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High-stakes North Carolina governor’s race to pit Democrat Josh Stein vs. Republican Mark Robinson

RALEIGH, N.C. — The Democratic attorney general and the Republican lieutenant governor won North Carolina’s primaries for governor on Tuesday, setting the stage for what will be an expensive and high-stakes November contest in a state that the two parties see as a pivotal battleground.

Josh Stein and Mark Robinson, each of whom turned back multiple party rivals, will present a stark contrast for voters in the ninth-largest state’s fall elections.

Read more: Biden and Trump rack up win after win on Super Tuesday, as November rematch looms

Stein is a longtime member of North Carolina’s political scene, a lawyer with the endorsement of term-limited Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and a long history of consumer advocacy before and during his time as AG. He’d be the state’s first Jewish governor if elected.

Robinson, meanwhile, is a former factory worker who splashed into conservative circles after a 2018 viral speech to his hometown city council — catapulting him to lieutenant governor in 2020 and the endorsement of former President Donald Trump. He’s North Carolina’s first Black lieutenant governor and would become the state’s first Black governor as well.

Both Robinson and Stein are prolific fundraisers, amassing a combined $30 million through their campaign committees since early 2021. Democratic and Republican groups already talking about the seat in November are likely to spend millions more.

Stein’s top primary rival Tuesday was former state Supreme Court Associate Justice Mike Morgan, while Robinson’s opponents were State Treasurer Dale Folwell and trial attorney Bill Graham.

The North Carolina governorship has been a rare success story for Democrats in a Southern state. While the GOP holds narrow veto-proof majorities in the legislature and controls the state Supreme Court, Democrats have lost only one gubernatorial race since 1992.

The party has scored presidential victories in North Carolina only twice over the past half-century, however, with Trump winning narrowly in both 2016 and 2020. Democratic President Joe Biden is weighing whether to invest heavily for its 16 electoral votes. Stein could be weighed down by Biden’s low poll numbers.

On the other hand, Democrats could use a Trump-Robinson combination atop the GOP ticket to tap into ongoing controversies, especially Robinson’s harsh comments about LGBTQ+ issues, women in Christian leadership and other topics that had his primary rivals questioning his electability. Trump also raised eyebrows when formally endorsing Robinson last weekend at a rally, calling him “Martin Luther King on steroids,” comparing his speaking skills to those of the late civil rights leader.