JOHN HOOD COLUMN: Democrats hope to defend governor’s office

RALEIGH — Since the turn of the 20th century, North Carolina voters have picked Republicans for governor just four times: Jim Holshouser in 1972, Jim Martin in 1984 and 1988, and Pat McCrory in 2012. In each case, there was no Democratic incumbent. In each case, the GOP presidential candidate also won North Carolina.

John Hood

A similar scenario may be emerging for 2024. Gov. Roy Cooper is term-limited. And since 2010, GOP candidates have won every federal election in North Carolina, albeit sometimes by slim margins.

Three Republicans believe they have what it takes to seize the opportunity. Five Democrats are running to preserve one of their party’s last-remaining outposts of state political power in the South.

First on the GOP ballot is Dale Folwell, currently finishing his second term as state treasurer. A former school board member, legislator, and assistant secretary of commerce, Folwell says he is “uniquely qualified” to be governor “based on my track record of saving lives, minds, and money.” His priorities include combatting crime, fostering economic growth, promoting transparency in state government, and increasing parents’ control over their children’s education. Folwell has been endorsed by the State Employees Association of NC and former Gov. Martin.

One of his opponents, Bill Graham, is a Rowan County lawyer and businessman. A former Senate Agriculture Committee staffer for Jesse Helms, he has also served on the Rules Review Commission and as a local prosecutor. “It’s time to put Republicans back on the winning path to secure a conservative future,” says Graham, who advocates eliminating the sales tax on food and increasing prison terms for violent offenders. U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis had endorsed Graham.

The other is Mark Robinson. After a career working in furniture plants, Robinson rose to prominence when the video of a 2018 speech he made on gun rights went viral. Two years later, he won his first-ever campaign, for lieutenant governor. Robinson says education would be a top priority. He advocates school choice and apprenticeship programs. “We deserve to be represented by someone who knows us, has lived like us, and will serve the people of this state,” he says. House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger endorsed Robinson.

First on the Democratic ballot is Gary Foxx, former chief of police for the town of Princeville. His platform includes boosting funding for public schools, raising the state’s minimum wage, and enacting “gun reform that keeps weapons out of the hands of dangerous individuals while protecting the rights of responsible gun owners.”

Mike Morgan served for 34 years in the state judiciary, first as a superior-court judge and then an associate justice on the state supreme court. Morgan says he’ll fight for “a sound, basic, public education, access to affordable healthcare,” and “jobs that pay a living wage.” He’s been endorsed by the Peoples Alliance PAC.

Josh Stein, now finishing his second term as attorney general, was previously a state senator from Wake County. “I have fought for the people of North Carolina for safer communities, stronger schools, healthier families, and personal freedom,” he says. “And that’s what I’ll do as governor.” Stein’s been endorsed by Gov. Cooper, former Gov. Jim Hunt, and a number of other Democratic officeholders and organizations.

Attorney Marcus Williams of Wilmington is also running for governor this year, having previously sought the Democratic nomination for attorney general in 2016 (Stein defeated him). Williams says he represents “a genuine, fresh commitment and new vision for change and a strong voice which will reflect North Carolina core values.”

Currently a broadcaster and mayor pro tem in the town of Tryon, Chrelle Booker has served on the board of the National League of Cities. She says she intends to “intend to lead with respect and eliminate the words ‘marginalized people’ by making all citizens feel worthy.”

All these candidates have campaign websites where you can find more about their backgrounds, endorsements and positions. Early voting is underway. Primary election day is March 5.

John Hood is a John Locke Foundation board member.