Think the 2018 midterms were contentious? The 2020 election in North Carolina will make that look like nothing.

The stakes for the next cycle could hardly be higher. North Carolina will be a swing state in President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign and the site of his party’s 2020 nominating convention. We’ll elect a governor for four years, and a U.S. senator for six — and the General Assembly is very much in play.

This piece will keep tabs on the frontrunners for the 2020 election in North Carolina and how the early campaigns are unfolding. Keep checking back for the latest on the state of the 2020 election in North Carolina.

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With the Republican supermajority in the General Assembly broken, the Executive Mansion all of a sudden takes on more prominence. Gov. Roy Cooper will enjoy actual veto power in the next legislative session, and Republicans will be gunning for the governorship a lot harder in the 2020 election cycle.

Gov. Cooper has phenomenal favorability ratings, but he’s also been largely on the sidelines of the day-to-day political world. Instead, he had been focused on fundraising and building up to the midterms. That all changes now. N.C. Republicans will try to put Cooper in difficult positions where he actually has to make decisions that matter.

Cooper will also have to bring back his famed deal-making abilities that have been on the shelf since the early 2017 deal to repeal HB2.

Gov. Roy Cooper, speaking in Charlotte.

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest is the overwhelming favorite to be the Republican candidate for governor in 2020. He already has a much higher profile than most lieutenant governors, a powerful social media following, and genuine excitement among the base.

Dan Forest. Photo via Lt. Gov. Dan Forest on Facebook.

For a time, there was talk that former Gov. Pat McCrory could make another run. By now, that has dissipated. McCrory has made comments on Charlotte radio station WBT that future candidates typically don’t make, and he hasn’t been actively laying the groundwork for another run.

Main contenders: 

  • Gov. Roy Cooper
  • Lt. Gov. Dan Forest
  • Former Gov. Pat McCrory

U.S. Senate

Incumbent Thom Tillis’s seat will be up for election once again in a political world that looks much different than 2014. Back then, Tillis squeaked by then-U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan with less than 49% of the vote in a cycle favorable for Republicans.

Since then, the White House has flipped and North Carolina has gotten bluer. Democrats also have several high-profile potential contenders. Tillis has an advantage, however, in that he can plausibly appeal to suburban voters that turned on the GOP in 2018.

Photo by Thom Tillis via Facebook

Tillis has not publicly committed to running again, but he’ll likely seek another term. That’s because if he doesn’t, his decision will expose the state Republican Party’s weak bench.

In two years, the state’s senior senator, Richard Burr, has already said he won’t run for re-election.

Main contenders:

  • U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis (R)
  • N.C. Sen. Jeff Jackson (D)
  • Former U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx (D)
  • N.C. Sen. Dan Blue (D)
  • Former state treasurer Janet Cowell (D)
  • U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry (R)

Lieutenant Governor

This race is starting to heat up, with several Democrats already announcing they’ll seek the seat.

Two high-profile Democrats — former U.S. Senate candidate and former Sen. Cal Cunningham and Sen. Terry Van Duyn — have announced their candidacies.

Only one Republican candidate has declared an intention to run: Republican Deborah Cochran, former mayor of Mount Airy.

Clark Twiddy, a Dare County Republican and businessman, had initially said he was interested in running before switching to a N.C. Senate race. He lost his primary.

In the Democratic Party, former N.C. Sen. Malcolm Graham is also reportedly considering a run.

General Assembly

After breaking the supermajority in the General Assembly, N.C. Democrats will seek to add to those gains, with eyes on overall control of the state legislature. Meanwhile, Republicans are trying to find a new message to win back suburban territory they lost in 2018.

Whoever is successful will have the ability to draw new district lines after the decennial census — a major prize.

The Legislative Building in Raleigh. Photo by the state of N.C.

What districts will we use for 2020?

This is possibly the biggest question right now for the 2020 election.

There are numerous lawsuits at various stages of the legal process challenging the existing lines for U.S. House and the General Assembly. Courts have frequently invalidated some of the Republican-drawn lines, though there has yet to be a definitive ruling on whather partisan gerrymandering is legal or illegal.

We could very well have more guidance on that before 2020. In any case, bet on districts for the 2020 election to look different than the ones used in 2018.

[Longleaf story: The definitive explanation of North Carolina’s gerrymandering mess]

Cover image of the Executive Mansion by the state of North Carolina.


  1. Curious what the #NCGA races early messaging will be in the face of uncertain district lines for 2020…and can that messaging prove effective in a post census shakeup?


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