- Associated Press - Monday, September 21, 2015

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) - State Sen. Josh Stein, a former deputy to North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper, made appearances in some of the state’s larger cities on Monday as he officially launched his bid to succeed his old boss.

Stein appeared in Winston-Salem, the second of his four stops after beginning the day in Charlotte. Stops were also planned in Greensboro and Raleigh.

Speaking under gray skies on the steps of the former post office which now serves as a reception and entertainment venue, Stein said he wanted to protect families by cracking down on violent crime and protect taxpayers by stamping out Medicaid fraud.

“As attorney general, I’ll stand up for people who work hard and play by the rules, and I will take on politicians and big corporations when they don’t because no one is above the law,” Stein said.

The Democrat initially told supporters Sunday of his decision to run for attorney general and launched his campaign’s website. Stein said earlier he was considering a 2016 run for attorney general if Cooper did not seek re-election. Cooper is planning a bid to unseat Republican Gov. Pat McCrory.

Another likely campaign target is gay marriage and the effort by the Republican-led legislature to ban it. Cooper was criticized for refusing to defend the state’s position before the U.S. Supreme Court ruling which affirmed same-sex marriage.

“I think that was the right decision for the taxpayers, the right decision for the people,” Stein said, adding that he would defend the state on law with which he might personally disagree unless those laws are deemed unconstitutional.

Stein, 49, grew up in Chapel Hill, the son of a civil rights lawyer. He graduated from Dartmouth College and Harvard Law School and briefly worked as a teacher in Zimbabwe.

Stein’s political career rose when he became the U.S. Senate campaign manager for John Edwards, who was then a little-known Raleigh lawyer making his first bid for political office. Edwards upset Republican incumbent Lauch Faircloth in November 1998. Stein served as one of Edwards’ top aides early in his Senate term.

Stein later joined Cooper’s team as head of the Department of Justice’s consumer protection division, where he worked for eight years on problems such as predatory lending. He was elected to the state Senate in 2008, succeeding now-State Treasurer Janet Cowell.

In the N.C. Senate, Stein rose to the No. 2 spot among the chamber’s dwindling number of Democrats since Republicans took over following the 2010 elections. He’s often been the foil to Republicans when significant GOP legislation on the budget and social issues have reached the floor.

Republicans and Sen. Buck Newton, who has already announced he’s running for attorney general, quickly throttled Stein on social media and in news releases Monday, calling him a “typical liberal politician” and Cooper protege.

“Josh Stein is a typical left-wing politician who would seek to continue the disturbing trend of letting Washington decide what is best for North Carolina,” Newton, of Wilson, said. “Roy Cooper’s protege will continue to champion big government while ignoring the Constitution, individual liberties and the people of North Carolina.”

They also emphasized his connection to Edwards, whose 2008 presidential candidacy imploded because of a sex scandal. Stein said he didn’t consider his work with Edwards as a potential liability in his own campaign.

“It was 15 or 16 years ago I last worked for Sen. Edwards,” Stein said. “My work over that time, I was eight years as senior deputy attorney general, doing the work of protecting the people, and I’m a four-term state senator where I fought for the middle class and tried to make our communities safer. That’s what people are going to care about.”

In addition to Newton, Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neill, also a Republican, has formed a campaign committee.

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Statehouse reporter Gary D. Robertson in Raleigh contributed to this report.

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