Record-breaking turnout makes Buncombe primary picks

Kim Roney and Nicole Townsend watch party
IT'S ELECTRIC: Supporters of Asheville City Council candidates Kim Roney and Nicole Townsend dance as they wait for Buncombe County primary results to be announced. Photo by Brooke Randle

With additional reporting from Able Allen, Virginia Daffron and Brooke Randle

More Buncombe County voters — 81,887, or 41.79% of all eligible residents — took part in the primary elections that wrapped up March 3 than in any previous primary in the county’s history. On lengthy ballots that spanned the levels of elected office from president to Asheville City Council, citizens determined which candidates would continue on to the general election of Tuesday, Nov. 3.

Support from established elected officials seemed to confer a benefit on their favored hopefuls. Advancing to November’s Council general election are the three candidates endorsed by Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer: real estate broker Sandra Kilgore, financial adviser Rich Lee and French Broad Food Co-op project manager Sage Turner. Incumbent Keith Young also made the cutoff, as did Kim Roney and Nicole Townsend, both of whom were endorsed by Council members Brian Haynes and Sheneika Smith.

Renewable energy professional Parker Sloan won the Democratic primary for the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners District 3 seat with the backing of Sheriff Quentin Miller and commission Chair Brownie Newman. Asheville City Council member Julie Mayfield earned the Democratc nod for N.C. Senate District 49, which represents the entire city and much of Buncombe County, after being endorsed by Manheimer and Sen. Terry Van Duyn.

The pattern didn’t hold in every race, however. Although real estate broker Lynda Bennett topped the Republican field seeking to replace former Rep. Mark Meadows, who endorsed her for the U.S. House of Representatives District 11 seat — President Donald Trump tapped Meadows, who had previously announced he would retire at the end of his term, to replace Mick Mulvaney as his chief of staff on March 6 — she did not earn enough votes to avoid a runoff with small-business owner Madison Cawthorn, who listed no official endorsements in his responses to the Mountain Xpress voter guide.

All reported results are based on the unofficial numbers available through the N.C. State Board of Elections website ( Results are not considered official until they are certified by the state.

Asheville City Council

What began as a 10-candidate race for Asheville City Council narrowed to a six-way contest as voters selected their top three choices. In the general election, the top three finishers will win seats on the city board.

Townsend and Roney
ALL SMILES: Asheville City Council candidates Nicole Townsend, left, and Kim Roney watch as primary elections results roll in. Photo by Brooke Randle

First-time candidate Turner was the top primary vote-getter with 12,466 votes (15.82% of the total), a result she credited to her focus on expanding affordable housing options in Asheville. “I’ve lived in Asheville for a long time; I feel like I’ve been in service to this community for a long time, so I’m really thankful to see the support,” she told Xpress on election night.

Young, the Council race’s only incumbent, also had a strong showing with 11,285 votes (14.32%). “The November general election will decide what kind of Asheville we will be: an Asheville for the people or an Asheville for the privileged,” he wrote in a March 4 statement to Xpress. “Make no mistake about it, this will be a defining moment in Asheville’s history come November.”

Roney and Lee finished at No. 3 and 4, separated by only 176 votes. The two have been in tight competition before: Roney narrowly beat out Lee for fourth place in the 2017 general election with a margin of fewer than 600 votes. Neither candidate, however, was seated on Council that year.

Also clearing the primary hurdle were activist Townsend, who earned 9,574 votes (12.15%), and real estate broker Kilgore with 8,985 votes (11.40%).

Because only the top six vote-getters advance to the general election, the remaining candidates — Shane McCarthy, Kristen Goldsmith and Larry Ray Baker — were squeezed out of the race. Candidate Tim Collins, who dropped out of the contest in January but remained on the ballot, also did not make the cut.

Buncombe County Board of Commissioners

Terri Wells, the director of community and agricultural programs for WNC Communities, earned a comfortable victory over retired project manager Nancy Nehls Nelson in the Democratic primary for the Buncombe board’s District 1 seat. Wells garnered 12,542 votes (66.78% of the total), while Nelson took home less than half that number with 6,239 votes (33.22%).

State Rep. John Ager, Buncombe County Commissioner Amanda Edwards and Board of Commissioners District 1 candidate Terri Wells
IN THE HOUSE: Pictured from left to right at the Democratic watch party at Highland Brewing Company: State Rep. John Ager, Buncombe County Commissioner Amanda Edwards and Board of Commissioners District 1 candidate Terri Wells. Photo by Able Allen

“We are all good candidates,” Nelson told Xpress at the Buncombe County Democratic Party’s watch party at Highland Brewing Co. as the results came in on March 3. “I think I’m the better of the two candidates — I’ve got the business background that’s really what I think the board needs right now — but Terri Wells has been a friend of mine for over 10 years and she will make a good commissioner too.”

Wells said it was education and farmland conservation, not business, that resonated with the voters she spoke to. “A lot of people are very concerned about how our county is going to grow,” she explained. “They really want us to look at this big picture and have some really good plans so that we maintain the character of this place we love.”

Sloan had a narrower margin of victory over rival Democrat Donna Ensley, earning 9,662 votes (54.01%) compared with his opponent’s 8,227 (45.99%). In the latter days of the campaign, Sloan had criticized Ensley for accepting a $2,000 donation from Asheville developer Rusty Pulliam, which he wrote on his campaign’s Facebook page was “not in line with the commitment I made to prevent the careless development that has gone unchecked in Buncombe County for so many years.”

Speaking with Xpress on election night, Sloan said he didn’t know if that critique had an impact on the results. “It’s something that I brought up from my own perspective, that those kind of contributions weren’t something that I was going to take for my own campaign moving forward,” he said.

Wells moves on to face Republican challenger Glenda Weinert in November, while Sloan will run against incumbent Republican Joe Belcher. In District 2, Anthony Penland received the Republican nomination due to the death of his primary opponent, former Commissioner Mike Fryar, on Feb. 2. His rival in the general election will be Democratic incumbent Jasmine Beach-Ferrara.

N.C. General Assembly

Mayfield suggested that there wasn’t much difference in political platforms between her and the two other Democratic contenders for N.C. Senate District 49, attorney Ben Scales and IT professional Travis Smith. The results, however, revealed stark differences indeed: Mayfield earned more than twice as much support as both of her rivals put together, with 31,910 votes (67.54%) compared to 8,790 (18.61%) for Scales and 6,544 (13.85%) for Smith.

The Democratic winner attributed her success to her “experience and relationships in the community” and said she hoped to live up to the legacy of strong female legislators from Buncombe County such as Van Duyn, Marie Colton and Susan Fisher. Smith congratulated Mayfield on her victory and called for all Democrats to unite for success in the general election against Republican challenger Bob Penand.

In N.C. Senate District 48, which covers the eastern portion of Buncombe County in addition to Henderson and Transylvania counties, Mills River Mayor Pro Tem Brian Caskey took the Democratic nomination in a three-way race against behavioral technician Cristal Figueroa and entrepreneur Najah Underwood. He received 12,719 votes (49.77%) across the district, with Figueroa earning 8,472 (33.15%) and Underwood receiving 4,366 (17.08%). Caskey will face incumbent Republican Chuck Edwards in November.

None of Buncombe’s three incumbent state representatives — Democrats Fisher, John Ager and Brian Turner — faced primary opponents and will run against Republicans Tim Hyatt, Mark Crawford and Eric Burns, respectively, in November. Libertarian Lyndon John Smith is also running for the District 114 seat currently represented by Fisher.

And in Henderson County’s District 117, Republican Tim Moffitt and Democrat Josh Remillard earned the right to compete for the House seat held by retiring Republican Chuck McGrady. Moffitt bested self-employed Uber driver Dennis Justice by 8,684 votes (79.41%) to 2,251 (20.59%); Remillard’s primary challenger, Danaé Aicher, dropped out of the race in January but still earned 4,107 votes (45.81%) compared with his total of 4,858 (54.19%).

U.S. House of Representatives District 11

On the Republican side of the ballot, the fractious race for the party’s nomination to succeed Meadows still has a ways to go. No candidate received more than 30% of the vote, the threshold necessary to avoid a second primary election on Tuesday, May 12.

Competing in that runoff will be the Meadows-endorsed Bennett, who took home 20,510 votes (22.72%) across the district, and Cawthorn, who trailed former state Sen. Jim Davis in early voting but ended the night in second place with 18,418 votes (20.4%). During his watch party at the Asheville Event and Dance Centre in South Asheville, the 24-year-old Cawthorn said voters he’d spoken with were “excited for the future, for the next generation to come up and take on these democratic socialists.”

Madison Cawthorn
BUOYANT SPIRITS: Madison Cawthorn, center, celebrates his second-place finish in the Republican primary for U.S. House of Representatives District 11 among red, white and blue balloons. Photo by Virginia Daffron

Davis ran close to Cawthorn in the 12-candidate contest, coming in just below him with 17,400 votes (19.27%). But levels of support dropped substantially beyond third place: following Davis were businessman Chuck Archerd with 8,233 votes (9.12%) and former Meadows Deputy Chief of Staff Wayne King with 7,834 votes (8.68%).

Meanwhile, retired Air Force Col. and former Guantanamo Bay chief prosecutor Moe Davis dominated the five-way contest for the Democratic nomination. He earned 52,665 votes (47.35%), while real estate professional and attorney Gina Collias, his closest competitor, captured just 25,213 votes (22.67%).

Moe Davis and friends
MOE-MENT OF VICTORY: Moe Davis, back row center, stands with supporters during his watch party at Green Man Brewing in downtown Asheville. Photo by Virginia Daffron

Speaking with Xpress at his watch party at downtown Asheville’s Green Man Brewing, Davis emphasized the need to reach across party lines to secure a November victory in the still Republican-leaning 11th District. “The other side’s been really good at persuading voters to vote against their self-interest, either based on religion or patriotism or whatever they’ve sold it as,” he said. “My argument is, you’ve given Mark [Meadows] his eight years — what has he done for you? Why not give me 22 months?”

Also on the ballot

One statewide race of particular interest to WNC voters was the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor, which Van Duyn gave up a Senate reelection campaign to pursue. Although the District 49 incumbent handily won her home county of Buncombe with 35,752 votes (64.66% of the county total), she trailed state Rep. Yvonne Lewis Holley of Raleigh in the statewide tally. Holley had 306,795 votes (26.57% of the state total) compared with Van Duyn’s 236,004 (20.44%); as of press time, Van Duyn was undecided about whether to seek a runoff.

And in the hotly contested Democratic presidential primary, the plurality of Buncombe’s support went to Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who earned 23,227 votes (37.57% of the county total). Former Vice President Joe Biden finished second with 15,433 votes (24.6%), with Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts in third with 10,582 (17.12%). However, Sanders finished second to Biden in the North Carolina total, and New York billionaire Mike Bloomberg beat out Warren to take third place in the state.

Updated at 2:29 p.m. on March 9 to reflect changes in position for Mark Meadows.


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About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the former news editor of Mountain Xpress. His work has also appeared in Sierra, The Guardian, and Civil Eats, among other national and regional publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

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One thought on “Record-breaking turnout makes Buncombe primary picks

  1. bsummers

    Are any reporters going to ask Tim Moffitt if he intends to take up where he left off, trying to wrench away control of Asheville’s water supply? Asking for a friend.

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