Voting for North Carolina’s governor position within the primary elections will conclude on March 5.

Vying for the nomination on the Republican ticket is current Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, State Treasurer Dale Folwell and Salisbury Attorney Bill Graham. 

The Democratic side features Attorney General Josh Stein, North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Mike Morgan, Tryon Mayor Pro Tempore Chrelle Booker, Lumberton Attorney Marcus Williams and Edgecombe County Sheriff’s Office Reserve Deputy Gary Foxx. 

There are also two Libertarian candidates running for North Carolina governor, tech entrepreneur Shannon Bray and businessman Mike Ross.

Despite this crowded field, Robinson and Stein are the clear front-runners and are already preparing for the intense general election that is ahead, according to Duke University professor of public policy Mac McCorkle.

A poll from East Carolina University’s Center for Survey Research shows that Robinson has the support of 53% of likely Republican primary voters, with the next closest candidate being Graham with 13%.

The poll also showed that Stein has the support of 57% of likely Democratic primary voters, loosely followed by Morgan who has 7% of likely Democratic voters.

Additionally, 27% of likely Republican voters were undecided, along with 29% undecided on the Democratic side.

“There are high numbers of undecided on the Democratic and Republican side so you never know, but what it looks like is that Robinson and Stein already have enough to win,” McCorkle said.

This election could be a historic one. If elected, Stein would be the first Jewish governor in North Carolina. Robinson would be the first black governor. 

Additionally, a win by Robinson would be a huge win for the Republican Party by electing the first Republican governor in North Carolina since 2016 and only for the second time since 1992. A Republican governorship combined with the Republican supermajority in the North Carolina House would lead to efficiency for the Republican agenda, according to North Carolina State University political science professor Steven Greene.

“They will just simply need a working majority, and that means that they can lose a number of votes on any particular issue, which means they can presumably push their agenda significantly more to the right than they've been able to,” Greene said.

Previously, this has been difficult to do because of the current Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who has thwarted the supermajority’s attempts by using a record number of 94 vetoes since taking office in 2017. Prior to this, the governor had used 76 vetoes from 1997 up until 2017.

According to Greene, the two main candidates are an interesting pairing of polar opposites. Greene said Stein is a typical progressive Democratic candidate who has been preparing for the nomination for years. Greene believes Stein — who is a former state senator —  has been using the attorney general position as a stepping stone to being governor as the position is one of the most prominent statewide offices.

“It's really kind of a great launching pad for a gubernatorial campaign, and Josh Stein is a smart, savvy politician so I think he's used it effectively in getting the support from other key players within his party,” Greene said.

Robinson, on the other hand, is an atypical candidate, according to Greene. 

“Yes, Mark Robinson is the incumbent lieutenant governor, but it’s fair to say that he’s an insurgent in politics and very much not a typical politician. He’s somebody who had no real record before being lieutenant governor, and as lieutenant governor, his record is primarily getting attention for saying outrageous things,” he said.

Robinson — who has adopted extreme positions on abortion, gay marriage and other cultural topics — has made past comments that led to much controversy around his campaign. The comments include anti-semitic remarks, as well as statements degrading women and the LGBTQ+ community. In 2021 he associated gay and transgender people with the word “filth.” His Republican rivals, Graham and Folwell, have criticized his rhetoric and ran countless ads attacking Robinson for spewing hate.

Greene thinks Robinson’s extremity will get him the Republican nomination, but it will hinder his performance in the general election. Greene said  Robinson is not well-suited for the general election because his focus on extreme culture war elements could alienate swing voters.

McCorkle, who was previously a Democratic political consultant, shares this sentiment that Robinson’s abrasive remarks could be helpful with the Republican primary but ultimately could hurt him when it comes to getting the approval of swing voters in the general election.  

“Robinson has raw talent, but his gift for gab is his strength and his weakness,” McCorkle said.

Robinson’s financial history has also raised concern for voters. Robinson has filed for bankruptcy protection four times and has a record of other financial troubles such as unpaid bills. 

President of Elon College Republicans Ryan Lockwood is concerned about Robinson’s ability to handle the financial capabilities of a state governor. 

“I think it is kind of giving weird signs, especially in a position of government or a position of governor who is handling large budgets. I think that's a fairly concerning thing about his past,” he said. 

Although President of Elon College Democrats Brian Nixon didn’t publicly endorse a specific Democratic candidate, he said he hopes whoever wins the primaries prioritizes the guarantee of rights.

“There are a lot of bills that the GOP is trying to pass with their current majority that I think are deeply harmful, and it would be of great value to have a Democratic governor that could curb those efforts to maintain the very important freedoms that they're trying to erase,” Nixon said. 

Nixon especially wants to see criminal justice reform and labor reform — specifically reforming right-to-work laws —- prioritized by the Democratic nominee. 

Lockwood believes Robinson is the best candidate for the Republican nomination, despite his previous financial issues, and hopes to see education reform and the reduction of crime rates and inflation under Robinson’s administration. 

“I hope he puts into place policies to make the cost of living go down in cities, such as Charlotte or Raleigh,” Lockwood said. 

Another key policy that Robinson is expected to focus on is gun control, as a result of his time as a National Rifle Association board member.

Stein said he believes this is an election to watch because of the political atmosphere North Carolina has right now, according to a statement he wrote to Elon News Network. 

“North Carolina is at a defining moment, and there couldn’t be a clearer choice than in this race for our next Governor. I’ll fight to bring people together to build a North Carolina with strong public schools, a thriving economy, and safe communities, while Mark Robinson would work to ban abortion with no exceptions and defund our public schools,” Stein wrote. 

Robinson declined Elon News Network’s request to comment.

Stein said that he hopes young voters will pay attention and participate in voting because of what he as a candidate stands for. 

“I’m running for Governor because I believe in the promise of North Carolina, that where you come from should never limit how far you can go—that students from Elon University to East Carolina University have the opportunities to pursue their dreams. I’m counting on young voters to stand with me in doing everything we can to build a safer, stronger state for every person,” Stein wrote.

McCorkle said he sees the differences between Robinson and Stein as a primary reason for why he expects voters to pay attention to this race. 

“I think Robinson has a diametrically opposed view from Stein,” he said. “Stein is way more of a classic liberal in terms of people's personal freedoms, and Robinson is going to be very different. He doesn't seem to have much respect for higher education. He's gonna try to ban abortion. And same sex marriage and attraction, he is very much against. So, I think from a general citizen perspective, it's going to be a stark choice.”