Three election night surprises

Tuesday night, May 8, offered a number of surprises on the local politics front. Here’s three that I find particularly striking, especially because of their implications for local politics going forward.

Keever routs Bellamy
The Democratic primary for the 10th Congressional District promised to be an interesting race from the start, with state Rep. Patsy Keever and Mayor Terry Bellamy both throwing their proverbial hats into the ring.

In the textbook version of this situation, this should have been a close race. Both candidates had no shortage of funds, organizing or experience. Indeed, several observers I talked to predicted an extremely tight fight or a Bellamy victory. Even those predicting a Keever win expected a simply solid margin.

Instead Keever’s campaign crushed Bellamy’s, getting 55 percent of the vote to the mayor’s 26. In the chunk of District 10 that’s in Buncombe County (including most of the city of Asheville), the margin was even higher: 66-27.

Locally, this raises some serious questions about Bellamy’s level of political support. While she won her second term as mayor overwhelmingly, controversy has followed since, especially over the mayor’s stances on LGBT issues. While Bellamy opposed Amendment One, that came after a history of opposition to the city’s passage of domestic partner benefits and an LGBT equality resolution.

Bothwell falls short
Over in the 11th district Democratic primary, Asheville City Council member Cecil Bothwell had an uphill fight from the beginning, as an outspoken progressive (he’s easily the most left-wing member of Council) in a conservative district.

But he had a year’s head start on his main competitor Hayden Rogers, a conservative Democrat and the chief of staff for current Rep. Heath Shuler. Bothwell campaigned actively throughout the district, and even managed to get some national attention. Tuesday, Rogers resoundingly defeated Bothwell, getting 55 percent of the vote to the Council member’s 30 percent.

Observing Bothwell (a former colleague at Xpress) in his political campaigns over the years, I’ve noted that his support tends to be deep rather than broad: His supporters really like him, are loyal, and willing to put in a lot of time and energy to support his campaigns. This was notable in his successful 2009 bid for Asheville City Council, where he placed first in the primary, but third in the general election.

Energetic supporters are an important political advantage, but this was the sort of race that required Bothwell to rapidly win over other populations and broaden his appeal to beat the odds.

That didn’t happen. Nowhere was it more apparent than in Buncombe County. I expected Bothwell, even in a loss, to make a strong showing here, especially on the city’s outskirts and the parts of West Asheville still in the 11th district.

Instead Bothwell barely managed to tie Rogers here, even losing in some West Asheville precincts. Like with Bellamy, this could have implications for the level of local support he can expect in the next Council election.

Amendment One close locally
As Election Day neared, polls showed that Amendment One would probably pass at the state level. While the forces against the amendment ended up including even a few Republican notables and business executives, polls showed a majority in favor. But Asheville’s a progressive stronghold with a prominent LGBT population throughout the area, exactly the type of place likely to be a center of resistance against a measure declaring “that marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized” in North Carolina.

Indeed, Buncombe did reject Amendment One, but by a closer margin than I expected (51-48). If you ever wanted a stark example of the divide between city and county, here it is:

The green areas voted for Amendment One, the turquoise against.

Anti-Amendment One efforts were led by the Coalition to Protect All NC Families, pulling together a variety of different groups under one banner. The Coalition’s volunteers hit the ground running with organizing efforts and managed to raise some considerable sums, but the odds were long.

On the other side, evangelical churches pushed Amendment One relentlessly, and their long-established networks for organizing may have given them a major edge in the sort of bring-out-the-base efforts that decide primary fights. That was a major factor in the amendment’s victory, and where those institutions are stronger, Amendment One got a majority.

Talking with anti-Amendment One forces, they say that even though the effort failed this time, it’s laid the groundwork for more effective efforts in the future. Time will tell if they can create a network to rival that of conservative churches, but this shows the magnitude of the fight they have on their hands, even in Buncombe itself.


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4 thoughts on “Three election night surprises

  1. wncguy

    I’m curious, how much door to door activity did the anti-amendment one folks do? I got the impression that it was mostly phone calls and while that can help without door-to-door knocking you can’t be as successful over all. Especially in a campaign like this, putting as much of a human face on it is critical, a voice over the phone may not be enough. I’m not trying to be combative, just interested in knowing.

  2. Ascend (of Asheville)

    I agree that there were some marketing aspects of the campaign that could have been approached differently.
    I also believe that the more energy we put in to illustrating the divide between the county and the city, the more rigid we make that line, and the more it becomes an entrenched barrier to change in the minds of the citizens of each area.

  3. RHS

    The map above can be a wee tad misleading — or at least it doesn’t quite tell the full story.

    Yes, in many of the precincts in which Amendment One passed it indeed pass by a wide margin, but there were those in which the margin was quite thin. In fact at least a pair of Black Mountain precincts may see the side they voted for change when canvassing has taken place and an official tally is recorded. Example: the unofficial count in one of those precincts has it passing by a single vote.

    I will also roundly second Ascend’s comments about the city/county “divide.” The more it gets overemphasized the more solidified it becomes in people’s minds, thus turning it into a self fulfilling prophecy.

  4. Orbit DVD

    The problem is that many people thought that changing their profile pictures on Facebook was going to change minds and make a difference. The lines were drawn months before last week.

    This is a fight that can be won, but peoples’ minds are going to have to be changed one person at a time.

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