2024 Electoral Preview: North Carolina
Climate hawks and deniers battle it out in the Tar Heel State
Welcome to the next installment of our electoral preview for 2024. Our last post looked at key congressional open seats and primaries. Below, we take a deep look at North Carolina’s statewide races.
Republican extremists have placed the Tar Heel State in a stranglehold. Last time Republicans held the governorship here, they enacted a host of far-right policies, eviscerating coal ash cleanup rules and blocking research into sea level rise. A Democratic majority on the state Supreme Court and Democratic governor Roy Cooper’s veto power kept extremist North Carolina Republicans in check until 2022, when Republicans won a majority on the court. Then, a donor-orchestrated party switch by state representative Tricia Cotham gave Republicans veto-proof legislative supermajorities. Republicans overrode Cooper’s vetoes of several anti-climate bills, before drawing heavily gerrymandered congressional and legislative maps that lock in big Republican majorities, despite the state’s even political divide. This has forced several Democrats to retire, but also produced multiple strong statewide candidacies.
With Cooper termed out, there is a hugely consequential race for governor, and although there are primaries on both sides, the general election is expected to feature Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein against Republican Lieutenant Governor and Nazi sympathizer Mark Robinson.
With Stein running for governor, there is an open election for AG, and Democratic Rep. Jeff Jackson is likely to face Republican Rep. Dan Bishop, a Freedom Caucus extremist best known as the author of North Carolina’s notorious “bathroom bill.” Treasurer Dale Folwell— a State Financial Officers Foundation member in good standing— is running for governor, creating an open-seat election for treasurer in a state where that is an especially powerful role. For the Democrats, the candidates in the March primary will be state representative Wesley Harris and Gabriel Esparza, a Small Business Administration staffer endorsed by labor and several local officials. On the Republican side, the candidates are A.J. Daoud, Rachel Johnson, and UNC trustee/Bloomberg money manager Brad Briner.
State Supreme Court
The 2024 election for the seat held by state Supreme Court justice (and Cooper appointee) Allison Riggs will be critical to Democrats’ multi-cycle strategy to win back a majority on the court.
There is growing evidence that insurance market dysfunction, rapidly accelerating due to fossil fuel pollution, is becoming a more salient political issue. A wide range of policy interventions were adopted by states over the last year, and there is some polling data suggesting that Florida governor Ron DeSantis’s industry-friendly 2022 insurance overhaul remains an electoral liability for him.
There are few better testing grounds for the political relevance of insurance policy than the open seat race for insurance commissioner in the swing state of North Carolina, which is projected to lose over 1 percent of its land mass in the next 20 years.1 Democrats held the Insurance Commissioner post relatively recently, but Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin lost a close election in 2016 to Republican Mike Causey, a former lobbyist who had previously sought the office five times.
Causey was re-elected in 2020, and opened his bid for a third term by criticizing Republican state legislators for being beholden to a health insurance giant. Causey has had poor relationships with Republican legislators, who acted recently to strip Causey’s office of its power as state fire marshal, thus depriving Causey of the ability to tour the state handing out checks to fire departments. Causey faces a primary challenge from former state representative C. Robert Brawley.
For months, the only Democrat running was David Wheeler, an opposition researcher who labels Causey “Rate Hike Mike” on his website, and links to a recent Charlotte News & Observer story depicting an insurance commissioner office that seems to prioritize graft and political patronage over its regulatory responsibilities. Wheeler agreed to drop out when Republican gerrymandering pushed state senator Natasha Marcus into the race. Marcus, described as “an outspoken thorn in the Republican legislative majority’s side” is emphasizing an anti-corruption message that “puts people over corporations.” With an A+ rating from Climate Cabinet, Marcus claims to be a “strong advocate for environmental policies to combat climate change.”
Thanks again for reading; your comments and suggestions are welcome. Next up, a post on other state elections.