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‘We have to win.’ With Super Tuesday approaching, Dems participate in candidate forum

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‘We have to win.’ With Super Tuesday approaching, Dems participate in candidate forum

Jan 19, 2024 | 12:00 pm ET
By Kelan Lyons
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‘We have to win.’ With Super Tuesday approaching, Dems participate in candidate forum
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(Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

With primary elections less than two months away, Democrats for several statewide offices took questions in a virtual town hall Thursday night.

Candidates for attorney general, superintendent of public instruction, lieutenant governor and the state Supreme Court discussed why they were right for the job and highlighted differences between them and their opponents, but they all agreed on one thing: whatever happens in the primary elections, they will support their fellow Democrats in the general election come November, because the cost of Republicans winning is too grave.

Take, for instance, Republican attorney general candidate Dan Bishop, the author of North Carolina’s infamous “bathroom bill” that banned transgender people from using the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity.

“The bottom line is he’s a Trumpster. He’s an election denier,” said Tim Dunn, a Democratic candidate in the AG race. “He has no business getting close to the Attorney General’s office.”

Dunn and the rest of the candidates participated in an hourlong question and answer session hosted by the Democratic Women of Region 9.

North Carolina’s primary is on Super Tuesday, March 5. Those wishing to vote via an absentee ballot can request one using this link until Feb. 27. As of today, county boards of elections have begun mailing ballots to voters who requested them today.

Here is the list of the races that were spotlighted Thursday night.

  • State Supreme Court
    • Lora Cubbage is running for the seat on the North Carolina Supreme Court that is currently occupied by Justice Allison Riggs, who is also a Democrat. Cubbage is a former prosecutor who also worked in the Attorney General’s office handling workers’ comp claims before becoming a Superior Court judge, where she has been since 2018. Here is a link to her campaign’s website.
    • Allison Riggs, a justice on the North Carolina Supreme Court running to keep the seat Gov. Roy Cooper appointed her to after Justice Michael Morgan left the bench to run for governor. Riggs was a voting rights attorney before joining the Court of Appeals. Click here to visit the Riggs campaign’s website.
  • Lieutenant Governor
    • Rachel Hunt, a state senator who represents Mecklenburg in the General Assembly, is the daughter of former Gov. Jim Hunt. She prioritizes investing in public schools, expanding access to health care and helping to grow local businesses. Click here to visit her website.
    • Mark H. Robinson is running for lieutenant governor while the person who currently holds the job, also named Mark Robinson, runs for governor. Mark H. Robinson is a Democrat from Sampson County. The Navy veteran has traveled across North Carolina in a bus named after his grandmother, according to a story by WRAL. (Robinson did not attend Thursday’s forum.)
    • Ben Clark, a former state senator and secretary of the Democratic caucus, is also running for lieutenant governor. His priorities include protecting democracy, supporting the military and helping farmers. Click here to visit his website. (Clark did not attend Thursday’s forum.)
  • Attorney General
    • Jeff Jackson, former state senator and current member of the U.S. House of Representatives is running for attorney general after getting gerrymandered out of his seat in Congress. Here’s a link to his website, which details his record on subjects like fighting poverty, criminal justice and gun safety reform.
    • Satana Deberry, Durham’s District Attorney, is a former defense attorney and current progressive prosecutor. She has been a consumer advocate for the banking industry, general counsel for the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Service, and the head of the North Carolina Housing Coalition. Here is a link to her website.
    • Tim Dunn, former prosecutor in the U.S. Marine Corps who left full-time active duty in 1994 before deploying another six times after 9/11. Dunn practices law in Fayetteville, his hometown. Click here to visit his campaign website.
  • NC Superintendent of Public Instruction
    • Katie Eddings, an Air Force veteran and former social studies teacher and assistant principal. Eddings is currently teaching personal finance at Lee Early College. Here is a link to her website. (She did not attend Thursday’s forum.)
    • Maurice “Mo” Green, a self-described “champion for public education” who was superintendent of Guilford County schools for seven years, general counsel for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and former executive director of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation. Click here to visit his campaign’s website.
    • Kenon Crumble, an assistant principal in Panther Creek High School in Cary, promises to ensure that children across the state, regardless of their background, has access to high-quality education. Click here to visit his website.

Candidates at the Zoom town hall espoused Democratic values like a commitment to public education and the need to adequately fund schools.

“I am running because we are witnessing the dismantling of public instruction brick by precious brick, and we need a strong voice against that dismantlement,” said Mo Green, a candidate for superintendent of public instruction.

“This campaign is about more than just one person,” said Kenon Crumble, another Democratic candidate for superintendent of public instruction. “It’s about each and every one of us who believes in the power of education.”

Others talked about the state of abortion rights in North Carolina in the wake of the Dobbs decision and the state’s enactment of a post-12-week ban on abortions in 2023. Sen. Rachel Hunt, a candidate for lieutenant governor, noted that she recently sponsored a bill that would have codified Roe v. Wade.

“I firmly believe in every aspect of women’s fundamental right to have control over her body,” Hunt said. “We have to control our own bodies and I will be fighting for that every single day for the rest of my life.”

Allison Riggs, running to keep her seat on the state Supreme Court after Gov. Roy Cooper appointed her last year, framed her campaign as a long game, one bigger than just her race. Democrats running for statewide judicial appellate races all lost in 2020 and 2022, Riggs said, “so I am going to be working on talking more directly about our values as Democratic judges.”

Democrats have just two seats on the state Supreme Court right now. Riggs said it was paramount to hold those seats in the 2024 and 2026 elections, and start building the momentum now so Democrats can again hold the majority one day.

Riggs’ goal: “building the pipeline to ensure that when we have the chance, we win back our courts in 2028.”

That matters, Riggs said, because the next Census is in 2030, which means resdistricting and, in turn, more lawsuits.

“Redistricting gets litigated every cycle here in North Carolina,” said Riggs, a former civil rights attorney. “We have the chance to win back our courts for justice before the next regular round of redistricting, and put people on the bench who understand the Constitution as applied to redistricting, and are willing to enforce the Constitution, including its promise of free elections to all.”

Two candidates said that being Black women gave them lived experience vital to the offices they were seeking. Lora Cubbage, running for Riggs’ seat on the Supreme Court, said it was important she be the Democratic nominee because it would show that the Democratic Party was committed to fielding diverse candidates, building trust among voters. Cubbage mentioned Justice Anita’s Earls’ comments about racial equity in the legal system — and the resulting Judicial Standards Commission investigation — and said that, as a Black Superior Court judge, “I am that racial equity… I am the marginalized person.”

Cubbage said her candidacy would show voters that anyone can run for statewide office as a Democrat.

“I am the person to say that there is hope, that if you work hard and you’re consistent, then you can make it,” said Cubbage.

Satana Deberry, Durham’s top prosecutor who is running for attorney general, said she almost died having her child, a nod to CDC data showing that Black mothers are two to three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications compared to white women. Referencing access to health care in rural towns, Deberry said her father died at a hospital in Hamlet, North Carolina, because he couldn’t find a vascular surgeon to work on an aneurysm.

“I know what is really at stake for the people of North Carolina,” Deberry said. “And you need somebody who is willing to show the political courage to stand up to this General Assembly and litigate these issues and be your advocate in the courts in North Carolina and in federal courts.”

The general election for attorney general is going to be a tight race, said Jeff Jackson, another candidate. Jackson said Josh Stein, the current attorney general, significantly outspent his opponent in that race in 2020, but still barely won.

“This is going to be an extraordinarily close race,” Jackson said. “We have to assume as Democrats, going into it, that we start behind by a couple of points.”

But as much as Democrats want to use higher office to push back on the Republican agenda, no matter how much they want to use the attorney general’s office to protect North Carolinians’ civil rights, ensure they have clean air and water and keep them safe from serious crimes and drug trafficking, Jackson said it isn’t going to matter if they don’t nominate a candidate who can beat Bishop come November.

“In order to do that, we have to win,” he said.