Robinson vs Stein: Which candidate for NC governor will connect better with voters?

By Dallas Woodhouse

Raleigh, NC – Democrat Attorney General Josh Stein and Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson might offer the sharpest contrast on policy, personality, background, and education in a race for governor that North Carolina has seen in the last century. In almost every way, these two men, who are popular with their home political parties, are polar opposites.

But which one will better connect with voters?

Both men are of similar age. Stein is 57. Robinson is 55. Both candidates would make history if elected to the state’s highest office. Robinson would be North Carolina’s first black governor. Stein would be North Carolina’s first Jewish governor.

Stein was raised by a prominent trail-blazing legal family that did historic work in civil and voting rights. He grew up with wealth and privilege.  

Stein is an Ivy league educated lawyer, graduating from Dartmouth and Harvard Law.

Robinson was one of 10 children. He was in 5th grade when his abusive, alcoholic father died, after which he spent time in foster care. Robinson graduated from high school in Greensboro and studied history in college. After a long educational journey, he graduated from UNC-Greensboro with a B.A. in History in December of 2022. Robinson also spent 4 years in the US Army Reserves. Stein has no military experience.

From the outside its hard to image that Josh Stein’s professional and personal life did not go exactly as planned. He graduated Chapel Hill High School and played on its state championship soccer team. After college, he taught English and economics in Zimbabwe. Stein has served in elected office as a state senator or attorney general for the last 15 years.  He and his wife Anna have three adult children, two boys and a girl. 

Before being elected to the state Senate, Stein worked his way up the ladder for a slew of Democratic politicians and candidates. In the 1990s, Stein interned for state Rep. Dan Blue, who was the first black NC House speaker and is now state Senate Minority Leader. Out of law school, Stein worked for the Self-Help Credit Union and the North Carolina Minority Support Center. In 1998, he managed the winning US Senate campaign of John Edwards and served as Edwards’ deputy chief of staff from 1999 to 2000. In 2001, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper appointed Stein as senior deputy attorney general for consumer protection. He held that position until his election to the state Senate in 2008.

“I love North Carolina,” said Stein in his campaign announcement. “We are a great state. I’m running for governor to help us build a better and brighter future. As attorney general, I have fought for the people of North Carolina for safer communities, stronger schools, healthier families, and personal freedom. And that’s what I’ll do as governor.”

Mark Robinson had a much more tortured path. He is not shy about his past struggles.

“I lost not one, but two jobs due to NAFTA,” Robinson said. “We lost homes, cars, and were even forced into bankruptcy.”

Unlike Stein’s lifelong involvement in government and politics, Robinson’s meteoric political rise is the kind legends are made of.

In 2018 Robinson gave a speech to the Greensboro City Council on gun rights that went viral, capturing millions of views. A year later he launched his successful campaign to become the first black lieutenant governor of North Carolina. 

Robinson has a mountain to climb. He is not a conventional politician. He has not always chosen his words carefully. He developed a strongly pro-life position but only after paying for an abortion. In the last 30 years, five sitting lieutenant governors have run for the state’s highest office, and only one was victorious. Attorney General Josh Stein is a seasoned experienced politician. Current Democrat Roy Cooper was attorney general as was Gov. Mike Easley, governor from 2001-2009.

Robinson has been a factory worker. Stein is a Dartmouth and Harvard-educated attorney. 

On the issues, the two men are also polar opposites. Robinson is pro-life, and Stein is pro-choice. Robinson praises the tax-cutting policies of the GOP General Assembly; Stein condemns them. On taxes, immigration, education, regulation, spending, and most any other issue, the candidates are just as divided as the two major political parties they represent are from one another.

Our April Carolina Journal poll showed Robinson’s support at 39.9%. Stein garnered 37.9% support. However according to 538 polling, Stein has topped most all other public polls since the two men captured their respective nominations in March.  

It’s quite a contrast. For Robinson to have a chance, voters will have to hear his story, warts and all. For Robinson to pull the upset, voters will have to embrace Robinson’s story as more like their own, than his opponent.

Dallas Woodhouse is the NC executive director for American Majority and author of The Woodshed for Carolina Journal.