North Carolina Attorney General election, 2016

From Ballotpedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Ballotpedia Election Coverage Badge-smaller use.png

Presidential • U.S. Senate • U.S. House • Governor • Lt. Gov • Attorney General • Secretary of State • State executive offices • State Senate • State House • State judges • Local judges • State ballot measures • School boards • Municipal • Recalls • Candidate ballot access
Flag of North Carolina.png
North Carolina Attorney General Election

Primary Date:
March 15, 2016
General Election Date:
November 8, 2016

November Election Winner:
Josh Stein (D)
Incumbent Prior to Election:
Roy Cooper (D)

State Executive Elections
Top Ballot
GovernorLt. Governor
Secretary of StateAttorney General
Down Ballot
AuditorInsurance Commissioner
Agriculture Commissioner
Superintendent of SchoolsTreasurer
Labor Commissioner
Key election dates

Filing deadline (partisan):
December 21, 2015
Primary date:
March 15, 2016[1]
Filing deadline (independents):
June 9, 2016
Filing deadline (write-ins):
July 26, 2016
General election date:
November 8, 2016
January 7, 2017

North Carolina held an open election for attorney general on November 8, 2016. Josh Stein (D) won the election, keeping the attorney general's seat in Democratic hands.

  • Incumbent Roy Cooper (D) ran for governor in 2016, leaving the attorney general election an open race.
  • The winners of the March 15 primary elections—state Sen. Buck Newton (R) and former state Sen. Josh Stein (D)—competed in the November 8 general election.
  • A Republican has not won election to the office of attorney general in North Carolina in over 100 years.
  • Stein won the general election on November 8, 2016.

  • Overview

    As the state's chief legal officer, the attorney general provides legal representation and advice to all state government departments, agencies and commissions, writes legal opinions and litigates in criminal appeals cases. North Carolina has been under Republican trifecta control since Governor Pat McCrory (R) assumed office in 2013. A Republican had not won election to the office of attorney general in North Carolina in over 100 years.

    Four-term incumbent Roy Cooper (D) did not run for re-election, having chosen instead to challenge incumbent Pat McCrory (R) in the 2016 gubernatorial race. State Sen. Buck Newton defeated Jim O'Neill in the March 15 Republican primary election. Former state Sen. Josh Stein, who resigned from his senate seat to pursue the attorney general's office, defeated Marcus W. Williams in the Democratic primary election. Newton and Stein competed for the seat in the November 8 general election. Stein had a significant fundraising lead over Newton as of pre-primary campaign finance reports.

    Despite the open race, the Republican legislature's low approval rates and Democrats' dominance in this office made it an extremely difficult seat to flip in 2016. Stein won the general election on November 8, 2016.


    General election candidates

    Josh Stein square.jpg

    Josh Stein (D)
    State senator, 2009-2016

    Buck Newton square.jpg

    Buck Newton (R)
    State senator since 2011


    General election

    Josh Stein defeated Buck Newton in the North Carolina attorney general election.
    North Carolina Attorney General, 2016
    Party Candidate Vote % Votes
         Democratic Green check mark transparent.png Josh Stein 50.22% 2,276,410
         Republican Buck Newton 49.78% 2,256,178
    Total Votes 4,532,588
    Source: ABC11

    Primary elections

    Primary election results

    North Carolina Attorney General Democratic Primary, 2016
    Candidate Vote % Votes
    Green check mark transparent.pngJosh Stein 53.4% 510,003
    Marcus W. Williams 46.6% 445,524
    Total Votes 955,527
    Election results via North Carolina State Board of Elections.
    North Carolina Attorney General Republican Primary, 2016
    Candidate Vote % Votes
    Green check mark transparent.pngBuck Newton 54.9% 503,880
    Jim O'Neill 45.1% 414,073
    Total Votes 917,953
    Election results via North Carolina State Board of Elections.

    Context of the 2016 election

    Incumbent Roy Cooper (D)

    Though eligible, incumbent Attorney General Roy Cooper declined to seek re-election, choosing instead to run for the governorship. Cooper was first elected in 2000 after easily defeating Republican Dan Boyce. He went on to also easily defeat Republican challengers Joe Knott and Bob Crumbly in 2004 and 2008, respectively. He ran unopposed in 2012.

    Prior to his tenure as attorney general, Cooper had served ten years in the State Senate and four years in the North Carolina House.

    Party control in North Carolina

    See also: Party control of North Carolina state government

    North Carolina had been under Republican trifecta control since Governor Pat McCrory (R) assumed office in 2013. This represented a fairly rapid shift in partisan control for the state, which had been under Democratic trifecta control as recently as 2010. North Carolina's electoral votes went to the Republican presidential candidate in every election cycle since 1980, with the exception of 2008 when the state voted to elect Barack Obama (D).[6] North Carolina began attracting significant attention as a presidential battleground state with Obama's unexpected 2008 win in the state—the first Democratic candidate to do so since Jimmy Carter (D) in 1976. For the past two presidential elections, the state's presidential preference influenced statewide elections. This influence, coupled with the recent trend of close elections in the state, promised competitive races in 2016.

    Both Republican and Democratic candidates gained success in recent elections. Democrat Bev Perdue won the gubernatorial election and Democrat Kay Hagan defeated incumbent Republican Senator Elizabeth Dole in 2008. The state swung back to Republicans in 2012 when Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney narrowly beat President Obama by a margin of 2 percentage points. McCrory defeated his Democratic rival by a small margin of victory that same year. The trend of close statewide elections in North Carolina continued into 2014: Republican Thom Tillis narrowly defeated incumbent Senator Kay Hagan (D) in a statewide race that year, earning 48.8 percent of the vote to Hagan's 47.3 percent.[7]

    A Republican has not held the attorney general seat in North Carolina since James H. Carson, Jr. Carson was appointed in 1974 to fill a vacancy left by Democrat Robert Burren Morgan, who resigned after winning election to the U.S. Senate. In fact, a Republican had not won election to this office in over 100 years.[8] Carson ran for election to a full term in 1974 but lost to Democrat Rufus Edmiston.[9] Despite the open race, Democrats' strong incumbency advantage in this office made it a difficult seat for Republicans to flip in 2016.

    Race background

    Candidate field

    The 2016 race for North Carolina attorney general was open due to incumbent Roy Cooper's decision to run for governor. Cooper, a Democrat first elected to the position in 2000, has won four consecutive terms as the state's chief legal official. In his most recent bid for re-election, in 2012, Cooper ran unopposed in both the primary and general election.[10] The popular long-time attorney general was critical of Republican Gov. Pat McCrory since McCrory succeeded Democrat Beverly Perdue in 2012.

    Cooper began laying the groundwork for a campaign against McCrory in late 2013. In May 2015, he confirmed that he would run for governor instead of seeking a fifth term as attorney general. He called the upcoming gubernatorial race "a battle for the heart and soul of North Carolina. That's when we take the state back from the extremists."[11][12]

    Prior to the November 2016 general elections, North Carolina was one of 23 Republican state government trifectas.

    See also: North Carolina State Legislature, North Carolina House of Representatives, North Carolina State Senate

    With Cooper out of the picture, North Carolina Senators Buck Newton (R) and Josh Stein (D), who won their parties' primary elections on March 15, competed for the attorney general seat on November 8.[13][14] Stein resigned his senate seat on March 21, 2016, in order to focus on his campaign.[15] Stein won the general election on November 8, 2016.

    Primary candidates


    Former state Sen. Josh Stein (D) defeated Robeson County attorney Marcus W. Williams (D) in the Democratic primary. Stein resigned from his senate seat on March 21, 2016, in order to focus on his campaign for attorney general.[15]

    Stein was elected to the senate in 2008 and had pointed out his history of being an advocate for consumer protection laws during his four terms as a state senator as qualification for the attorney general seat. According to his campaign website, his priorities were public safety, consumer protection and the environment.[16] Stein also served as a deputy attorney general prior to his election to the state senate.[17]

    Williams was previously a 2014 Democratic candidate for District 13 of the North Carolina State Senate and a 2012 Democratic candidate for the 8th Congressional District of North Carolina.[18] He lost both elections, but used his campaign to bring attention to issues affecting black voters. If elected, Williams promised stricter enforcement of environmental protection laws and greater police accountability.[17]


    State Senator Buck Newton (R) defeated Forsyth County district attorney Jim O'Neill (R) in the Republican primary.

    O'Neill had characterized his opponent as lacking experience. “I have prosecuted every case imaginable under the sun, and hands down, I’m the most battle-tested candidate in the race" he said in February 2016.[19] O'Neill and Newton butted heads in 2014 over legislation backed by Newton that moved the State Bureau of Investigation into the Department of Public Safety. The bureau had previously been under the purview of the attorney general, where O'Neill said it belongs.[20]

    "It's a very important agency...and it's very important we remove politics from it," Newton responded on the matter.[20] He also pointed to his experience as a legislator and attorney as preparation for the duties of the attorney general, which, he said, do not include prosecution. Newton is a private practice lawyer and was elected to the state senate in 2010.[20]


    Campaign finance

    General election candidates

    Primary candidates


    The candidates for attorney general are Republican Buck Newton and Democrat Josh Stein. If the election was today, who would you vote for?
    Poll Buck Newton (R) Josh Stein (D)UndecidedMargin of errorSample size
    Public Policy Polling
    March 18, 2016-March 20, 2016
    Note: The polls above may not reflect all polls that have been conducted in this race. Those displayed are a random sampling chosen by Ballotpedia staff. If you would like to nominate another poll for inclusion in the table, send an email to
    Do you approve or disapprove of the job the General Assembly is doing?
    Poll Approve DisapproveNot sureMargin of ErrorSample Size
    Public Policy Polling
    March 18, 2016-March 20, 2016
    Note: The polls above may not reflect all polls that have been conducted on this issue. Those displayed are a sampling chosen by Ballotpedia staff. If you would like to nominate another poll for inclusion in the table, send an email to

    Satellite spending

    Main article: Political spending not controlled by candidates or their campaigns

    Groups unaffiliated with candidates or campaigns—such as political action committees, super PACs, nonprofit public welfare organizations, and labor unions—often spend money to influence the outcome of an election. This satellite spending can take the form of express advocacy, which encourages votes for or against a candidate, or issue advocacy, which supports broad political or social issues. Some groups are restricted on which kind of advocacy they can engage in based on their tax status.

    Disclosure regulations vary from state to state and vary based on type of organization, complicating the process of determining a comprehensive picture of all spending in a given election.

    For example, nonprofits are not always required to disclose their donors to the government; they submit financial information to the federal government through regular tax filings with the Internal Revenue Service, which are only publicly available through a Freedom of Information Act request. Other organizations are required to report election expenditures to a state elections division.

    North Carolina Attorney General, 2016
    OrganizationAmount spentType of spending
    Republican Attorneys General Association[21]$3,800,000Ads supporting Buck Newton (R)
    Total known expenditures:$3,800,000 
    Note: All figures are estimates. Know of any other instances of satellite spending? Tell us!

    Campaign media

    Note: If a candidate is not listed below, Ballotpedia staff were unable to locate any campaign media for that candidate. Do you know of any? Tell us!

    Josh Stein (D) Campaign website Facebook Twitter YouTube 
    Marcus W. Williams (D) Campaign website Facebook 

    Buck Newton (R) Campaign website Facebook Twitter 
    Jim O'Neill (R) Campaign website Facebook Twitter 


    Republican candidates

    Below were key endorsements for Newton and O'Neill.[22][23]

    Key endorsements
    Newton O'Neill
    House Speaker Timothy K. Moore (R) North Carolina Police Benevolent Association
    State Senator Kathy Harrington (R) Charlotte Observer
    Grass Roots North Carolina

    About the office

    The attorney general of North Carolina is an elected constitutional office in the executive branch of the North Carolina state government. As the state's chief legal officer, the attorney general provides legal representation and advice to all state government departments, agencies and commissions, writes legal opinions and litigates in criminal appeals cases. The attorney general is elected in presidential election years and has no term limit.[24]

    Helpful Facts About U.S. State Attorneys General
    • Attorneys general are directly elected in 43 states. The remaining seven are appointed by the governor, the state legislature, or the state supreme court.
    • Heading into the 2016 round of elections, there were 22 Democratic, 27 Republican, and one nonpartisan attorneys general.
    • Ten states were scheduled to hold attorney general elections in 2016.
    • In 2014 the annual salaries for state attorneys general ranged from $72,408 (Arkansas) to $176,988 (Tennessee).
    • The office of attorney general exists in all 50 states; for 19 of them, the attorney general is not required to be licensed to practice law or even hold a law degree.[25]


    The incumbent was Democrat Roy Cooper. Cooper was first elected attorney general in 2000 and won re-election three times—in 2004, 2008, and 2012.[26]


    The North Carolina Constitution establishes the office of attorney general in Article III, Section 7:

    (1) Officers. A Secretary of State, an Auditor, a Treasurer, a Superintendent of Public Instruction, an Attorney General, a Commissioner of Agriculture, a Commissioner of Labor, and a Commissioner of Insurance shall be elected by the qualified voters of the State in 1972 and every four years thereafter, at the same time and places as members of the General Assembly are elected. Their term of office shall be four years and shall commence on the first day of January next after their election and continue until their successors are elected and qualified. ...

    Powers of the office

    The attorney general, in addition to serving as the state's chief legal advisor, heads the North Carolina Department of Justice. The duties and responsibilities of office are dictated by the state constitution and state statutes:

    • represent the state and its officials, departments, agencies and commissions in all civil matters
    • provide legal opinions, when requested by the general assembly, governor or other state official
    • assist judges, district attorneys, magistrates and municipal and county attorneys
    • handle criminal appeals from state trial courts


    Article III, Section 7 also outlines the qualifications for the attorney general:

    ... (7) Special Qualifications for Attorney General. Only persons duly authorized to practice law in the courts of this State shall be eligible for appointment or election as Attorney General.
    • A candidate for attorney general must be authorized to practice law in North Carolina.

    Past elections


    Attorney General of North Carolina General Election, 2012
    Party Candidate Vote % Votes
         Democratic Green check mark transparent.pngRoy Cooper Incumbent 100% 2,828,941
    Total Votes 2,828,941
    Election results via NC State Board of Elections

    Recent news

    The link below is to the most recent stories in a Google news search for the terms North Carolina attorney general election. These results are automatically generated from Google. Ballotpedia does not curate or endorse these articles.

    State profile

    USA North Carolina location map.svg
    Demographic data for North Carolina
     North CarolinaU.S.
    Total population:10,035,186316,515,021
    Land area (sq mi):48,6183,531,905
    Race and ethnicity**
    Black/African American:21.5%12.6%
    Native American:1.2%0.8%
    Pacific Islander:0.1%0.2%
    Two or more:2.4%3%
    High school graduation rate:85.8%86.7%
    College graduation rate:28.4%29.8%
    Median household income:$46,868$53,889
    Persons below poverty level:20.5%11.3%
    Source: U.S. Census Bureau, "American Community Survey" (5-year estimates 2010-2015)
    Click here for more information on the 2020 census and here for more on its impact on the redistricting process in North Carolina.
    **Note: Percentages for race and ethnicity may add up to more than 100 percent because respondents may report more than one race and the Hispanic/Latino ethnicity may be selected in conjunction with any race. Read more about race and ethnicity in the census here.

    Presidential voting pattern

    See also: Presidential voting trends in North Carolina

    North Carolina voted Republican in four out of the five presidential elections between 2000 and 2016.

    Pivot Counties (2016)

    Ballotpedia identified 206 counties that voted for Donald Trump (R) in 2016 after voting for Barack Obama (D) in 2008 and 2012. Collectively, Trump won these Pivot Counties by more than 580,000 votes. Of these 206 counties, six are located in North Carolina, accounting for 2.91 percent of the total pivot counties.[27]

    Pivot Counties (2020)

    In 2020, Ballotpedia re-examined the 206 Pivot Counties to view their voting patterns following that year's presidential election. Ballotpedia defined those won by Trump won as Retained Pivot Counties and those won by Joe Biden (D) as Boomerang Pivot Counties. Nationwide, there were 181 Retained Pivot Counties and 25 Boomerang Pivot Counties. North Carolina had six Retained Pivot Counties, 3.31 percent of all Retained Pivot Counties.

    More North Carolina coverage on Ballotpedia

    See also

    North Carolina government:

    Previous elections:

    Ballotpedia exclusives:

    External links


    1. The primary for U.S. congressional elections was rescheduled to June 7, 2016, following legal challenges to North Carolina's district maps. State races were unaffected.
    2. The Dispatch, "GOP party leader files for commissioner," accessed March 3, 2012
    3. North Carolina State Board of Elections, "Primary Candidate List Grouped by Contest," accessed March 7, 2014
    4. North Carolina State Board of Elections, "Candidate Listing 2016/03/15," accessed December 22, 2015
    5. Jim O'Neill, "Candidate for Attorney General," accessed December 22, 2015
    6. National Archives and Records Administration, "Historical Election Results," accessed September 15, 2016
    7. North Carolina State Board of Elections, "11/04/2014 Official General Election Results - Statewide," accessed August 30, 2015
    8., "North Carolina State Government - Attorney General," accessed September 23, 2016
    9. Our Campaigns, " Attorney General - History," accessed September 15, 2016
    10. North Carolina Department of Justice, "Attorney General biography," accessed September 15, 2012
    11. Charlotte Observer, "Roy Cooper calls Gov. Pat McCrory, GOP lawmakers ‘extremists’," November 7, 2014
    12., "Cooper announces run for governor," May 18, 2015
    13. The News & Observer, "Josh Stein eyeing NC Attorney General race," November 27, 2013
    14. The News & Observer, "NC Sen. Buck Newton launches run for attorney general," June 1, 2015
    15. 15.0 15.1 The News&Observer, "Stein leaves NC Senate seat to focus on attorney general campaign," accessed March 21, 2016
    16. Josh Stein for Attorney General, "Meet Josh," accessed March 12, 2016
    17. 17.0 17.1 Carolina Journal, "Democratic A.G. Primary Pits Insider Versus 'Perennial Candidate,' February 26, 2016
    18. The Dispatch, "GOP party leader files for commissioner," accessed March 3, 2012
    19. Winston-Salem Journal, "Forsyth County DA Jim O'Neill seeks Attorney General; says he's the most qualified," February 26, 2016
    20. 20.0 20.1 20.2, "Senator, prosecutor seek Republican nod for AG," March 3, 2016
    21. Facing South, "Fueled by corporate cash, GOP attorneys general group spends millions in N.C.," June 30, 2016
    22. The News & Observer, "NC Sen. Buck Newton launches run for attorney general," June 1, 2015
    23. Facebook, "Buck Newton," accessed March 9, 2016
    24. North Carolina Department of the Attorney General, "About DOJ," accessed April 20, 2015
    25. The Book of States, "Table 4.20: Qualifications for Office," last updated March 2012
    26. North Carolina Department of Justice, "Attorney Ray Cooper: Biography," May 16, 2011
    27. The raw data for this study was provided by Dave Leip of Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections.