In North Carolina, primary voters choosing candidates to succeed term-limited Gov. Roy Cooper

RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina’s primaries on Tuesday chose potential successors to Gov. Roy Cooper, with the Democratic attorney general and Republican lieutenant governor among those seeking to advance what is expected to be an expensive and competitive fall campaign.

Five Democrats and three Republicans vied for their parties’ gubernatorial nominations in the nation’s ninth-largest state, which is also likely to be a presidential battleground this year.

Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, state Treasurer Dale Folwell and trial attorney Bill Graham are seeking the GOP nomination. The Democratic field includes Attorney General Josh Stein — who received Cooper’s endorsement — former Supreme Court Justice Mike Morgan and three other candidates who have spent very little.

Robinson, who would become the state’s first black governor, formally received Donald Trump’s endorsement at a rally this weekend. Trump called him “Martin Luther King on steroids” and compared his speaking skills to those of the late civil rights leader. But Robinson’s harsh comments on LGBTQ+ rights and other issues are seen as a problem by Democrats and some Republican opponents.

North Carolina is poised to become one of the most competitive states this fall as President Joe Biden and Trump appear headed toward a likely rematch. The race for governor could have presidential election implications if Democrats can use the controversies surrounding Trump and Robinson to portray Republicans as out of step with the state’s urban areas and unaffiliated voters, who now make up the state’s largest voting group.

Cooper, a Democrat who was first elected governor in 2016, has continued a long streak of Democratic dominance in the governor’s mansion in a Southern state that has moved further to the right. The Republican Party has won only one gubernatorial race since 1992.

A general election victory by a Republican would essentially be a neutral veto that Cooper has used a record number of times to block additional abortion restrictions, stricter voter requirements and other conservative-backed policies. However, Republican lawmakers have managed to override many of Cooper’s vetoes.

Robinson, who comes from a working-class background, is a favorite of the party’s Republican base. Although he has raised more money overall than his primary rivals, Folwell and Graham have used personal funds for late-campaign media buys. They have questioned Robinson’s electability in the general election, especially in light of his rhetoric when he was lieutenant governor and because of comments he made on social media before entering politics.

Stein, the son of a civil rights lawyer, is by far the biggest fundraiser in the race. His campaign committee raised more than $19.1 million and had $12.7 million in cash as of mid-February, according to the most recent campaign report summaries.

Stein, who would be the state’s first Jewish governor if elected, would largely seek to continue Cooper’s agenda of increasing public education funding and promoting clean energy industries, while serving as a bulwark against what Democrats see as extreme GOP policies. The former state lawmaker was narrowly elected attorney general in 2016 and has recently focused on protecting citizens from polluters, illegal drugs and high electricity bills.

Robinson, who is already the state’s first Black lieutenant governor, has dismissed conventional climate change as “junk science” and has fought against teachers who he says have assigned inappropriate reading material about racism and sexuality to young students. Robinson has said education leaders must be held accountable and teaching students the basics is among his policy goals if elected.

Before Tuesday, more than 690,000 people had cast ballots in person and by mail in North Carolina, where voters also chose nominees for other executive and appellate court positions across the state.