Local party leaders react to Rowan’s strong support for GOP candidates

Published 8:01 pm Wednesday, November 4, 2020

SALISBURY — Rowan County Republican Chair Don Vick said he was “ecstatic” with the election results Tuesday night as county voters continued to show strong support for the GOP in the 2020 election.

“I think it’s important to note that Rowan County did its part,” Vick said. “It shows that Rowan is a strong Republican stronghold, so we’re excited about that.”

Vick mentioned that the local party was proud to see incumbents Carl Ford, Harry Warren and Ted Budd retain their seats in the state and federal legislature while receiving strong support from Rowan voters. Incumbents President Donald Trump and North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis as well as Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, running for governor, all received a majority of votes in the county according to unofficial election results from the North Carolina State Board of Elections.

Rowan County Democrat Chair Geoffrey Hoy said that even though Rowan County “isn’t an area that usually elects Democrats,” he was proud of the local Democrat candidates who ran, including Al Heggins, Keith Townsend, Scott Huffman and Tarsha Ellis.

One “drawback” for Republicans on election night, Vick said, was Forest losing the election for governor despite locking up Rowan County. Hoy, of course, was pleased by Gov. Roy Cooper’s re-election victory even though Rowan County once again favored his Republican opponent. Forest received 46,448 local votes, or 63.86%, compared to Cooper’s 25,249 votes, according to unofficial election night data.

Vick said that Cooper might have won support with his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, despite the fact that he personally did not agree with it.

“The only thing that I can think of is Cooper had direct responsibility for the handling of the coronavirus,” Vick said. “I think there were a lot of people that like the way he handled it. I would have preferred something in the middle. I think a lot of businesses got hurt because of the handling of it.”

With more than 100,000 absentee by mail ballots requested by not yet counted in North Carolina, Tillis’ race against Democrat Cal Cunningham has not officially been called. But Tillis appeared to be leading Cunningham at the time of publication and made a claim of victory in the race on Tuesday night. Tillis received significant support from Rowan County voters, garnering 46,218 votes or 63.95% of ballots cast compared to Cunningham’s 31.02%.

Libertarian Senate candidate Shannon W. Bray turned in the best showing of any third party candidate on the ballot in Rowan County, earning 3.07% of the vote. Vick said that Bray’s performance could be indicative that some county voters weren’t enthralled with either Tillis or Cunningham.

“I think people are looking for an alternative (in this race),” Vick said. “And if the alternative ends up being the Libertarian and I’ve got to admit, I don’t know much about (Bray), don’t know what he had to say or say or what he stood for, but I would guess that in this day and age, people are going to examine all things and if they don’t like what they’re seeing from two sides and they don’t like the Republicans and the Democrats, they’re going to look at these other parties.”

Vick also said that he believes Cunningham’s recent infidelity may have cost him in the race.

“I don’t think there’s any question that people questioned Cunningham’s ability to tell the truth and to do a good job in Washington,” Vick said. “It might have gone the other way if that story hadn’t come out. I don’t know. I’m not clairvoyant in that regard. We expected Tillis to come through at the last minute and it bore out.”

Even though Hoy agreed that Cunningham’s recent text message and infidelity scandal may cost him in the election statewide, he doesn’t believe that it impacted the Rowan County vote.

“I don’t see that as being major here,” Hoy said.

If Tillis does indeed win once all ballots are counted, it would help the GOP retain control of the U.S. Senate.

“With the way the House looks like it’s going to be, I think we need a system of checks and balances and we need a strong Senate,” Vick said. “Thom Tillis will give us a strong senator.”

As for the presidential race, Vick and Hoy are watching closely for a final result like everybody else.

It was clear that Rowan County voters favored Trump in the election. However, enthusiasm and interest in the presidential race was consistent from voters for both parties in Rowan County. In 2016, there were 42,810 ballots cast for Trump in Rowan County and 19,400 cast for Hillary Clinton. In 2020, those numbers increased with 49,053 votes cast for Trump and 22,889 for Biden. It was also clear in the 2020 election that Rowan County voters weren’t interested in supporting a third party candidate. While Libertarian Gary John garnered 2.36% of Rowan County votes in 2016, Libertarian Jo Jorgenson didn’t even earn a full percentage point of votes this time.

Hoy said that he was more focused on local elections and was happy to see local candidates receive support.

“I was pleased with the consistency of the Democratic votes,” Hoy said. “In the past, we’ve had significant drop-off for the judges or the other down ballot votes. Fortunately, that is not happening in this current election as much as it has in the past.”

Hoy said that he was proud of Rowan-Salisbury Schools Board of Education member Alisha Byrd-Clark for defending her seat from challenger Johnathan Barbee.

“She won her reelection campaign and in the process showed up with 30,234 friends, which was almost 2,000 more than her opponent, who graciously called her to concede last night,” Hoy said. “That was the highest vote count of any Democrat running in Rowan County. She beat Gov. Cooper, who has 25,240 votes so she beat him by 5,000 votes and that’s something to be pleased and proud of.”

About Ben Stansell

Ben Stansell covers business, county government and more for the Salisbury Post. He joined the staff in August 2020 after graduating from the University of Alabama. Email him at ben.stansell@salisburypost.com.

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