A closely divided Buncombe County Republican Party elected Henry Mitchell to succeed Chad Nesbitt as chairman.
After hours of deliberations, the precinct delegates gathered at the Buncombe County Courthouse for the party’s March 26 convention favored Mitchell over challenger Chris Eck, 62-51.
An Asheville native, Mitchell is a longtime party activist who recently ran an unsuccessful campaign for Buncombe County Board of Education. He’s president of the Oakley Neighborhood Association and has served as a substitute teacher at A.C. Reynolds High School for the last 10 years.
In his remarks before the vote, Mitchell said, "It's time to change the outcomes of elections in Buncombe County." To do that, he emphasized, the party needs a stronger grass-roots effort to get people to the polls, noting that in the last election, only 52 percent of the county's registered Republicans turned out.
"We need a strong local organization — not from the top down but from the bottom up. We need to start at the precinct level with a strong foundation," he explained. "We've got to get boots on the ground."
Garnering loud applause from the party faithful, Mitchell added: "There's no more time to hold back. We must fight back; we must rebuild the local party and salvage what we've got left. This is our city. This is our county!"
Forming a finance committee, restarting the Young Republicans Club and making better use of social media tools such as Twitter and Facebook, said Mitchell, would help the party reach conservative Democrats and independents. Noting the lack of African Americans and people under 50 in the room, he said the party needs to engage those demographics.
Eck also focused on the party’s need to broaden its appeal, noting that as of last November, the county had about 77,000 registered Democrats compared with 48,000 Republicans.
Eck also cited conservative Democrats and the roughly 50,000 unaffiliated voters as potential converts, though he proposed a different approach: steering clear of divisive social issues.
"We have to stop emphasizing those issues that divide us and focus on those that unite us," he asserted, adding that he’d like to commission surveys of unaffiliated voters to see what issues would draw them into the fold.
In contrast, Mitchell stressed solidarity and determination: "It's time to put our feet in the right place, out of the political currents — to stand firm and united together.
"As Abraham Lincoln said, 'We need to hold on with a bulldog grip; we need to chew and choke as much as possible,'” continued Mitchell. "It's time to light that fire and jump into the heat."
Meanwhile, Nesbitt remained defiant as he reflected on his often controversial year of service.
Saying he has "no regrets whatsoever," Nesbitt implored attendees to keep a higher power in mind, declaring, "Don't forget what is most important, and that is God. Fight for your party. Fight for your candidates. Support them any way you can. But always fight for the Lord."
Don Yelton, who served as second vice chair under Nesbitt, presented him with a plaque depicting an eagle draped with an American flag, proclaiming, "I bought this to give to my friend, Chad Nesbitt, the eagle of the Republican Party. You know what the eagle does? Sometimes he flies by himself up high. He has no allegiance to anybody else."
Although Nesbitt didn't officially endorse a successor, he was rumored to support Mitchell, and both Nesbitt and Eck wished the new chair the best.
Mitchell, however, acknowledged, "There's a lot of splinters," adding, "Step No. 1 is uniting the party."
— Jake Frankel can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 115, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.