GOP primary will decide county board election

Mar. 09, 2014 @ 08:29 AM

Both incumbents and all three challengers who filed to run for the Caldwell County Board of Commissioners are Republicans, so the race will be decided in the May primary.  The incumbents whose terms are expiring are Mike LaBrose and Chris Barlowe. They are being challenged by Donnie Potter, Ben Griffin and Randall “Cotton” Winkler.

The same is true of the race for district attorney for the 25th Judicial District -- where incumbent James Gaither faces attorneys David Learner and Scott Reilly, and there are no Democrats in the race.

In the contest for Caldwell County sheriff, both incumbent Alan Jones and challenger Lance Wilson also are Republicans.

Primaries put a larger burden on voters to become informed since the policy differences between candidates within a party tend not to be large, said Michael Cobb, associate professor of political science at North Carolina State University.

"Unless it's a competitive primary because the incumbent is scandalous, there's very little for voters to make easy decisions," he said. When a voter who doesn't know much about the issues reaches the polls, it's easer to choose between a Republican and Democratic candidate than between candidates of one party.

"It's pretty hard to distinguish them in terms of policy," he said, leading voters to rely on style and personal attributes, so candidates' name recognition may play a key role.

The primary takes place on May 6, but voters can cast ballots early from April 24 to May 3.

This type of race, where all the candidates are Republicans and a primary decides the race, is commonplace in Caldwell County elections, said Sandra Rich, director of the county board of elections, and it means an active primary with a lot of activity from candidates.

Rich, who has worked with the board of elections for the last 15 years, said Democrats have not run for the board of commissioners in recent years.

"I have no earthly idea" why, Rich said. "You really have to put yourself out there to run."

And in Caldwell County, it's an uphill slog for Democrats, based on the numbers. Registered voters who identify as Republican outnumber those who identify as Democrat 23,752 to 16,313. (More than 13,000 registered voters don't belong to either major party.)

Throughout much of Western North Carolina, the demographics reflect Caldwell's, including in neighboring counties that help decide the district attorney's race.

In Catawba, the gap is bigger, but so is the population. Of 101,674 registered voters in Catawba, 29,483 are registered Democrats and 43,781 are registered Republicans.

In Burke, though, Democrats narrowly outnumber Republicans 20,974 to 20,131, out of a total 57,726 registered voters.