- Associated Press - Monday, June 1, 2015

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Republican state Sen. Buck Newton announced his 2016 bid for attorney general on Monday, portraying himself as one who would confront what many conservatives consider federal overreach while focusing on basics as the state’s top lawyer and law enforcement officer.

Citizens “very desperately want someone to stand up and fight for the citizens of the state - fight to protect their rights, fight crime, and just as important fight to stand up against an overbearing federal government,” Newton said in Raleigh.

Newton, a Wilson attorney, scheduled six stops on his first day as an announced candidate, beginning with a breakfast in the Montgomery County town of Star - the state’s geographical center.

He made stops outside federal courthouses to highlight how he believes he’d be different than four-term Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat. Cooper is expected to run for governor next year, opening the post.

Republicans and social conservatives have been unhappy with Cooper’s decision to stop defending North Carolina’s constitutional ban on gay marriage after a federal appeals court struck down Virginia’s similar prohibition. The legislature had to hire outside counsel to defend the constitutional amendment approved in 2012.

And GOP Gov. Pat McCrory - but not Cooper - entered a multistate lawsuit questioning President Barack Obama’s decisions last fall to shield millions of additional immigrants from deportation without legislation. Newton said that if he were attorney general, he would have joined that lawsuit and “would have been able to defend the laws of this state.”

Citizens “want an attorney general who is basically going to fight to protect them and stand up for the constitution,” he said.

Newton helped shepherd a bill through the Senate that allows some court officials to decline to perform gay marriage duties due to religious objections. McCrory vetoed the bill last week. The Senate voted Monday to override the veto. The house is expected to vote Wednesday.

The state Democratic Party pointed out that Newton also was a sponsor of a “religious freedom” bill - a measure that hasn’t been debated - that would provide business owners or individuals a stronger defense for refusing to carry out laws based on religious beliefs.

“Newton has spent his time in the Senate completely consumed by fringe social issues,” state party spokesman Ford Porter said in a release.

Newton, 46, is a co-chairman of a judiciary committee and appropriations panel on justice and law enforcement matters. He was first elected to the Senate in 2010, defeating Democratic incumbent A.B. Swindell. Newton arrived as Republicans alone controlled the General Assembly for the first time in 140 years. He’s also been involved in bills about authorizing fracking and easing concealed weapon restrictions.

Newton said continued testing backlogs in the state crime laboratory - under Cooper’s purview - in part led to his decision to run.

Newton’s Senate colleague Josh Stein, D-Wake, is considering a run for his party’s attorney general’s nomination. Fayetteville attorney Tim Dunn already has said he’ll probably run.

“I expect it to be a hard-fought campaign,” Newton said.

A Republican hasn’t been elected as North Carolina’s attorney general in more than 100 years. Cooper has been state government’s highest ranking Democrat since McCrory became governor in 2013.

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