Democratic NC Attorney General Josh Stein to run for governor

Attorney General Josh Stein on Wednesday announced he is running for governor in 2024.

Posted  — Updated 

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein announced plans to run for governor Wednesday — one of the first major campaign announcements for state office ahead of the 2024 election.

The decision sets the stage for a potential political battle focused on culture war issues and abortion rights in the state. Much of Stein’s video announcement focused on Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, the presumed Republican front-runner in the race.

“Robinson wants to tell you who you can marry, when you’ll be pregnant, and who you should hate,” Stein, a Democrat, said in the video. “I’m running for governor because I believe in a very different North Carolina, one rooted in our shared values of freedom, justice and opportunity for everyone. And I believe the fights we choose show who we are and determine what kind of state we’ll become.”

In multiple interviews with WRAL News last year, Stein expressed a desire to run and said one of his main priorities will be defending access to abortion. The longtime Democrat made his views clear in an August news conference at the state’s Department of Justice office: “Politicians are playing with women’s lives,” Stein said. “Decisions about reproductive care are deeply personal. They should be made by a woman in consultation with her loved ones and her doctor. They should not be made by politicians.”

Abortion is legal in North Carolina up to 20 weeks into a pregnancy. Republican lawmakers are expected to push to change that law during this year’s legislative session. Cooper has promised to veto new restrictions.

Robinson, who has acknowledged paying for an abortion more than 30 years ago, is now staunchly anti-abortion. The first-term lieutenant governor has said many times that he’s likely to run for the state’s highest executive office. Polling late last year indicated that he’d outperform another potential Republican candidate, state Treasurer Dale Folwell.

Folwell said in a text message after Stein’s announcement Wednesday that Republican primary voters “will have an option” next year. Robinson political consultant Conrad Pogorzelski said Stein is “hoping that by creating the narrative that it is him against Robinson, he can avoid a primary.”

State Republican Party Chairman Michael Whatley in a statement said Stein “built his entire career advancing the priorities of the progressive left and enabling Democrats’ radical agenda” and that he’s “clearly the wrong choice for the Old North State in 2024.”

How NC Attorney General Josh Stein is bracing for his next big political fight

Stein has been the state’s top law enforcement officer for six years. He has a sizable pile of campaign cash, raising more than $5 million over the past two years. He has nearly $4 million on hand now, according to his campaign. During his 13-year political career as a lawmaker in the state Senate and as North Carolina’s top lawyer, Stein has played a leading role in a national lawsuit against opioid manufacturers, extended mail-in ballot collection times in the 2020 election, reduced the state’s testing backlog on sexual assault kits and is now eyeing the influence social media companies have on children.

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper is not able to run for governor in 2024 because of term limits. He praised Stein during a Wednesday morning interview but stopped short of endorsing him. So far, Stein is the only known Democratic candidate for the office. Candidates don’t have to file with the State Board of Elections until December, leaving time for that to change.

The attorney general has a number of high-profile endorsements from party insiders, including former Gov. Jim Hunt, House Democratic Leader Robert Reives — who some Democrats hoped would run for governor — and U.S. Rep. Deborah Ross, who called him “the right choice to be North Carolina’s next governor.”

“He has spent his career fighting for North Carolinians, and I’ve called him a partner on many of our state’s most pressing issues – from working for justice for victims of sexual violence to expanding economic opportunity for all,” Ross said.

Stein’s video announcement opens with a description of the 1971 firebombing of a law office his father, Adam Stein, shared with fellow civil rights attorneys Julius Chambers and James Ferguson. From there Stein transitions to “a different set of bomb throwers,” showing video from the January 6 U.S. Capitol attack, then clips of Robinson.

“I’m running for governor because I believe in a very different North Carolina,” Stein says in the video.

“This is our moment to protect our freedoms and democracy, provide every child a great education, and expand economic opportunity to every corner of the state,” he says. “… We’ll build a better and brighter North Carolina by standing up for what’s right, fighting to fix what’s wrong, and doing right by every single North Carolinian.”

Capitol Bureau Chief Laura Leslie contributed to this report.