By the time Buncombe County Democratic Party Chair Charles Carter took the stage at the Renaissance hotel last night to brandish a copy of the Asheville Citizen-Times for a “Dewey defeats Truman”-style moment, it was clear that the county had defied the national trend, with local Democrats in most cases winning handily over their GOP rivals.
Pointing to a headline that declared “Buncombe GOP Voters Make Gains,” Carter savored the moment.
“Really?” he said. “Let’s remember this. Let’s remember that our volunteers came out and worked hard to make sure this didn’t happen. Buncombe stayed blue!”
And indeed, with the exception of Tim Moffitt taking the 116th state House district from Rep. Jane Whilden and GOP State Sen. Tom Apodaca beating off a challenge from Chris Dixon, the Democrats had a victorious night locally. Rep. Susan Fisher — who opened the event with a prayer declaring that “it’s been a long, difficult, angry, fear-filled race” — and newly appointed Rep. Patsy Keever trounced John Carroll and Mark Crawford, respectively, by more than 10 percentage points. State Sen. Martin Nesbitt, who decided to spend the night in Raleigh, completed the local legislature victories, stomping RL Clark.
Before Carter, Sheriff Van Duncan had taken the stage, declaring his enthusiasm for “four more years.” Voter counts showed that he’d crushed challenger Dickie Green.
“There were a lot of non-issues in this campaign,” Fisher remarked later. “I think the voters saw through those and chose to make it about real issues like education and jobs.”
The crowd was eagerly awaiting the night’s big star — Rep. Heath Shuler — with chants of “Heath! Heath! Heath!” Taking the stage, Shuler thanked the trifecta of his family (who joined him on stage), his volunteers and Jesus for securing a third term in Congress. The incumbent Democrat pulled out a nine-point victory over Hendersonville businessman Jeff Miller; an impressive feat considering that Shuler was running in a Republican-leaning district in a strong year for the GOP.
“Unbelievable!” he shouted, to raucuous applause. “We’ll keep fighting hard for you; I know our support crosses party lines.”
But Shuler felt compelled to add that “it’s a tough night, I’m seeing a lot of friends leave Congress — good, quality people — and I’ll miss them, but I know they’ll be back.”
Shuler told Xpress that it’s time to “put America first… I’m prepared to work across party lines, but I don’t want to see the Republicans put out legislation that’s political. When they do, I’ll call them out on it.”
Which “political” legislation? Shuler said repealing healthcare reform legislation (something he opposes despite voting against the original bill) was one example, though given the presidential veto, a possibility he finds unlikely.
Organization was the watchword for the evening, with everyone from Carter to Shuler to Fisher attributing Buncombe’s trend-defying election results to motivated volunteers and a big get-out-the-vote effort. Asheville’s progressive leaders rallied hard behind Shuler in the final months of the election, shoring up what had been downright anemic support for the conservative Blue Dog among more left-leaning Democrats, helping to turn what had once been considered a close race into a rout, something Shuler recognized when he embraced Lindsey Simerly, the Asheville activist who ran his volunteer operation, onstage.
Nonetheless, despite local triumph, nationally, Democrats face a difficult landscape. As the evening wore on, news emerged that the Blue Dog caucus in Congress had been decimated, losing over half its numbers, shrinking from 54 to 26 members. At the state level, Republicans narrowly took control of both chambers of the General Assembly for the first time since the 19th century. By the time Fisher and her supporters left for a beer at Pack’s Tavern, the sense of victory was tempered by the reality of the grueling political battles that lie ahead.
“I’m trying to be realistic about what to expect in the new house, the new senate. It will be pretty closely divided, it will be tough. It’s really going to be incumbent upon us to try to establish a cooperative coalition to get things done,” said Fisher.
— David Forbes, senior news reporter