State Sen. Buck Newton, a Wilson Republican, announced Monday that he’s running for attorney general in 2016.
Newton is the first Republican to enter the race, which will likely be competitive because Attorney General Roy Cooper is expected to run for governor instead of seeking another term.
Two Democrats have said they’ll likely run for attorney general but haven’t formally launched campaigns: Sen. Josh Stein of Raleigh, a former staffer under Cooper in the AG’s office, and Tim Dunn, Fayetteville lawyer and former congressional candidate. Their announcements aren’t expected until Cooper makes his gubernatorial ambitions official.
Newton was quick to criticize Cooper as he launched his campaign. “I’ve been rather frustrated with some of the shortcomings in our current attorney general’s office,” he told reporters. “The crime lab is a perfect example: A three-year backlog on toxicology. That’s just outrageous, we have to do better than that.”
The senator also noted Cooper’s decision not to join other states in a lawsuit opposing President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration.
“The role of a legislator is very different from the role of attorney general,” he said. “There are laws that we have passed that I may not agree with but are perfectly legal or perfectly valid and deserve to be defended if they’re challenged in court.”
Newton, 46, is an attorney who chairs the Senate’s Judiciary I Committee and the Appropriations Committee on Justice and Public Safety. He was first elected in 2010 to represent a district that includes parts of Wilson, Nash and Johnston counties.
This session, Newton co-sponsored Senate Bill 2 – a controversial measure exempting magistrates from performing marriages – with Senate leader Phil Berger. That bill was vetoed by Gov. Pat McCrory last week, and the Senate could soon move to override the veto.
Newton already has the endorsement of House Speaker Tim Moore, who told Wilson County Republicans in March that Newton “is a great senator, but he would make a better attorney general.”
Newton made multiple stops across the state Monday, making his campaign official during an early morning breakfast stop in Star, a Montgomery County town of just 900 people.
As one of the first candidates to officially enter a statewide race, Newton said the early jump on campaigning is key to introducing himself to voters.
“I don’t expect people in Charlotte or Western North Carolina to know who I am,” he said. “We think it’s important to represent the entire state. Star is very representative of North Carolina.”
And while Democrats don’t have an official candidate yet, the N.C. Democratic Party criticized Newton on Monday.
“Buck Newton is completely out of step with everyday North Carolinians,” party spokesman Ford Porter said. “Instead of creating jobs or standing up for hardworking families, Newton has spent his time in the Senate completely consumed by fringe social issues. Families look to the Attorney General for protection – do they really want a Ted Cruz-type ideologue filling that role?”