Regardless of political affiliation, Buncombe County residents can feel good about one result from this year’s midterms: The county’s voter turnout of almost 57% substantially exceeded the statewide rate of 50.5%. While less than the high-water mark of 60.4% set in the 2018 midterms, the rate of democratic participation was still strong compared to that of previous years.
Preliminary results from those voters show clear victories in local races. Buncombe’s Election Services emphasizes that those wins won’t be official until certification by the county Board of Elections, slated for Friday, Nov. 18. The vote totals listed on the N.C. State Board of Elections website (avl.mx/c61) may change slightly before that point as mailed ballots and military/overseas ballots are counted.
The unofficial results, released Nov. 8, still have much to say about the future of Buncombe’s leadership. Below are five key takeaways from the night; more coverage is available through the Xpress election live blog at avl.mx/c62 and the voter guide at avl.mx/xmasjbi.
Easy being blue
The last Republican to represent Buncombe residents at the county level, Robert Pressley, is out of a job. The incumbent lost his District 2 seat on the county Board of Commissioners to Democrat Martin Moore, a first-time candidate and chair of Buncombe’s appointed Board of Adjustment, by nearly 10 percentage points.
“I think the community’s ready for some change,” Moore told Xpress at an election night watch event sponsored by the Buncombe County Democratic Party.
Granted, many incumbents maintained their seats, including Al Whitesides and Amanda Edwards in their respective District 1 and 3 reelection campaigns. The county’s governing body now consists solely of Democrats; the party also retained the countywide position of sheriff with incumbent Quentin Miller’s 24-point win over Republican Trey McDonald.
Constituent conversations had revealed public safety as a major issue, Moore noted in speaking with Xpress. The newly elected commissioner said he hoped to work with Miller on initiatives that would be “effective, inclusive and transparent.”
Beach-Ferrara beats expectations
At the federal level, however, Buncombe County will be represented by a Republican. Chuck Edwards won the U.S. House District 11 contest, having previously defeated incumbent Madison Cawthorn and other GOP hopefuls in an eight-way May primary.
Yet Edwards’ Democratic opponent, Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, mounted a stronger campaign than many outside observers anticipated. While political analysis outlet FiveThirtyEight estimated that the district favored a generic Republican by 14 percentage points this year, Edwards’ margin of victory was less than 10 points. In 2020, Cawthorn defeated Democratic challenger Moe Davis by more than 12 percentage points.
Beach-Ferrara did particularly well among early voters, besting Edwards by about 4 percentage points among that group. But as noted by Western Carolina University political science professor Chris Cooper, registered Republicans are more likely to vote on Election Day; those votes ultimately earned Edwards the win.
Buncombe’s government will have $70 million more to spend following voters’ approval of two bond referendums. The two measures authorize $30 million in borrowing for land conservation projects, as well as $40 million in bonds to support affordable housing. The county projects that the median household will pay roughly $32 per year in additional taxes to support the debt.
Both measures passed by margins of over 23 points, in line with April polls conducted for the county by the nonprofit Trust for Public Land. Many powerful community institutions had campaigned on behalf of the bonds, including the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce, RiverLink and the Land of the Sky Association of Realtors. Opposition, coming from figures such as urban planner Joe Minicozzi, largely focused on critiques of the county’s fiscal management and tax policy.
“I’m glad that the voters of Buncombe County understand the value of those investments for the long term,” said Julie Mayfield after preliminary results were announced. Mayfield, a Democrat who won her reelection campaign to represent Buncombe in the state Senate, also serves as co-director of Asheville nonprofit MountainTrue, which endorsed the bond campaign.
Fresh faces in Raleigh
The county’s General Assembly delegation remains mostly Democratic, but three of those seats will be held by first-time candidates. Democrats J. Eric Ager, Lindsey Prather and Caleb Rudow all carried their House races in Districts 114, 115 and 116, respectively. (Although Rudow was an incumbent, having been appointed in January to replace retiring Rep. Susan Fisher, Nov. 8 marked his first election.)
“I worked really hard to build a reputation in the community as somebody who cares mostly about democracy and voter participation overall,” said Prather, when asked about her approach to the campaign. “Education is and should be bipartisan, and my background as a teacher, I think, told people they could trust me and that I cared about the community.”
Some county voters will also have new state Senate representation in Republican Warren Daniel. The Morganton incumbent, whose District 46 was redrawn this election cycle to include much of Buncombe’s east, earned a 20-point win over Democrat and Marion City Council member Billy Martin. Senate District 49, covering the city of Asheville and western Buncombe, will continue to be represented by Mayfield.
The balance of power in Raleigh continues to be split between the Republican-dominated legislature and Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper. Republicans were hoping to win two-thirds of General Assembly seats, thereby gaining the authority to override Cooper’s veto, but are projected to miss that mark by one seat in the House.
The power of endorsements
Local candidates backed by influential community groups did well in this year’s midterms. In the Asheville City Council race, all three of those endorsed by the Western North Carolina Sierra Club — incumbents Antanette Mosley and Sheneika Smith, along with former city sustainability director Maggie Ullman Berthiaume — earned seats on the city’s governing body. Mayor Esther Manheimer was endorsed by the club as well and prevailed in her reelection campaign against Council member Kim Roney.
Area educator organizations also saw most of their preferred candidates picked for local school boards. Kim Plemmons, Judy S. Lewis and Rob Elliot, who each won their contests for the Buncombe County Board of Education, had been endorsed by the Asheville City Association of Educators, Buncombe County Association of Educators and Asheville-Buncombe North Carolina Retired School Personnel. That backing may have been particularly important for Elliot; his race against Sara Disher Ratliff was the closest of the three, with less than a four-point margin of victory.
In the first election for the Asheville City Board of Education, three of the four candidates supported by the educator groups earned a seat: Amy Ray, Liza English-Kelly and Rebecca Strimer. The last of those endorsed candidates, Jesse J. Warren, finished fifth in the eight-person field, with Sarah Thornburg filling the other available school board slot.