Jackson County Sheriff Jimmy Ashe proved he could survive a tough race during the Democratic primary, defeating challenger Robin Gunnels by nearly 700 votes on the unofficial count.
Ashe may have another tough race in November, but on Tuesday night he could celebrate holding off a crowded field and a strong challenge from Gunnels, a former employee. Ashe also had to stave off the efforts of a third-party political action committee en route to winning his third consecutive Democratic primary nomination for Jackson County Sheriff.
In the end Ashe’s popularity in Jackson County and his firm resolve not to enter into dialogue with his critics proved decisive in the hotly contested race.
Ted Coyle, a Caney Fork resident, said the ugly tactics employed by a third-party political action committee from the Cashiers area prompted him to vote for Ashe.
“I was kind of disgusted by the politics of that race coming out of Sapphire and I’m not for private law enforcement on public roads by any stretch,” Coyle said.
The sheriff’s primary was far from typical this year. After Gunnels emerged as an early challenger in the race, his business was burned in a case still under investigation as arson. Gunnels did not blame Ashe or his supporters for the fire, but he insisted it was politically motivated.
On Tuesday night, after the votes were totaled, Gunnels still rued the incident.
“With the whole fire business it took a couple of weeks to get that cleaned up and get back out there,” Gunnels said. “I don’t want to blame the result on anything, but it was a real issue for us.”
Ashe looked vulnerable because he received a controversial pay raise during the recession and had to withstand allegations of questionable financial transactions involving an account from narcotics seizure money.
The contest heated up considerably when a group of Cashiers residents, led by Blue Ridge Public Safety owner David Finn, formed a political action committee aimed at unseating Ashe.
Ashe refused to enter into a back and forth with his critics, instead electing to run advertisements that included personal testimonies of supporters. The tactic seemed to pay off in Jackson County, where Ashe has been one of the most popular and widely recognizable political figures in recent years.
Ashe did not immediately return a request for comment before the news deadline.
Jackson County sheriff
Democrat – one advances
Jimmy Ashe: 2,290
Robin Gunnels: 1,572
Marty Rhinehart: 140
Radford Franks: 116
*The winner will face competition from two unaffiliated candidates in the fall.
Other sheriff races:
Haywood County sheriff
Bobby Suttles*: 3,720
Dean Henline: 966
*The winner will face a Republican challenger in the fall.
Macon County sheriff
Democrat – one advances
George Lynch: 965
Richard Davis: 776
Ricky Dehart: 114