- Associated Press - Monday, October 12, 2015

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - A North Carolina district attorney said Monday that he’s running for attorney general because he has the experience to handle the job.

“If you’re going to be the top prosecutor in North Carolina, you should be an actual prosecutor. You should be qualified, tested and ready on Day One,” Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neill said.

He becomes the second GOP candidate to enter the race. GOP state Sen. Buck Newton has already announced his candidacy.

Four-term Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat, is planning to run for governor next year, opening the post.

Two Democrats have said they’re running for Cooper’s seat: state Sen. Josh Stein and Fayetteville attorney Tim Dunn.

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 Republican Pat McCrory became governor in 2013.

O’Neill has been Forsyth County district attorney since 2009, when then-Gov. Bev Perdue appointed him to serve out the term of a retiring prosecutor. He ran unopposed in 2010 and 2014.

He said he won’t attack other candidates - even Cooper. Instead, he said he’d focus on his strengths as well as the issues.

One issue: fixing the long delays at the state’s crime laboratory.

“It’s unconscionable that prosecutors and defendants are waiting so long to get results back. That’s one of the first items that I would attack,” O’Neill said. “Secondly, I believe that the will of the people should be carried out … especially when it comes to the death penalty.”

As a prosecutor, he said he handled murders cases and that he’d “provide the resources, the manpower and the expertise of the AG’s office” to move forward with the death penalty, which would “provide some closure to the families of murder victims.”

The state hasn’t carried out an execution since 2006 due to various legal appeals.

Newton, a Wilson attorney, has portrayed 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.

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 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.”

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