The 2020 election season starts unofficially today at noon, with the opening of candidate filing for most races.

It’s going to be a contentious year, says Michael Bitzer, professor of Politics and History at Catawba College.

“In addition to a highly competitive presidential election, there’s a U.S. Senate and a gubernatorial contest, along with likely some competitive U.S. House of Representatives and state legislative contests,” Bitzer said.

Bitzer said party loyalty will play a role in next year’s contest. The health of the national economy, the approval rating for President Trump, and voter enthusiasm are all factors for lower-ballot candidates, even though these factors are largely out of their control.

All 170 legislative seats are up for grabs. And under a court order, legislative maps have been redrawn since the 2018 election.

Democrats will have a chance to take control of the General Assembly. Republicans have a 65-55 majority in the House and a 29-21 edge in the Senate. If Democrats oust enough Republicans to take charge of one or both chambers, then Democrats will have a much bigger role in the process of drawing new legislative and congressional maps after the 2020 Census figures are out.

Several state Supreme Court contests are set, with Chief Justice Cheri Beasley, a Democrat, facing a challenge from Republican Associate Justice Paul Newby. Two other incumbent Democratic justices are seeking a full eight-year term. 

“While they may not gain the attention of the ‘big three’ — presidential, U.S. Senate, governor — those races could influence the third branch of government in this state, as well,” Bitzer said.

Democrats hold a 6-1 majority on the court. But if Republicans sweep the three contests, the GOP may hope to swing one Democrat, perhaps centrist Justice Sam Ervin IV, to win majority votes on some divisive issues. 

Trump will cast a large shadow over the state races. 

“There is a strong and increasing correlation between how votes in a state are cast for president and for down-ballot offices,” John Dinan, political science professor at Wake Forest University, said. 

The relationship is especially strong for U.S. senate races, Dinan added.

The Democratic Party has its sights on flipping a number of U.S. Senate seats. Democrats will have to pick up three seats to take control of the Senate. Several House seats held by Republicans are also the target of Democrats looking to strengthen their hold on the chamber. 

In the Democratic Party’s crosshairs is U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis. The fate of the senator from North Carolina may well be tied to Trump, Dinan said. 

“In every U.S. Senate election held around the country in 2016, the winner of the Senate election aligned with the presidential election outcome in that state … If Donald Trump carries North Carolina in 2020 there is a very good chance that Thom Tillis will win re-election.”

While there’s a connection between the presidency and lower-ballot elections, Dinan said, the governor’s election is an exception to that rule. 

“Governors are the main officials who are still assessed by voters on their own record, and to some degree independently of voter behavior in presidential elections,” Dinan said. 

“The state does have a tradition of ‘splitting tickets’ when it comes to bouncing back and forth between the parties for different contests, but that phenomenon is lessening than it was in the 1990s,” Bitzer said.

With the fate of the congressional maps still tied up in court, the dates for candidate filing and primaries for those races are uncertain.

While filing hadn’t opened at press time, among those who’ve said they may run in various races are:

U.S. Senate

Republican candidates:

  • Incumbent Thom Tillis
  • Garland Tucker III, Raleigh businessman and historian* 
  • Sandy Smith, Winterville businesswoman 

Democratic candidates:

  • Cal Cunningham, former state senator 
  • Sen. Erica Smith, D-Northampton 
  • Trevor Fuller, Mecklenburg county commissioner 
  • Steven Williams, Durham businessman 


Democratic candidates:

  • Incumbent Roy Cooper 

Republican candidates:

  • Lt. Gov. Dan Forest 
  • Rep. Holly Grange, R-New Hanover 

Lieutenant Governor

Republican candidates:

  • Mark Johnson: state superintendent of public instruction 
  • Sen. Andy Wells, R-Catawba 
  • Scott Stone: former state representative  
  • Mark Robinson: Greensboro Republican, works at a furniture factory, served on the NRA National Outreach Board
  • Greg Gebhardt: business consultant and major in the N.C. National Guard
  • Renee Ellmers: former U.S. representative, served three terms in Congress until 2016
  • Deborah Cochran: former Mount Airy mayor
  • Buddy Bengel: New Bern businessman 

Democratic candidates:

  • Rep. Chaz Beasley, D-Mecklenburg
  • Sen. Terry Van Duyn, D-Buncombe 
  • Rep. Yvonne Lewis Holley, D-Wake
  • Allen Thomas, Hoke county commissioner 
  • Bill Toole, Charlotte lawyer 

Attorney General

Democratic candidates:

  • Josh Stein, incumbent 

Republican candidates:

  • Jim O’Neill: Forsyth County District Attorney

State Superintendent (open)

Democratic candidates:

  • Jen Mangrum: former educator and associate professor at UNC-Greensboro’s college of education
  • Keith Sutton: Wake County school board vice chairman
  • Michael Maher: president of the North Carolina Association of Colleges and Teacher Educators
  • James Barrett: former Chapel Hill-Carrboro school board member
  • Constance Law Johnson: former educator and publisher of CityPolitical magazine

Republican candidates:

  • Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union
  • Catherine Truitt, chancellor of Western Governors University N.C.
  • Chris Malone, former Wake County school board member 

State Treasurer

Republican candidates:

  • Dale Folwell, incumbent

Democratic candidates:

  • Ronnie Chatterji, professor at Duke University
  • Matt Leatherman, policy director for former State Treasurer Janet Cowell

State Auditor

Democratic candidates:

  • Beth Wood, incumbent

Republican candidates:

  • Tim Hoegemeyer, general counsel for the Office of State Auditor

Secretary of Labor (open)

Republican candidates:

  • Rep. Josh Dobson, R-McDowell 

Democratic candidates:

  • Eva Lee, tax attorney
  • Jessica Holmes, attorney and Wake County Board of Commissioners chairwoman

Secretary of State 

Democratic candidates:

  • Elaine Marshall, incumbent

Republican candidates:

  • Chad Brown, Gaston County commissioner
  • Michael LaPaglia, business consultant and 2016 Republican nominee for N.C. Secretary of State

Commissioner of Agriculture

Republican candidates:

  • Steve Troxler, incumbent

Democratic candidates:

  • Jenna Wadsworth, Wake County Soil and Water Conservation District supervisor

N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice

Democratic candidates:

  • Chief Justice Cheri Beasley, incumbent

Republican candidate:

  • Associate Justice Paul Newby

N.C. Supreme Court Associate Justice (two seats)

Democratic candidates:

  • Lucy Inman: N.C. Court of Appeals judge 

Republican candidates:

  • Phil Berger Jr.: N.C. Court of Appeals judge, son of Senate leader Phil Berger
  • Tamara Barringer: former Wake County state senator


*Tucker announced Monday he would not file for the U.S. Senate.