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fr gop harrahsCome next June, the number of visitors to Western North Carolina will jump by at least 1,500 Republicans.

fr jimdavisA recent poll shows that a Western North Carolina state representative has fallen out of favor with voters.

When N.C. GOP Director Todd Poole emailed a list of state job openings — some 300 vacant positions in all — to dozens of Republican operatives asking them to spread the word to party friendlies, some political fallout was to be expected.

coverSome mainstream Republicans in Haywood County fear their local party is being hijacked by a far-right faction with extreme views on what limited government should look like. 

The ascension of what some deem the radical right into leadership positions on the party’s executive committee is steering the party into uncharted activist territory, threatening to veer the party off course, they say.

One of three candidates vying to be Haywood County’s next sheriff was eliminated from the competition in a preliminary round last week.

fr candidatesNearly 200 people came out for a candidate forum in Jackson County Monday (Oct. 15) to listen to a slate of candidates spar over local, state, federal — and sometimes existential — issues facing Western North Carolinians today.

coverSporting a red Obama hat, a matching “Change Rocks” t-shirt and a “Barack Obama 2012” button, Ron Frendreis approached the first house on his list.

With pen, papers and clipboard in hand, he climbed the concrete steps to a white duplex with fellow campaign volunteer Jane Harrison, knocked on the door marked 82, and then waited.

Mark Meadows won the second primary on July 17 by a sweeping majority.

The conservative Republican candidate for U.S. Congress garnered 76.3 percent of the vote Tuesday.

When none of the Republican candidates for Congress garnered 40 percent of the votes during the May 8 primary, the election got more complicated.

Rather than narrowing the long list of candidates to two — one Republican and one Democrat — the primary left Republicans with two candidates who will participate in a second primary on June 26. That delay could possibly give the Democratic nominee, Hayden Rogers, a head start going into the November general election as the two remaining Republican candidates, Vance Patterson and Mark Meadows, continue to duke it out for their party’s nomination for another six weeks.

“Does it make it more difficult? Yes. Does it make it impossible? No,” Meadows said.

The field was already overflowing with candidates from both sides of the aisle looking to snatch up the seat of departing Congressman Heath Shuler, D-Waynesville. Eight Republicans lined up to fight for the position, while three distinct Democratic candidates jumped into the ring for a comparatively easy battle amongst themselves.

With so many Republican candidates, it was difficult for voters to distinguish most of them from Adam. So, when May 8 finally rolled around, voters in the Republican primary split their ballots too many ways.

Meadows received nearly 38 percent of the votes — just 2 percentage points shy of the need 40 percent for the nomination. Meanwhile, Patterson, who garnered 23.6 percent of the votes, will have a second chance in a runoff.

Meadows, 52 of Cashiers, is the candidate who drew the short end of the stick, said Chris Cooper, an associate professor of political science at Western Carolina University.

“It’s a good day for Hayden. It’s a good day for Patterson. It’s not so good a day for Meadows,” Cooper said. “It has complicated Meadows’ life.”

A second primary means a divide in campaign funding and volunteers and no one for the Republican Party as a whole to gather their support behind.

“You are splitting everything a campaign needs between two candidates,” Cooper said.

Although a runoff is not the ideal situation for Meadows, the May 8 primary showed that he has a broad base of support. Meadows won the majority of votes in all but four counties in the district.

“It doesn’t mean he will win, but he is clearly the frontrunner going forward,” Cooper said.

Meadows will have to make a strategic decision — to run against Patterson only until June or position his message as if he has secured the nomination, Cooper said.

Although he hit a snag, Meadows said his strategy for the election will not change, and he will continue to focus on appealing to all voters, not just one group.

“Instead of talking about other candidates, we have talked about our message,” Meadows said. “We are going to go ahead with our message — less government, less spending.”

As for Patterson, Cooper said his best option is to focus on the runoff race.

“Patterson needs to aim to beat Meadows, and Meadows has a tough choice to make,” Cooper said.

And, that is exactly what Patterson said he plans to do.

“A lot of the work’s been done,” said Patterson, who started the race with little to no name recognition. “I just need to make sure I can differentiate myself from Mark (Meadows).”

In most cases, second place is a disappointment, but for Patterson, runner up in the Republican congressional primary is exactly what he was aiming for.

“We are really where we hoped to be,” Patterson said. “We were hoping to make the runoff.”

Patterson said he thinks that he can close the gap in support during the next six weeks.

“Why would I not continue on? We’ve got good momentum,” Patterson said. “We made the playoffs, and when your team makes it into the playoffs, anything can happen.”

Meanwhile, the Republican Party is in a difficult position since it cannot officially support anyone until a nominee is chosen. The Democratic Party, however, can start putting its political weight and funding behind Hayden Rogers, a Blue Dog Democrat and former chief of staff to Shuler.

“It puts us at a tremendous disadvantage,” said Ralph Slaughter, chair of the Jackson County Republican Party. “It would make it much easier if my job was supporting one person as opposed to two people.”

 

The cost of a runoff

Close races come at a cost — a steep cost for cash-strapped counties that can ill afford to stage a special “do-over” election when no clear victor emerges the first time around.

When there’s a crowded field, as there was in this year’s Republican primary contest for Congress, if none of the candidates secure at least 40 percent of the votes cast, the runner-up has the right to call for a special run-off election.

And that means county taxpayers must foot the bill. How much?

“More than $25,000 and probably close to $30,000,” said Robert Inman, director of Haywood County’s Board of Elections. “We are looking at a major expense.”

Jackson County’s board budgeted $25,000 to cover the cost of any runoffs this year, but it is unclear if it will need to find more.

“It’s just really hard to tell,” said Lisa Lovedahl-Lehman, director of the Jackson County BOE. “I base (the amount) on past years.”

Haywood County hasn’t budgeted any additional money specifically for such cases.

“We just kind of have to pay those bills as they come along,” Inman said. “Haywood County has not budgeted any (funds) at all, not one penny.”

Instead, the money is a mixture of any leftover elections funding and county contingency funds.

The Macon County’s Board of Elections estimated its cost to be between $20,000 and $25,000.

Cost depends on a number of variables: How many runoff elections there are? How many machines and employees will be required to man the polls? How many early voting sites must it operate? Are there runoffs for both Democratic and Republican races, which would up the number of ballots needed?

“You are basically turning around and doing another election,” said Joan Weeks, director of the Swain County Board of Elections.

The Swain County board will have to return once again with its hands out to the Board of Commissioners to help pay for any runoffs. The election board approached the commissioners earlier this year asking for money to pay for an early voting site in Cherokee. Now, it will go back for more funding. The total cost of an election in Swain County is between $6,000 and $12,000.

Primaries typically report low turnouts anyway — ranging from 12 to 30 percent during the past decade.  

For runoffs, or secondary primaries, voter turnout numbers are far lower. Runoff turnouts are anywhere from 2 percent to 12 percent of registered voters, Lovedahl estimated.

It is nearly impossible to replicate the emotion that first drove voters to the polls for the primary or that will drive them to the polls come November.

“You can’t change the emotion that they had the first time,” Inman said.

“The cost leaves some wondering if the restrictions are too tight. I wonder if there is not perhaps a better way.” said Ralph Slaughter, chair of the Jackson County Republican Party. 

Mark Meadows and Hayden Rogers came out on top last night in a Congressional election that at the beginning of the day boasted a full slate of 11 candidates.

The field of eight Republicans and three Democrats vying to represent the mountains in the halls of Washington was narrowed down. Rogers won 56 percent of the Democratic vote. Although Meadows emerged as the top vote getter on the Republican ticket, he received less than 40 percent of the votes — the minimum percentage required to officially win a race. Now, a special election must be held between Meadows and the second-highest vote getter on the Republican ticket, Vance Patterson, on June 26.

The Congressional race became a wide open contest after Congressman Heath Shuler, D-Waynesville, announced he would not seek re-election after six years in office. Shuler was a conservative Democrat and had the ability to cater to both side of the political spectrum among mountain voters.

A wide field of Republicans were already lining up to take on Shuler, but after Shuler announced his retirement, the floodgates opened even wider for anyone with the dream of holding a congressional seat.

Republican voters particularly had a difficult time with a daunting eight candidates to choose from. The choice will be considerably easier when two distinct candidates emerge for the November election.

On the Democratic side, Shuler’s own chief of staff Hayden Rogers put his hat in the ring after Shuler’s retirement and has emerged as the victor in the Democratic primary.

Rogers said he is thrilled that he has moved one step closer to the possibility of representing the community that he grew up in.

“I’m really excited,” Rogers said. “We were sort of last to the dance, but we worked really, really hard to put a structure in place and get our message out.”

Rogers, 41, grew up in Robbinsville where he played high school football, majored in political science at Princeton University and now lives near Murphy.

Now that the race has narrowed, Rogers said he will continue to push his message of working together to move the nation forward rather than to the left or right.

“Whether it’s Mr. Meadows or any of the other Republican candidates for the most part, they are pushing a sort of fringe ideology,” Rogers said. “I really believe voters are looking for true leadership and open mindedness.”

Lauren Bishop, a Waynesville resident, said she was personally was sad to see Shuler step down and has now thrown her support behind Rogers who she believes can pick up where Shuler left off.

Many voters leaving the polls could not recall which congressional candidate they supported — or did not vote in the race at all, indicating that that particular primary race was not what necessarily drove people to the polls yesterday.

On the Republican ticket, Meadows, a 52-year-old Christian businessman from Cashiers, has advanced to the front of the Republican pack.

At about 10 p.m. Tuesday night, Meadows was optimistic but did not want to comment on the race at that time.

“We are excited about our vote totals at this point,” Meadows said at that time. Meadows did not return later calls for comment.

He is currently a real estate developer in Jackson County. Meadows has no previous experience in a political office.

His opponent, Vance Patterson, is a 61-year-old resident of Morganton. Patterson has 37 years of business leadership experience and started 16 companies. The TEA party candidate ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Congress in North Carolina’s 10th District in 2010.

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