What you need to know about (some of) 2020’s N.C. state-level primaries

BY ZACHARY HORNER, News + Record Staff
Posted 2/14/20

The year 2020 is already shaping up to be an intriguing one for North Carolina politics.

After all, there are 15 contenders now for what will eventually become two candidates in November for the …

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What you need to know about (some of) 2020’s N.C. state-level primaries

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The year 2020 is already shaping up to be an intriguing one for North Carolina politics.

After all, there are 15 contenders now for what will eventually become two candidates in November for the state’s lieutenant governor.

That’s right — the lieutenant governor, not the “big” job.

But that’s far from the only state-level race that will see voters make decisions in March’s primary and in February early voting. All registered Chathamites will be asked their preferences for the Democratic and Republican nominees for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Auditor, and Superintendent of Public Instruction; Republicans will choose their candidate for Attorney General, Commissioner of Insurance, Secretary of State and Commissioner of Labor; and Democrats will make their choice in the N.C. Treasurer and Commissioner of Agriculture races.

Now, take a deep breath. To help you along the way, we’re going to (briefly) preview the primaries and candidates in three of the major races in North Carolina politics and government: Governor, Lieutenant Governor and Superintendent of Public Instruction. Some of the people in these races you know, some you’ve never heard of, and, as elections sometimes go, some you’ll likely never hear of again. It’s up to the voting public of North Carolina, at least partly, to make that decision. We’ll also provide you the links to their campaign websites so you can see more.

Early voting starts today, Feb. 13, and concludes on Feb. 29. Election day is March 3.


The governor serves as North Carolina’s “president,” more or less. The person in this office serves as the figurehead of the state who can also write executive orders, create budget proposals and shape policy discussions. The governor also has appointment powers in many state boards and committees such as Transportation and Education.

Gov. Roy Cooper (D): The incumbent Cooper has been in this office since 2016. A former lawyer who served in the N.C. Senate and House, he was the state’s Attorney General from 2000 until his election as governor. The Nash County native has made noise in recent months pushing for Medicaid expansion in North Carolina and waging battles with the GOP-controlled General Assembly. Campaign website: roycooper.com.

Ernest T. Reeves (D): Cooper’s primary opponent has lost races for office five times, including the state’s Third Congressional District seat in 2016. Reeves, who lives in Greenville, is a retired U.S. Army officer who also competed in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate twice, but lost. Campaign website: ernestreeves.com.

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest (R): Perhaps the leading candidate for the Republican nomination is the state’s current lieutenant governor. Forest has made his name advocating for a number of conservative causes, particularly the controversial House Bill 2 bathroom bill. He’s been in the race (unofficially at first) since early 2019. Campaign website: danforest.com.

N.C. Rep. Holly Grange (R): A military veteran who lives in Wilmington, Grange has been in the N.C. House of Representatives for five years. On her website, she touts her support of President Donald Trump and that she “led the charge to require North Carolina sheriffs to cooperate with ICE.” Campaign website: hollygrangenc.com.

Lieutenant Governor

Here’s the biggie: nine Republicans and six Democrats are seeking their respective party’s nomination. Currently held by Forest, North Carolina’s Lieutenant Governor presides over the State Senate and serves on various boards and committees, including the Governor’s Council of State and State Board of Education. The Lieutenant Governor would also succeed the Governor in the case of absence, death or incapacitation.

Since there are 15 candidates, we’re giving snippets, and they’re shared in alphabetical order. Check out their respective websites for more.

Buddy Bengel (R): Restaurant owner in New Bern, member of the N.C. Education Lottery Commission. Campaign website: buddyfornc.com.

Deborach Cochran (R): Two-term mayor of Mt. Airy, teacher and former radio broadcaster. Campaign website: votecochranforncltgov.com.

Renee Ellmers (R): Three-term U.S. Congress member who represented Chatham, worked in U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as White House appointee. Campaign website: reneeellmers.com.

Greg Gebhardt (R): Iraq War veteran, worked on photo ID legislation as policy advisor in N.C. House. Campaign website: jointeamgreg.com.

State Supt. Mark Johnson (R): N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction since his surprise election in 2016, former teacher and member of Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Board of Education. Campaign website: markjohnsonfornc.com.

John Ritter (R): Attorney from Moore County. Campaign website: johnlritter.org.

Mark Robinson (R): Rose to prominence in the state after making a viral speech to Greensboro City Council on gun rights. Campaign website: markrobinsonfornc.com.

Scott Stone (R): Former N.C. House member, heads civil engineering firm in Charlotte. Campaign website: electscottstone.com.

Andy Wells (R): Three terms in N.C. General Assembly, owns development company in Hickory. Campaign website: andywells.org.

N.C. Rep. Chaz Beasley (D): Lawyer in Mecklenburg County, first elected to state House in 2016. Campaign website: chazbeasley.com.

N.C. Rep. Yvonne Lewis Holley (D): Four-term state representative from Wake County. Campaign website: yvonnelewisholley.com.

Allen Thomas (D): Hoke County Commissioner since 2014, has been giving away cars to “the needy” on campaign trail. Campaign website: allenthomasjr.com.

Bill Toole (D): Environmental attorney, former Belmont City Councilman. Campaign website: votebilltoole.com.

N.C. Sen. Terry Van Duyn (D): Represented Buncombe County in State Senate since 2014. Campaign website: votevanduyn.com.

Superintendent of Public Instruction

The SPI, in shorthand, leads the state’s public education system similar to how county superintendents head their respective districts. However, at the state level, this is an elected position. The SPI reports to the State Board of Education like local superintendents report to local school boards. The current SPI, Johnson, is not seeking re-election as he competes for the GOP nomination for Lieutenant Governor.

N.C. Rep. Craig Horn (R): Elected to N.C. House in 2010 from Weddington, dubbed “Education Legislator” by education policy blog EdNC. Campaign website: horn4ncschools.com.

Catherine Truitt (R): Current chancellor of Western Governors University NC, former senior advisor on education for former Gov. Pat McCrory. Campaign website: catherinetruitt.com.

James Barrett (D): Member of Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board, worked in corporate IT. Campaign website: barrettforschools.com.

Constance (Lav) Johnson (D): Magazine owner and former school teacher and administrator. Campaign website: constancelavjohnson.com.

Michael Maher (D): Former assistant dean of professional education at N.C. State University and former high school science teacher. Campaign website: maherfornc.com.

Jen Mangrum (D): Former teacher and professor, ran for state Senate in 2018. Campaign website: jenmangrumfornc.com.

Keith A. Sutton (D): Wake County Board of Education chairman, runs education consulting firm. Campaign website: votekeithsutton.com.

For sample primary ballots by party in Chatham County, visit chathamnc.org/government/departments-programs/board-of-elections/2020-election-information-notices.

Reporter Zachary Horner can be reached at zhorner@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @ZachHornerCNR.


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