By David Rogers. November 9, 2016. BLOWING ROCK, NC — Pundits and talking heads are labelling Donald Trump’s winning run for the White House an historic political event in America, his defeat of Hillary Clinton a grassroots political revolution by the disenfranchised, mostly “white” majority that have “had it up to here” with what they overwhelmingly describe as a mostly broken political system. The drama and often furor of Trump vs. Clintan largely reduced many gubernatorial, Congressional, state, and local political races to “sideshow” status.
North Carolina and Watauga County elections arguably impact local residents faster and with greater impact than the campaigns determining the persons sitting in the Oval Office or in Congressional seats. In this story, Blowing Rock News takes a cursory look at selected races.
- Roy Cooper
- Pat McCrory
While incumbent Republican Pat McCrory won 72 of North Carolina’s counties, but the 28 counties in which he lost to Democrat Roy Cooper had a major impact in statewide voting results. Those counties included major population centers such as Mecklenburg (Charlotte), Wake (Raleigh), Durham (Durham), Buncombe (Asheville), Pitt (Greenville), Forsyth (Winston-Salem), Guilford (Greensboro), and New Hanover (Wilmington), with Cooper often winning by substantial margins. Interestingly, where the current North Carolina Attorney General won a more rural county, it was by a slim margin, whereas McCrory’s wins in more rural counties was often far more convincing, with as much as 65%-70% of the vote.
Especially in counties with large state and private universities, Cooper prevailed by large margins, including between 60% and 70% of the vote. The more urban counties’ percentage of ballots cast for Cooper:
- Mecklenburg (Charlotte, UNC-Charlotte) — 63.29%
- Buncombe (Asheville, UNC-Asheville) — 59.33%
- Watauga (Boone, Appalachian State) — 52.63%
- Forsyth (Winston-Salem, Winston-Salem State, Wake Forest) — 56.22%
- Guilford (Greensboro, UNC-Greensboro) — 60.87%
- Wake (Raleigh, NC State) — 59.90%
- Durham (Duke) — 78.54%
- Edgecombe (Rocky Mount ) — 65.28%
- Pasquotank (Elizabeth City, Elizabeth City State) — 50.98%
- Pitt (Greenville, East Carolina University) — 52.30%
Rightly or wrongly, McCrory became the face of the Republican Party’s “HB2,” the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, which evolved as controversial legislation described by its opponents as “…the most anti-LGBT legislation in the U.S.” (ABC News, CNN, PBS). The backlash to HB2’s passage by the Republican-dominated legislative bodies was intense, including high profile companies and events opting out of North Carolina plans.
In early August, McCrory also came under fire for letting a legislative bill become law without his signature that transferred $500,000 from the state’s Emergency Response and Disaster Relief Fund into a fund controlled by the governor for costs arising from HB2-related litigation (Raleigh-based News & Observer). Ironically, the looming race for governor played a role in that decision, too. McCrory, reported the News & Observer on August 1, 2016, said he preferred that the litigation costs come from the Attorney Genera’s budget, “…since that’s who is refusing to do his job.” Meanwhile the Attorney General, Roy Cooper, said he would not defend the constitutionality of the bill.
After Hurricane Matthew hit the coastal counties of North Carolina in early October, with significant flooding and loss of power, McCrory’s critics pointed to the diversion of those funds to offset HB2 litigation from emergency and disaster relief as why those counties were denied FEMA relief funding.
Cooper’s winning the gubernatorial race puts North Carolina’s executive branch at odds with its legislative branch of government. With not all votes completely tallied, it appears that the Republicans will end up with 74 of the 120 State House seats up for election, and 35 of the 50 State Senate seats. Republican-initiated legislation often got rubber-stamped by McCrory, though not always. Considering the backlash to McCrory’s support of HB2, it is ironic that the LGBT community does not give him credit for his 2015 veto of a bill (Senate Bill 2) that would allow public officials to opt out of marrying same-sex couples for “sincerely held religious” objections (Raleigh’s WTVD). Said McCrory during a March 2015 radio interview in Charlotte: “I don’t think you should have an exemption when you took an oath to uphold…the constitution of North Carolina.” Same sex marriage was legalized in North Carolina in 2014.
SIDENOTE: Cooper’s margin of victory in the race for the Governor’s Mansion was a mere 5,001 votes. Third-party Libertarian candidates have been described as disgruntled former Republicans who tend to agree with the GOP’s platform favoring economic freedoms, a strong national defense, the right to bear arms, and less government. However, they tend to differ with mainstream Republicans on social issues, such as separaton of church and state and, more recently, same-gender marriage. The Libertarian candidate for Governor of North Carolina, Lon Cecil, proved a difference maker in the 2016 election by tallying 101,049 votes (2.17% of the total).
As hateful as the U.S. campaigns for President often were, North Carolina’s race for the U.S. Senate between Republican incumbent Richard Burr and challenger Deborah K. Ross was just as bitter when it came to television and other media advertising.
- Richard Burr — 2,371,439 (51.11%)
- Deborah Ross — 2,103,334 (45.33%)
- Sean Haugh — 165,163 (3.56%)
U.S. House of Representatives District 5
Democratic challenger Josh Brannon narrowly carried Watauga County (50.99%) and Forsyth County (53.52%), but incumbent Republican Virginia Foxx dominated in the nine other counties within the district. On the high end, Foxx bagged 77.84% of the votes in Yadkin County and on the “low” end, 69.16% of the votes in Ashe County.
- Virginia Foxx — 204,943 (58.46%)
- Josh Brannon — 145,597 (41.54%)
North Carolina House of Representatives District 93
Democratic challenger and Watauga resident Sue Counts captured her home county with almost 53% of Watauga County’s votes, but Republican incumbent and Ashe County-based Jonathan Jordan dominated in his home county with 65.39% of the smaller population. That was enough to put Jordan over the top, overall.
- Jonathan Jordan — 21,667 (53.01%)
- Sue Counts — 19,209 (46.99%)
North Carolina State Senate District 45
Republican Deanna Ballard ran away with this one, after being appointed to replace Dan Soucek when he stepped down this past April to take a job in the private sector. She was opposed by Democratic candidate Art Sherwood, a native of Watauga County with ties to Blowing Rock who worked for a reported three decades with veterans and others with spinal cord injuries at Texas Medical Center in Houston. Ballard’s candidacy was aided by her executive position with Samaritan’s Purse and most likely that she was only allowed to serve for approximately seven months.
- Deanna Ballard — 56,313 (65.02%)
- Art Sherwood — 30,294 (34.98%)
Watauga County Commissioner District 1
- Perry Yates (incumbent, Republican) — 14,546 (52.61%)
- Diane Warman Blanks (Democrat) — 13,101 (47.39%)
Yates prevailed in all but the three, more urban Boone precincts. In the more rural areas of Watauga County, he garnered as much as 83.70% (Beaver Dam precinct 2).
Watauga County Commissioner District 2
- John Welch (incumbent, Democrat) — 15,244 (55.39%)
- Elizabeth Shukis (Republican) — 12,277 (44.61%)
Shukis won almost all of the more rural precincts in Watauga County, but Welch dominated in the more urban center. At the Appalachian State precinct, Welch picked up 4,066 votes, more than twice the number for Shukis (1,762)
Watauga County Commissioner District 3
- Larry Turnbow (Democrat) — 14,072 (50.93%
- David Blust (incumbent, Republican) — 13,558 (49.07%)
This is another case where a Democratic candidate dominated more populated precinct catapulted a the “blue” party’s candidate past the Republican candidate. Turnbow’s only precinct victories were in the three central Boone precincts and southwest of downtown Boone. The Democrats seemed well organized in their early voting efforts, where Turnbow captured 10,377 votes to Blust’s 7962. On Election Day, Blust polled 5,097 vs. 3,164 for Turnbow.
Watauga County Board of Education
Incumbents won the day, beating back a strong challenge from Steve Combs, who picked up 22.72% of the vote to finish 4th.
- Brenda Reese — 15,637 (26.17%)
- Ron Henries — 15,115 (25.30%)
- Barbara Kinsey — 14,884 (24.91%)
- Steve Combs — 13,575 (22.72%)