NC’s primary election results show the far-right’s power in the Republican Party

North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson arrives to speak before Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump at a campaign rally Saturday, March 2, 2024, in Greensboro, N.C. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

By Michael McElroy, Dylan Rhoney

March 6, 2024

From the president to the state’s top education official, there is nothing but distance between the two major parties on several issues, including reproductive rights, public school funding, and LGBTQ protections.

There were a few surprises in the North Carolina primary election on Tuesday and some uncertainty still remains, but for the most part, the election results reflected a reality that has become increasingly clear in recent months: North Carolinians in November will choose between two starkly different visions of the future.

From the president to the state’s top education official, there is nothing but distance between the two major parties on several major issues, including reproductive rights, climate change, public school funding, book bans, LGBTQ protections, and voting rights. 

In the least suspenseful race, President Joe Biden and Donald Trump won their parties’ presidential primaries by huge margins, setting up a rematch from 2020 at the top of the ticket. 

Similarly, Attorney General Josh Stein, a Democrat, and Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, a Republican, won their parties’ primary races for governor as expected, and US Reps. Jeff Jackson, Democrat, and Dan Bishop, Republican, will be the nominees for attorney general, the state’s top law enforcement officer.

But one of the biggest surprises came in the superintendent of public instruction, the official in charge of public schools.

Michele Morrow, a Moms for Liberty-backed candidate who homeschooled her children, attended the Jan. 6 riot, and called public schools “indoctrination centers,” won the Republican primary over incumbent Catherine Truitt. This puts a candidate with some of the most extreme views on public schools within reach of running them. 

North Carolina is a true swing state and could well decide the outcome of the presidential election, but the races for governor, attorney general, and state schools superintendent will be just as widely watched across the country. North Carolina is teetering on the totter in 2024, and could tilt in either direction.

Robinson and Bishop have called for full abortion bans in North Carolina, and Bishop has called for a national ban. Bishop also tried to help Trump overturn the 2020 presidential election results, and Robinson has a history of anti-semitic and homophobic rhetoric, and called climate change “junk science.”

If they all win in November, Robinson, Bishop and Morrow would combine with the Republican controlled legislature to form one of the most far-right governments in the country.

Here is a quick round up of results from some of the biggest races in the primary.

Governor

In the Democratic primary, Stein beat former NC Supreme Court Justice Michael Morgan with 70% of the vote. Robinson, whose views were far to the right of even his Republican opponents, won 65% of GOP primary voters.

While the Republican-controlled legislature has done all it could over Gov. Roy Cooper’s tenure to weaken the office, the governor still has enormous sway and a heck of a bully pulpit. 

Stein has pledged to follow Cooper’s push for increased public school funding and to push back against abortion restrictions. Robinson has said that if he was in charge of the state, he would move to ban abortion completely and prioritize private school vouchers over public school funding. In his 2022 memoir, Robinson wrote that he imagined a world in which “traditional public schools might be a thing of the past.”

Robinson also suggested that science and social studies shouldn’t be taught until the 6th grade, an idea teachers reject entirely. 

Superintendent of Public Instruction

Morrow beat the incumbent Catherine Truitt by less than 5 percentage points. 

During her campaign, Morrow criticized  state diversity efforts, dismissed  concerns from LGBTQ students about the parents’ bill of rights, and called for greater protections for Christians.

In her unsuccessful 2022 campaign for Wake County Board of Education, Morrow—who homeschooled all five of her children—referred to public schools as “indoctrination centers.” She also urged parents not to send their kids to North Carolina public schools, which she now hopes to oversee.

She has also expressed conspiracy theories about the COVID-19 vaccines and suggested that Biden stole the 2020 election. She was also present at the US Capitol during the Jan. 6 attack and brought her oldest children with her.

The race for the Democratic nomination was much less competitive. Maurice (Mo) Green, the former superintendent of Guilford County Public Schools, won the Democratic nomination, with 66% of the vote.

Green has said that the state should prioritize funding public schools over private, and has stressed the importance of diversity initiatives in schools. 

Attorney General

Jackson received 55% of the vote in the primary, defeating Durham County District Attorney Satana Deberry and Tim Dunn, a Fayetteville attorney. Bishop ran unopposed.

Like many of the 2024 races, abortion will be a defining issue in this race. 

Jackson told Cardinal & Pine last month that he would use the office to protect reproductive rights, while Bishop has called abortion “barbaric” and mocked abortion patients in a Congressional hearing. 

Lieutenant Governor

State Senator Rachel Hunt won the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor with 70% of the vote against former state Representative Ben Clark and Mark H. Robinson (the other Mark Robinson). 

The lieutenant governor doesn’t have many official duties, but does  preside over the state senate and sit on the state board of education. Like with the governor, though, the position offers a big megaphone. 

Hunt, who represents Mecklenburg County and is a daughter of former Governor Jim Hunt, focused her campaign on education and abortion rights. She will have to wait to find out who her opponent in the general election will be because none of the Republicans cleared the necessary 30% to avoid a runoff. 

The leading vote-getter so far is Hal Weatherman at nearly 20%. He has suggested the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump, was against the expansion of Medicaid in the state, and has said that his plan to improve public schools is to increase funding for private schools. 

Jim O’Neil was right behind him and is expected to qualify for the run-off as of Wednesday afternoon, with Deanna Ballard currently in third. 

Insurance Commissioner

Republican Mike Causey, the incumbent, will face off against Democratic State Senator Natasha Marcus in November.

Marcus defeated David Wheeler with 77% of the vote.

The key issue that will define this race in the general election looks to be the fight over home insurance rates. The NC Rate Bureau had requested an average rate increase of 42.2%, and a 99% increase in some coastal counties. 

This request was rejected by Commissioner Causey, and a hearing to determine a potential rate hike has been set for October 7th of this year, just before Election Day.

While Causey rejected the initial request, he didn’t rule out any rate hikes. 

“I’m willing to listen if they want to come back with some numbers that are more reasonable to the people, because the majority of people can’t stand this.”

After her win, Marcus said she would focus on limiting rate hikes, but said she could not promise there wouldn’t be any increases.

Congress

All the incumbents on the ballot from both parties won their primaries by large margins. Republicans Virginia Foxx, Richard Hudson, and Chuck Edwards and Democrats Deborah Ross, Valerie Foushee, and Don Davis either blew out their opponents or ran uncontested.

In the 14th Congressional District, NC House Speaker Tim Moore won the nomination in a district he essentially drew for himself.  He will face Democrat Pam Genant of Burke County in the general election, and is the clear favorite to win in the fall.

The 14th district is currently represented by Jackson, who declined to run for re-election after the latest gerrymandered maps from the General Assembly carved him out of the current district and into the 8th district, a seat that’s virtually unwinnable for a Democrat.

District 6 was also gerrymandered to leave the Democratic incumbent, Rep. Kathy Manning, with no way to win re-election. She did not run as a result and there is no Democratic nominee, so whoever wins the Republican nominee will win the seat. 

The Republicans running for the nomination in the 6th District are heading to a runoff, , because none of the six candidates passed the 30% mark. 

Addison McDowell, Trump’s preferred candidate, and former Congressman Mark Walker, who dropped out of the governor’s race in October, got the two highest vote totals and will face off again on May 14. 

Both are anti-abortion candidates and backed efforts to overturn the 2020 election. 

Some upsets

In NC State Senate District 22, six-term incumbent Democrat Mike Woodard lost the primary to Sophia Chitlik, who served in the US Department of Labor in the Obama administration.

Some young Democrats helped start a primary against Woodward after the recent legislative session in which he voted with the GOP majority 70% of the time. He also voted to override three of Gov. Roy Cooper’s vetoes. 

Woodard defended his votes prior to the primary, telling INDY Week his support of certain bills was “making bad legislation less bad.”

Chitlik is expected to easily be elected to the General Assembly in the General Election, as it is a safe Democratic seat.

And in one of the closest legislative races, incumbent Democratic representative Cecil Brockman appears to have defeated his challenger, James Adams, by 83 votes. 

Brockman was one of the five Democrats who voted in favor of the state budget last year, and had been criticized by some progressives and the Young Democrats of North Carolina for the decision, as well as other votes with the GOP majority.

Brockman defended his decisions by saying that these votes brought in funds to his district.

“I work with Republicans because they’re in power—they have the power to get me what I want for my district,” Brockman said. “I’m not the person they should be trying to take out. I agree with the party 90 percent of the time, and they want to take me out for getting stuff for a poor, Black district,” he told the magazine The Assembly last month.

Brockman is expected to be re-elected to the General Assembly in November.

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