They’re a path to becoming governor, but attorney general jobs are now a destination, too

Instead of trying to keep their seats in Congress, two North Carolina politicians are vying for a prominent position closer to home: attorney general.

The career path that Republican U.S. Rep. Dan Bishop and Democratic U.S. Rep. Jeff Jackson are trying to follow was once a rarity but has become more common across the country as the attorney general position has become more prominent — and a more partisan tone has adopted.

The race in North Carolina is one of the most closely watched of the 10 U.S. attorney general elections in November. Bishop is the only Republican running in the swing state, but Jackson faces two other Democrats in the March 5 primary.

The differences between the candidates are large. The attorney general’s role includes enforcing state laws and whether to defend them when they are challenged in court. And the North Carolina candidates couldn’t be more different in their approaches.

Jackson said, for example, he could follow the path of the Democratic incumbent and refuse to support a law passed last year that would ban most abortions after the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. “I see this job as standing up for people in defense of their basic rights,” Jackson said in an interview. “I am prepared to stand up to the state legislature.”

Bishop, on the other hand, said he would defend the law and others — even if he disagreed with them — unless “it is unconstitutional without any reasonable argument.”

Their state is one of six where the incumbent president will not appear on the ballot, including Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah, Washington and West Virginia. Incumbents are expected to try to keep their jobs in Indiana, Missouri, Montana and Vermont.

Most states with elections are dominated by one party, but purple Pennsylvania has a crowded primary for both Republicans and Democrats in April.


The position of attorney general has been a stepping stone to higher office for so long that there’s a joke that “AG” stands for “aspiring governor.” North Carolina’s current attorney general, Josh Stein, is running for governor, as are top government lawyers in Washington and West Virginia. Former President Bill Clinton and current Vice President Kamala Harris have attorney general on their resumes, along with a long list of governors and senators.

But over the past decade, a pipeline has developed from Congress to the attorney general. Five sitting attorneys general — Anthony Brown of Maryland, Keith Ellison of Minnesota, Tim Griffin of Arkansas, Raul Labrador of Idaho and Todd Rokita of Indiana — all previously served in Congress.

It’s a big change.

“You don’t have to find 218 people to get a vote,” Ellison, a Democrat who previously served six terms in Congress, a state lawmaker and director of a public interest law firm, said in an interview. “You say, ‘This is what we’re going to do, team.'”

Ellison said his time in Congress helped him get to know the federal agencies he now often works with, but that his time as a trial attorney was also important in preparing him for his current job.


Duties vary by state, but generally include roles as a criminal prosecutor: representing the state in court and protecting consumers, the latter often accomplished through cross-state lawsuits against companies.

Attorneys general in recent years have been on the front lines of lawsuits and settlements against drug makers and others over the toll of prescription opioid painkillers; and most of them came together last year to sue Facebook parent company Meta, claiming features on its social media platforms are addictive.

However, it has become increasingly common over the past two decades for attorneys general to work alone with colleagues from their party to challenge federal government policies—usually policies implemented by presidents of the opposite party.

Bishop, a member of the conservative Freedom Caucus who joined Congress after winning a special election in 2019, said that with an often gridlocked Congress, presidents use regulations to create policy — and overstep their bounds.

“It is often the job of the AGs to protect fundamental rights and stop regulatory overreach,” he said.

Bishop said he supports the effort by the Republican attorneys general of Missouri and Louisiana to ban the FBI and other government agencies from contacting social media platforms such as Facebook and X, formerly Twitter, to urge content removal. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on the case on March 18.

There have also been anti-corporate biases. Last year, 13 Republican Party attorneys general warned the CEOs of the 100 largest U.S. companies that there could be legal consequences if race was used as a factor in hiring. But so far this has not led to any lawsuits.

Meanwhile, during Donald Trump’s presidency, Democrats have repeatedly sued over policies such as banning travel to the U.S. from several predominantly Muslim countries and allowing more employers to opt out of providing contraception due to religious or moral reasons. claim objections. Democratic attorneys general also defended former President Barack Obama’s health insurance overhaul in court, while the Trump administration did not.


Jackson, a TikTok-savvy politician during his first term in Congress, decided to enter the race after redrawn congressional maps removed him from the district he represented west of Charlotte.

It would have taken him years to build up seniority to gain significant power in the House of Representatives. But the job he now seeks is different, he said: “You reach your full influence when you are elected attorney general,” he said.

Also on the primary ballot are Democrats Satana Deberry, a progressive prosecutor, and Tim Dunn, a lawyer in private practice. Jackson has a major fundraising lead and has the support of Democrats in North Carolina’s congressional delegation.

James Tierney, a former attorney general in Maine, one of seven states where attorneys general are appointed rather than elected, teaches about the office at Harvard Law School. He said people in this job should be careful not to take purely partisan action, as this could weaken the agency’s influence.

“If an AG acts like a congressman, they will be treated like a congressman,” he said, “and will not receive the deference from the judges and the bar that an attorney general deserves.”