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5 candidates face off in Democratic primary for NC governor

Attorney General Josh Stein, former N.C. Supreme Court Justice Michael Morgan and three other contenders — Chrelle Booker, Gary Foxx and Marcus Williams — are vying for the Democratic Party’s nomination for governor Tuesday.

Stein is considered the front-runner in the Democratic primary for governor. Leading up to Election Day, he has consistently led the rest of his challengers in opinion polls as well as fundraising.

Stein and Morgan have both touted their ability to win statewide even in years when Republicans have won many other high-profile elections. In 2016, although Donald Trump won North Carolina in the presidential race, voters also backed Stein for attorney general and Morgan for a seat on the state’s highest court.

Each is now vying for the chance to do it again in 2024 — when Trump appears likely to be on the ballot again, hoping to unseat Democratic President Joe Biden.

Either man would make history by winning in November; Stein as the state’s first Jewish governor or Morgan as the first Black governor.

Stein grew up in Chapel Hill and has spent the last seven years as attorney general focusing largely on consumer protection issues — going after robocallers, opioid manufacturers and tech giants. His first term overlapped with Trump’s time as president, and Stein sued the Trump administration over multiple issues including the Muslim travel ban and child separation policies at the Mexican border.

“For these past seven years, I’ve been fighting for people here in the state as their attorney general and delivering whether it’s tackling the opioid crisis or eliminating the backlog of untested rape kits or taking on polluters who poison folks drinking water or protecting kids from exploitation,” Stein said in an interview.

He has followed almost exactly the same political path as Gov. Roy Cooper, a fellow Democrat: state senator, then attorney general, then a run for governor. Cooper, who is term-limited, has endorsed Stein to replace him as governor. Stein replaced Cooper as attorney general.

Morgan helped Democrats flip control of the state Supreme Court in 2016 when he unseated an incumbent Republican justice.

Democrats would hold the court’s majority for the next six years, a period that saw several first-of-their-kind rulings in favor of more progressive positions on criminal justice and voting rights cases. Morgan’s win in that judicial race came following an endorsement from then-President Barack Obama.

For years, Morgan has been one of only a small number of Black politicians elected to any statewide office in North Carolina. His entrance into the campaign was an ad highlighting his history-making experience as the first and only Black student at his Wilmington elementary school.

In an interview Morgan referenced the fact that Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson — one of the other small handful of Black statewide officials — is the gubernatorial frontrunner on the GOP side of the aisle. Morgan said he’s the only Democrat who can defeat Robinson in a general election.

“Times have changed in North Carolina,” Morgan said. “There is going to be a Black governor elected in North Carolina in 2024. It’s just a matter of who it is going to be.”

The 2020 Census showed that as North Carolina’s population booms, the growth is being driven mostly by new Black or Hispanic residents. Black or multiracial North Carolinians now make up about one-fourth of the population. Morgan has recently criticized Stein for his office’s stance opposing a death penalty appeal brought under the Racial Justice Act.

Whoever wins the Democratic primary will face off in November against the winner of the Republican primary between Robinson, State Treasurer Dale Folwell and Salisbury attorney/investor Bill Graham.

The Libertarian Party also has a primary for governor, between Mike Ross and Shannon Bray.

On the Democratic side the other candidates are Booker, a city council member in Tryon; Foxx, the former police chief of Princeville; and Williams, a Wilmington attorney.

Williams is also the former student body president at UNC-Chapel Hill and recently has run in numerous other Democratic primaries. He lost U.S. House primaries in 2012 and 2014 decisively, but then put up a close fight against Stein in the 2016 race for attorney general, winning 47% of the vote in the Democratic primary.

Williams also lost in the Democratic primary for a U.S. House primary in 2020. In 2022, Williams received under 3% of the vote in the party’s primary for U.S. Senate. Booker was also in that 2022 Senate primary, receiving under 2% of the vote.

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