DA's race may be headed for runoff

Incumbent Jay Gaither finishes second
May. 07, 2014 @ 08:20 AM

Burke County lawyer David Learner was the top vote-getter in the Republican primary for district attorney for Burke, Caldwell and Catawba counties but appears headed for a runoff.

Learner received 9,208 votes, or 39.12 percent, in complete but unofficial totals in the three-way race, barely short of the 40 percent he needed to avoid a runoff.

Incumbent Jay Gaither, who received 7,342 votes, or 31.19 percent, said he intends to ask for a runoff if Learner remains under the 40 percent threshold when the votes are canvassed May 13. The runoff election would be July 15.

"I'm looking forward to meeting with the public and asking for their vote when and if there is a runoff," Gaither said.

Scott Reilly, a lawyer in Catawba County, finished a close third with 6,986 votes, or 29.68 percent.

"Praise God," Learner said after the results were in. "I'm very appreciative to all of the volunteers who have helped bring this about.

"We need a new DA. I've spent a lot of time talking to people about their concerns of the current DA, and they are very dissatisfied."

Learner said he wanted to restore confidence and respect to the office of district attorney for the 25th Judicial District. Throughout his campaign, Learner also talked about the importance of a district attorney having experience arguing trials before juries at the superior court level, something he said Gaither has never had. Learner also said the DA's office has lost respect under Gaither among the law enforcement community and courthouse employees.

Learner served as an assistant district attorney under fellow Republicans Bob Thomas from 1987-89 and David T. Flaherty from 1997-2002. He resigned in 2003 shortly after Gaither became district attorney.

Gaither argued during the campaign that he had proven to be an effective administrator and effectively reduced the violent crime rate to the lowest levels since 1993, and the superior court caseload from 1,505 in 2002 to 969 in 2013.

This was Reilly's second bid for the top prosecutor's job, having lost in the primary in 2002 that Gaither won.