Mount Ulla Democrat to challenge longtime Republican state legislator

Published 6:17 pm Wednesday, July 29, 2020

By Natalie Anderson

SALISBURY — A local Democrat from Mount Ulla has been picked to challenge longtime Rep. Julia Howard for state House District 77 in the upcoming general election.

Keith Townsend, 69, a retired history teacher who taught at West Rowan High School, was nominated by the 77th District Committee Tuesday night after Howard’s previous Democratic challenger, Barbara Howard, dropped from the race. Barbara Howard advanced through the Democratic primary in March without any competition.

The 77 District includes parts of Rowan County and all of Davie County. The 13th District Chair, Veleria Levy, called the meeting Tuesday night, and the 77th District committee, made up of two delegates from Davie County and two from Rowan County, officially nominated Townsend.

Geoffrey Hoy, Rowan County Democratic Party chair, said Townsend is a well-respected member of the county’s Democratic party and a “person of commitment and courage” with a willingness to serve. Hoy said Townsend faces a “steep uphill battle to win the seat” since Howard has served in the state House for more than 30 years and because the district Townsend seeks is heavily Republican. Nonetheless, Townsend is cognitive of the issues that confront the state and the rural district, Hoy said.

Townsend said the decision to run was not an easy one, and that he’s never had any political ambitions. But after noticing no Democratic candidate was challenging Howard in the upcoming election and after being asked by some members of the county Democratic party, he felt he should run.

A “healthy democracy needs to have contested elections,” Townsend said.

While Townsend said he understands the challenge he’ll face, he has a running interest in getting the party platform out into the public.

“This way, (voters) will have a choice,” he said.

Townsend said his experience as a history teacher for more than 20 years and his degree in political science shows he has a “working knowledge of the issues.” Even though he’s always heard each election is an important one, Townsend said he feels this year is a “pivotal point” in history.

He added that, to his surprise, it didn’t take much for him to make the case for running to his family. His wife, Karen, is also a retired teacher from West Rowan High School. He has two adult children.

Brenda McCubbins, Rowan County Board of Elections director, said the next steps will involve verifying Townsend is a registered voter of the county and has been living in the district for at least one year prior to the election. Townsend will have to file and provide various forms to the county Board of Elections no later than Aug. 1 as ballots are beginning to be coded and prepared for the election, McCubbins said.

The general election is Nov. 3.

Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.

About Natalie Anderson

Natalie Anderson covers the city of Salisbury, politics and more for the Salisbury Post. She joined the staff in January 2020 after graduating from Louisiana State University, where she was editor of The Reveille newspaper. Email her at or call her at 704-797-4246.

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