Will bad news motivate voters?
Turnout in a one-race runoff election in the summer normally is expected to be light, and even recent news about the candidates in this month's runoff for district attorney may not be enough to affect the turnout, a Caldwell County elections official said.
Early voting in the Republican runoff between incumbent District Attorney Jay Gaither and David Learner, a lawyer in Morganton, begins Thursday and ends July 12. Election day will be July 15. Only Republicans and unaffiliated voters are eligible to vote in the runoff.
This is the time of year many people take their vacations, which could keep turnout low, said Sandra Rich, director of the Caldwell County Board of Elections.
But Jeremy Petty, chairman of the Catawba County Republican Party, said that recent news about each candidate could move voters into action.
"Based on what I've seen on social media, (the issues) might further align the two sides," he said.
On Thursday, a sexual harassment suit was filed against Gaither in U.S. District Court in Statesville by Whitney Nicole Shaffer, a who worked as an assistant district attorney in Hickory for three months in early 2013. Shaffer alleges that Gaither made inappropriate comments to her, groped her, tried to kiss her and to force her to touch him, and sent some sexually suggestive text messages as well as pictures taken from his lake house in Hickory. The suit included included 35 pages of text messages, many of them innocuous but some of them clearly suggestive.
Gaither has called into question Learner's involvement in Fortune Hi-Tech Marketing, a multi-level marketing company that was shut down in January 2013 by the Federal Trade Commission, which called it a pyramid scheme. The company, which was founded in Kentucky in 2001, denied the government's allegations but entered an agreement in May to return $7.75 million in assets to more than 350,000 people. Learner has said that he let his membership last shortly after joining FHTM in the spring of 2009, and he said the company subsequently changed its business structure and compensation plan.
The only thing certain about the recent news about the candidates is that it hurts the Republican Party, Petty said.
"Anything that breaks like this right before an election doesn't shed a good light on the party," Petty said. "I'm disappointed the (lawsuit) story broke, and I wish we could concentrate instead on the issues and keep this a civil race."
Learner finished first in the three-candidate May primary election with 39.38 percent of the vote, just shy of the 40 percent he needed to avoid a runoff. Gaither, who was first elected to office in 2002, finished with 31.12 percent. Scott Reilly, a lawyer in Catawba County, finished in third place.