Buck Newton speaks with attendees at the Wilson County Republican Party's election night reception at the Wilson Elks Lodge Tuesday night.
Grant Roberson | Special to the Times
By Corey Friedman
Josh Stein will take over for his former boss at the N.C. Department of Justice and send Republican rival Buck Newton home to Wilson empty-handed if unofficial results in the attorney general race are certified.
The Democratic former senior deputy attorney general bested Newton by a statewide margin of 20,793 votes — 2,277,288 to 2,256,495 — according to the N.C. State Board of Elections. The race was too close to call when The Wilson Times went to press early Wednesday.
Stein amassed a 142,000-vote lead during early voting and one-upped Newton in his home county, garnering 13,699 votes to Newton’s 10,334 during Wilson County’s one-stop early voting period.
The Durham Democrat who served as a top lieutenant to Attorney General Roy Cooper resigned his N.C. Senate seat March 21 in order to campaign for the attorney general race. In an Asheboro debate and in speeches on the campaign trail, Stein criticized Newton for his support of House Bill 2, the law restricting access to restroom and shower facilities based on biological gender and setting a statewide nondiscrimination policy that excludes sexual orientation and gender identity.
Passed during a one-day special session of the General Assembly in March, HB2 nullified a Charlotte city ordinance that would have allowed transgender people to use the restrooms and sex-segregated facilities of the gender with which they identify and required Charlotte businesses to honor their bathroom choices.
Newton helped shepherd HB2 through the state Senate and has been among the law’s most vocal public defenders along with fellow Republicans including Gov. Pat McCrory, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, Senate leader Phil Berger and Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam, the House speaker pro-tem.
HB2’s proponents say the law protects women and girls’ privacy in public restrooms and showers and prevents Charlotte from setting private businesses’ bathroom policies. Opponents say the law discriminates against gays, lesbians and transgender people. Lawsuits challenging the bill’s constitutionality are winding their way through federal court.
Wilson County Republican Party leaders had high hopes for Newton, a private-practice attorney and three-term state senator.
“I think everybody’s excited,” GOP Chairwoman Christy Fyle said shortly after the polls closed Tuesday. “He’s the hometown boy. Having him as attorney general would be amazing.”
Fyle said a Newton victory would “let people know that you don’t have to be a big-city politician to win a statewide race.”
Parents Eldon and Bea Newton were campaigning for their son Tuesday afternoon outside the polls at Forest Hills Presbyterian Church.
“He’s had an incredible opportunity and great exposure,” Bea Newton said. “He’s gone across the state and he has met so many fine people. He has stood up for the values that I think this country was founded upon. If it doesn’t work out, he will have no regrets and he will have just benefited from the opportunity.”
The Newtons said they would be proud of their son no matter the outcome Tuesday night.
“We’ve had a lot of shows of support from friends and from people we didn’t even know,” Eldon Newton said. “It’s been very gratifying.”