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Durham District Attorney Satana Deberry to challenge Jeff Jackson in Democratic primary for attorney general

Satana Deberry is running for N.C. attorney general
Satana Deberry
Satana Deberry is running for N.C. attorney general

Durham County District Attorney Satana Deberry is running for North Carolina attorney general, challenging Rep. Jeff Jackson in the March Democratic primary.

Deberry’s candidacy is the first significant opposition to Jackson, who announced last month he was running after GOP lawmakers redrew his congressional district in Mecklenburg and Gaston counties to favor a Republican.

Deberry was elected Durham district attorney in 2018 and was reelected last year.

“We don’t want people to think that there is not a choice in this race, that there is not somebody who is qualified, who is experienced, who is a prosecutor who has run a large office and who has the courage to do the job,” she said. “And I don’t think there is a candidate now who has any of that.”

She would be the first Black woman elected to a council of state office in North Carolina. She has called herself a “progressive prosecutor” and has spoken about how Black and brown people have been overpoliced.

“My lived experience makes me a better candidate,” Deberry said.

She added that she is “trying to right-size the criminal justice system” by focusing on violent crime instead of minor offenses.

Deberry enters the race as the underdog.

Jackson drew large crowds in his unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate last year. He’s also a potent fundraiser with a large following on social media.

“I don’t concede he has more name recognition,” she said. “I can raise money. And I think there are people out there who want to see a ticket with an attorney general who knows what they are doing. Someone who is a serious lawyer. I’m a serious lawyer and a serious person — not a national social media following.”

That dig is a reference to Jackson’s huge audience on X, formerly Twitter, as well as Facebook and TikTok. He has about 2.5 million followers on the Chinese-owned short video app.

The jibe also resembles Republican attorney general candidate Dan Bishop’s first attack on Jackson, calling him a “Chinese Social Media Star,” a reference to TikTok. Bishop, a congressman from Waxhaw, is favored to win the Republican primary.

Deberry’s political base is Durham County, the state’s sixth largest county and most Democratic county. (Durham gave Cheri Beasley more than 80% of the vote in last year’s U.S. Senate race. That’s a higher percentage than any other North Carolina county.)

She works in the Raleigh-Durham media market, which is almost equal in size to Charlotte.

Before becoming Durham district attorney, she was the executive director of the N.C. Housing Coalition and general counsel for the Department of Health and Human Services.

But can she convey her message and experience to statewide voters in what she acknowledged is a “sprint” to the March primary?

Western Carolina political science professor Chris Cooper, who lives at the far end of the state, said he had not heard of Deberry. He said that Jackson is “the most prominent politician ever to run for North Carolina attorney general.”

Jackson signed up for the Army Reserve after the Sept. 11 terror attacks and served in Afghanistan. He still serves in the National Guard as a major. He was a prosecutor in the Gaston County District Attorney’s office.

He was a state senator from 2014 to 2022, where he worked to close a loophole in state law that made it impossible for a woman to revoke consent after she began having sex.

Jeff Jackson announced last month he is running for N.C. Attorney General
Steve Harrison/WFAE
Jeff Jackson announced last month he is running for N.C. Attorney General

When he ran against Cheri Beasley last year in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, he was bedeviled by a lack of support and endorsements from his colleagues. Even after drawing large crowds on the campaign, he dropped out of the race at the end of 2021.

He then won a newly drawn congressional seat that covered half of Mecklenburg County and most of Gaston.

In running for attorney general, he’s rolled out endorsements from the other six Democratic members of the North Carolina congressional delegation. He also trotted out this week a list of more than 40 endorsements from legislators (including from some in the Triangle) and Charlotte-area local officials.

His campaign released a statement that said: "As a former prosecutor and Army Major in the JAG Corps, Congressman Jackson has spent his life in public service, fighting for North Carolina families. We're glad to welcome anyone to the race and hope that the primary can be positive and thoughtful."

On the Democratic side, the state’s top two races have an interesting dynamic.

Josh Stein, the current attorney general, is running for governor. He announced his candidacy almost a year ago. He’s favored and has the backing of Gov. Roy Cooper.

Former state Supreme Court justice Michael Morgan has also entered the race, refusing to let Stein win the primary without a fight.

Both Morgan and Deberry are Black. They are hoping the Democratic primary electorate — which can be 35 to 40% African American — will propel them in March.

Two other Democrats have announced they are running: Tim Dunn of Fayetteville and Charles Ingram of Duplin County.

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Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.