Despite widespread criticism of the job he’s done, Swain Sheriff Curtis Cochran proved unstoppable in this year’s Republican primary. Cochran buried opponent Wayne Dover in a landslide with more than 77 percent of the vote.
In November, Cochran will go head-to-head with Democrat primary winner John Ensley, who had an impressive run with nearly 29 percent of the vote despite competing with a whopping seven other candidates.
If the primary is any indication, the November race will be close. At the end of Tuesday’s primary, Ensley walked away with 513 votes, while Cochran received 525.
“I’m just in awe of how may people came out and supported me,” said Ensley. “There were a lot of great candidates.”
Cochran said he had been hoping for a landslide, and characterized the win as evidence of success during his first term.
“I think the support shows that the people are pleased with the job we’ve done,” said Cochran.
Ensley said his emphasis on community involvement in the sheriff’s office, more education for officers, outreach programs in the school system and better networking with surrounding counties all contributed to his win.
During the primary, almost all candidates emphasized their experience in law enforcement, drawing a sharp contrast between them and Cochran, who had no prior law enforcement training before being elected sheriff.
But Cochran has retorted that he is the lone candidate with on-the-job experience as sheriff. He has undergone training and participated in seminars since taking office as well.
Cochran said despite many candidates touting their experience, no one could ever say they’ve had enough training. “It’s a learning process every day,” said Cochran. “We run across something new just about on a daily basis.”
Ensley is the owner of Yellow Rose Realty but is also a North Carolina certified law enforcement officer. He has worked as a jailer in Florida and worked for Swain’s Sheriff’s Office for nearly two years as well.
Controversial issues were not few or far between during Cochran’s first term as sheriff: a suspected murderer escaped from Swain County’s jail last year; Cochran sued Swain’s Democratic county commissioners for discriminating against him by essentially reducing his salary; a Swain detention officer purchased a big-screen TV using the county’s credit card; and a newly built $10 million jail continued to sit half-empty.
Candidates were lining up and campaigning more than a year before the actual primary. Now, the focus will be on the upcoming general election.
Ensley plans to emphasize his 18 years of business experience, in addition to his law enforcement training. “You need to know the law, but also be an administrative and PR guy [to be sheriff],” said Ensley, adding that he knows how to run an organization and build working relationships.
Ensley says he will also cooperate with county commissioners if elected as sheriff. “It is imperative that we do that,” said Ensley.
Cochran said he hopes both Republicans and Democrats will come together to support him in November.
Similar to his last election campaign, Cochran will focus on eradicating drugs in Swain County.
“We have taken a stand against drugs from day one, and we’re going to continue that,” said Cochran.
Swain County sheriff
Democrat – one winner advances
John Ensley: 513
Mitchell B. Jenkins: 285
David Thomas: 236
Julius F. Taylor: 218
Steve Buchanan: 197
Steve Ford: 150
David Franklin: 119
Chuck Clifton: 53
Republican - one winner advances
Curtis Cochran: 525
Wayne Dover: 156
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