While for the most part Buncombe voters defied state and national trends and elected Democrats, local Republican and Tea Party leaders say they see signs of hope in this week’s results.
Huddled with about 25 supporters at their headquarters at the Carpet Connection in Leicester, Buncombe GOP chair Chad Nesbitt told Xpress on election night that he was proud of the way the party campaigned this year.
“We’re in the most liberal county in Western North Carolina: If you look at the maps of Fox and even MSNBC and CNN, it’s all red around Buncombe County and Buncombe County has got a big blue spot,” he explained. “I think we did great considering we’re outrun by Democrats in Buncombe by four to one.”
Asked if there was anything he learned from orchestrating a number of unprecedented GOP campaign activities this season – such as staging a controversial 9/11 fundraiser, a television telethon and a protest of an early voting rally in a street sweeper (to “sweep the Democrats out of power”) – Nesbitt remained defiant in the face of Democratic criticism.
“I think everything worked that we did,” he asserted. “I can’t see anything that we’ve done wrong. We’ve got some re-organizational things that we need to do as far as just [getting] people as precinct chairs. But to get out the vote, we did everything we could with the man power that we had. And we did an excellent job at doing so.”
Nesbitt blamed the party’s low fundraising numbers (Nesbitt had predicted the telethon would raise $250,000 – $300,000; reports to the State Board of Elections showed it raised nothing and that the party raised $0 throughout the entire month of October) on the tough economy.
“We’re excited about what we’ve done. But raising money-wise, everybody’s broke in the Republican Party. Everybody’s in a holding pattern,” he explained.
As signs of success, Nesbitt pointed to Tim Moffitt’s defeat over incumbent Democrat Jane Whilden in Buncombe’s 116 state House district and Lisa Baldwin’s win for Board of Education in the Reynolds district.
“The Democratic voters out here are going to watch Tim Moffit very carefully and when they see what he can do when he gets down there, they’re going to be extremely thrilled,” he explained. “I think that once they see the leadership that he can bring to Raleigh and bring to Western North Carolina and Buncombe County, Democrats are going to want to pull more our way.”
Second vice chair of the local GOP Don Yelton was also on hand at the gathering and said he saw the slight inroads by Republicans as harbingers of better things to come.
“One of the things I want to point out is this is the first time – being a Democrat for 35 years and a Republican for seven – that I can think of that the Republican Party has had a full slate of candidates.” he noted. “I can remember when I was a young child, you had to vote in the Democrat primary to have any input, because the Republicans didn’t even have a primary. So the Republicans are definitely gaining ground.”
Yelton went on to credit Nesbitt and his often media attention-grabbing tactics for the gains.
“I think we had an aggressive campaign this year. … I think our chairman has done a good job of getting the name out there and being a fighter, standing up for our principles, and I think that’s the reason we were able to do what we did,” he explained. “If you start comparing what has happened to us and what has happened in the past, I feel better about it the I have in a long time.”
Meanwhile, over at the Tea Party gathering at TK Tripps in downtown Asheville, chair Jane Bilello agreed that Republican candidates endorsed by her group such as failed sheriff hopeful Dickie Green and losing State Senate candidate RL Clark were victims of a historical imbalance.
“For a hundred years, the progressives have really become quite entrenched in our government locally and they’ve done a really great job of it, and it’s going to take a while. It’s not going to take one election cycle,” she explained before revealing that the movement is gearing up for next year’s city council race and plans to canvass Buncombe neighborhoods against forced annexation.
“This is the first show, so to speak, the first chapter,” Bilello noted as she circulated among the crowd of about 30 people, handing out pocket-size copies of the Constitution. “Considering we’ve only been around a year-and-a-half, we’ve made some significant inroads. People know that we’re here.”
Pictured: Buncombe GOP Headquarters on election night. Photos by Jonathan Welch