Painting by the numbers

It’s all over but the yard signs—those leftover bits of red, white and blue that still speckle the landscape in the wake of North Carolina’s May 6 primary.

After crisscrossing the state, tailed by the national media and closely scrutinized by hometown crowds, the presidential candidates and their entourages have moved on. And though the glitter of their presence left the state-level races somewhat in the shadows, the slate for the Nov. 4 general election is now more or less set (see box). The Democratic contest for commissioner of labor was declared eligible for a runoff, but at press time the runner-up had not requested one.

Making change: Barack Obama’s statewide success was mirrored in Buncombe County. Here, Michelle Obama makes the case for her husband at a rally at UNCA late in the primary campaign. Photo By: Jonathan Welch

So come November, former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory will head up the Republican ticket, running for governor against current Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue of New Bern. Another Charlotte Republican, state Sen. Robert Pittenger, will square off against Democratic state Sen. Walter Dalton of Rutherford County for the lieutenant governorship. Canton Mayor Pat Smathers placed third statewide behind Dalton but finished a strong second in Buncombe County.

Other discrepancies between the Buncombe County and overall totals included a local first-place finish by Commissioner David Young, who was running for state treasurer. Young lost the statewide race to state Sen. Janet Cowell of Raleigh. And Asheville City Council member Carl Mumpower, who collected 72.71 percent of the vote in Buncombe County, made do with 48.08 percent overall in his successful bid to win the Republican nomination for the 11th Congressional District. Mumpower will challenge incumbent Heath Shuler, a Democrat, for the House seat.

In the closely watched Democratic presidential primary, Sen. Barack Obama won 55.99 percent of the vote, compared with Sen. Hillary Clinton‘s 41.74 percent. And though most Western North Carolina counties swam against the statewide tide by favoring Clinton, Buncombe County turned out 54.67 percent for Obama. Lesser-known state statistics for this race include the 12,409 Democratic votes for former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel, who switched from the Democratic to the Libertarian Party in March of this year but remained on the Democratic ballot. Gravel, a senator during the Vietnam War, is noted for having made thousands of pages of the secret Pentagon Papers public, eliciting strong condemnation and legal action by the Nixon administration. “No preference” proved more popular than Gravel, however, pulling 23,042 votes.

Sen. John McCain, the Republican presidential nominee apparent, won 74.10 percent of the statewide vote, but 3.98 percent of North Carolina Republicans voted “no preference,” compared with 1.47 percent of Democrats.

The state experienced a surge in registration before the primary, ostensibly due to the presidential campaigns, and more than 2 million people voted (a 36.04 percent turnout). In the 2004 primary, the last time there were presidential candidates on the ballot, a mere 16 percent voted. But in that race, the party nominees were already more or less set by the time North Carolina’s late-in-the-season primary rolled around.

Buncombe County gained 5,156 registered voters between Dec. 12, 2007, and May 3, 2008. The Democratic Party picked up 2,938 voters, climbing from 69,956 to 72,894. Republican registration declined slightly during that period, from 49,023 to 49,015. There was also a significant increase in unaffiliated-voter registrations, which rose from 40,429 to 42,655—a net gain of 2,226.

In general, voter turnout across WNC matched or surpassed the state’s 36.04 percent. Buncombe County had a 38.06 percent turnout, while more than 40 percent of Haywood County voters made it to the polls.

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