

-By Kaleigh Rogers, 538


Stein following in Cooper's path

Stein, the son of a civil rights lawyer, is by far the largest fundraiser in the race. His campaign committee collected more than $19.1 million and had $12.7 million in cash in mid-February, according to the most recent campaign report summaries filed.

"I'm excited. Election days are always great because it's an opportunity for people to choose the government, the people who represent them," Stein said. "And I'm excited about the campaign we're running. It's about building a brighter future for North Carolina to deliver on the promise of our state to our people, which is that if you work hard, you can succeed no matter where you live in this state."

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Stein, who would be the state's first Jewish governor if elected, would largely seek to continue Cooper's agenda to increase public education funding and promote clean energy industries. The former state legislator was narrowly elected attorney general in 2016 and has focused recently on protecting citizens from polluters, illegal drugs and high electric bills.

"What service is all about trying to help people live the life that they want," Stein said. "And we can help people have better schools, safer communities and an economy that works for everybody. That's what my campaign is about. That's what I want to do as governor. And that's a message that works for people who are Republican, who are Democratic or who are unaffiliated."

ABC11's Anthony Wilson and Michael Perchick and The Associated Press contributed.