The state’s Department of Justice now knows who will lead it for the next four years, and the winner gives Democrats a fourth spot on the 10-member Council of State where Republicans hold the majority.

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein won reelection Tuesday, the Associated Press declared two weeks after Election Day.

Stein told The News & Observer in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon that he had a big smile on his face.

“I’m just really honored that voters in North Carolina have hired me for another term to serve as their attorney general,” Stein said. “Serving as the attorney general is an incredible honor because I get to go to work to try to keep the people of North Carolina safe in a lot of different ways. I’m eager to continue that work.”

Since Nov. 3, the Democratic incumbent has led his Republican opponent, Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neill, by a narrow margin.

But that margin wasn’t small enough for O’Neill to ask for a recount. For that he would need less than 10,000 votes between him and Stein.

“North Carolinians know Josh Stein has been their champion at the Department of Justice, tonight they chose him for a second term,” said Wayne Goodwin, North Carolina’s Democratic Party chair, in a news release. “Josh has been a leading advocate for working families on issues ranging from consumer protections to affordable healthcare, we are proud to see him continue his work for another four years.”

On Tuesday at 6 p.m. after all counties reported their certified results Stein led O’Neill with 50.1% and had 13,624 more votes, out of the 5.4 million cast.

Stein sent an email to his supporters Tuesday telling them all votes had been counted and O’Neill was outside the range of a recount.

Stein said in his coming term he plans to continue battling the opioid epidemic, reforming the criminal justice system, protecting consumers, keeping drinking water clean and defending people’s personal liberties and rights.

Stein said he’s investigating corporations like Google and Facebook for alleged antitrust violations and suing Juul over allegations of targeting younger people with e-cigarettes. The vaping case is set to go to court in May, he said.

“That work will continue and I’m eager to get back at it,” Stein said.

North Carolina’s election left voters waiting for multiple races to be called, including the presidency. By the time the work by counties to certify results mostly wrapped up Friday, only two statewide races remained uncertain: attorney general and state Supreme Court chief justice.

Democratic Chief Justice Cheri Beasley led by just 35 votes, but then two counties found counting errors that led to her Republican opponent and colleague, Justice Paul Newby, taking back the lead. Washington County election officials reported that they counted mailed-in ballots twice. Robeson County officials said they forgot to report ballots from an early voting site. By Tuesday, Newby led by 406 votes, and Beasley demanded a recount, which will begin Thursday.

But those errors didn’t help O’Neill’s margins.

“Whenever you’re in a close race it can be really nerve-racking but I was confident that our lead would hold given the number of mailed in ballots, provisional ballots that were still out there and I’m glad that my confidence was well placed,” Stein said.

Stein’s path to AG

Stein and O’Neill have similar backgrounds. Both are 53 and married with three children. They both were born and attended colleges outside of North Carolina.

Stein’s win in 2016 made him North Carolina’s 50th attorney general.

Stein, a Dartmouth College graduate, began his career teaching English and economics in Zimbabwe.

He went on to earn law and public policy degrees from Harvard University.

Stein came to Durham and worked at Self-Help Credit Union where he helped turn abandoned drug houses into affordable single-family homes and at North Carolina Minority Support Center where he helped raise money to invest in small businesses.

Since then Stein has been an attorney for the U.S. Senate and a deputy attorney general, and in 2009 he became a state senator.

Stein succeeded Gov. Roy Cooper in 2016 as attorney general after Cooper decide to leave the role to run the state.

This story was originally published November 17, 2020 7:28 PM.