Josh Stein claimed victory Tuesday in his bid for a second term as N.C. Attorney General, saying he has defeated his Republican challenger, Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O'Neil.
With results from Rockingham and Stanly County still outstanding, Stein led O'Neill by 13,655 votes. Stein, a Democrat, had 50.1 percent of the vote compared to O'Neill's 49.8 percent.
Stein declared victory Tuesday morning and released this statement: "I am deeply thankful to and humbled by the more than 2.7 million North Carolinians who voted for me and the tens of thousands of people who helped power our campaign to victory. Protecting all the people of North Carolina — whether from crime, consumer fraud, addiction, pollution or discrimination — has been a privilege. I am eager to get to work as your Attorney General for another term to make North Carolina even safer and stronger. I commend Mr. O’Neill for the spirited race he ran."
O'Neill could not be immediately reached for comment Tuesday.
Since Election Night, the race between the two candidates had been close. But it doesn't appear close enough for O'Neill to request a recount. In order for that to happen, a candidate has to be trailing by no more than 0.5% of the total votes cast (27,065 in this race) or no more than 10,000 votes, whichever is less. O'Neill trails Stein by more than 13,000 votes.
Stein, a former state senator who served as an assistant attorney general under then-Attorney General Roy Cooper, was running for his second term. O'Neill has been Forsyth's District Attorney since 2009, when he was appointed by then-Gov. Bev Perdue to serve out the rest of Tom Keith's term when Keith retired.
This is O'Neill's second attempt at the state's top prosecutor position. He ran in 2016 but lost in the Republican primary to Buck Newton. Newton lost to Stein in the general election.
During the campaign, O'Neill cast himself as a law-and-order prosecutor who had won the support of law-enforcement officers and alleged that Stein turned his back on law-enforcement at a time in which there have been increasing protests over police brutality and racial injustice. Stein has said he supports law enforcement officers but also wants to see criminal justice reform.
The most heated dispute between the two men was over how Stein handled a backlog of untested rape kits. O'Neill said Stein didn't step up significantly to tackle the issue until O'Neill brought it up publicly. Recently, the candidates battled each other over a political ad that Stein's campaign ran. That ad featured a woman who said she is a sexual-assault survivor and that she was shocked and upset to learn O'Neill had 1,500 untested rape kits on his shelves. O'Neill said that was a false ad and that prosecutors have no control over submitting rape kits to the State Crime Lab. That is a responsibility of law-enforcement agencies.
O'Neill's campaign filed a complaint with the State Board of Elections and during a press call last week, O'Neill said he would pursue criminal charges against Stein through the elections board and that he would file a complaint with the State Bar.
An audit in 2018 revealed North Carolina had 15,000 untested rape kits. Stein pushed for additional funding to get rape kits tested and a new state law was passed to prevent future backlogs. Authorities have said the backlog was a result of DNA testing not being available until the 1990s, the high costs of testing and that victims sometimes recanted allegations, according to a 2019 Winston-Salem Journal story. In April 2019, Stein praised the Winston-Salem Police Department for submitting 346 aging sexual-assault kits to the State Crime Lab for review and testing.
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