At an event Thursday, N.C. Governor Roy Cooper declined to endorse Josh Stein, N.C.’s current attorney general who launched his candidacy for governor earlier this week.

After Cooper declined to say whether he would be endorsing Stein, the governor’s team provided the following statement:

“Josh Stein has worked to battle the opioid crisis and protect consumers and he’s been an excellent attorney general for North Carolina. I have two years left in my term and right now I’m focused on getting things done for the people of this state.”

Stein is the first Democrat to enter the race for North Carolina governor. Stein entered the race more than a year and a half in advance of the 2024 general election, which is unprecedented in recent North Carolina history, as Western Carolina University political science professor Chris Cooper pointed out on Twitter.

Stein’s ad was launched as he and his lawyers wait for a decision from the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals on whether a law banning candidates from knowingly lying in a campaign ad is constitutional. An appellate panel heard oral arguments in the case on Dec. 6. Stein asked the court to overturn the law after the Wake D.A.’s office sent a case against Stein and his 2020 ad against Republican challenger Jim O’Neill to a grand jury this summer with possible charges.

There has been some speculation that current EPA Administrator Michael Regan, a N.C. native, might enter the Democratic governor’s primary. U.S. Rep. Valerie Foushee, who represents N.C.’s 4th Congressional District, said she’s heard “murmurings, nothing concrete” about Regan’s candidacy, Bryan Anderson reported.

Foushee has endorsed Stein.

Jonathan Felts, a Republican political consultant, questioned whether Stein was as strong of a candidate as Regan, and implied that Cooper’s consultants might be pushing him to endorse Stein.

Morgan Jackson, a longtime North Carolina democratic political consultant, provides consulting services for both Cooper and Stein, according to Jackson’s bio on his firm’s website.

While Stein’s announcement video has received widespread praise, some have questioned the timing of his early jump into the race.

N.C. Lt. Governor Mark Robinson is currently the front runner to be the Republicans’ 2024 nominee for governor. Stein explicitly attacks Robinson using short clips from Robinson’s speeches to various church groups.

Conrad Pogorzelski, an advisor for Robinson, said that “[Stein] is hoping that by creating the narrative that it is him against Robinson, he can avoid a primary against Joan Higginbotham or Michael Regan.”

Joan Higginbotham, a former astronaut who was the third black woman to go to space, considered running for North Carolina’s open U.S. Senate seat in 2022.

Stein has already lined up an impressive list of endorsements from fellow Democrats.