Top Story Countdown - 3

Changing politics a steady win for Republicans

By Vicki Hyatt | Dec 28, 2012

Although there are still more registered Democrats than Republicans in Haywood County, 19,403 to 12,517, the 2012 election showed local voters mirroring a state trend that put Republicans squarely in charge.

Republican messages of less taxes, smaller government, education reform and second amendment  rights clearly resonated with many of the county’s 11,059 unaffiliated voters, as well.

From Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney, who garnered  nearly 56 percent of the vote in the county and GOP gubernatorial candidate Pat McCrory, who won with the support of nearly 58 percent of the county’s voters, Republicans fared well down the line, picking up a legislative seat with the election of Michele Presnell of Burnsville and giving Franklin Sen. Jim Davis a second term.

Democratic Waynesville legislator Joe Sam Queen replaced retiring Phil Haire in the state house, and local voters retained their incumbent commissioners, Republican Kevin Ensley and Democrat Mark Swanger.

A new trend

This year’s election is one that continued the Republican trend in Haywood, a county that for decades was considered a Democratic stronghold. Until recent years, there were seldom GOP primaries, and often, no Republican candidates ran to fill local slots in a General Election.

Haywood County Attorney Chip Killian, who is also a registered lobbyist in Raleigh, said he has been tracking politics in Haywood County since graduating from law school in 1969.

“I can say without hesitation this is the strongest Republican showing ever in Haywood County,” Killian noted. “Even when the Republicans first gained control of the state house in 1994 (the first time since the turn of the century), Haywood County sent Democrats to the General Assembly. I say this not because of the Presidential vote totals, but also because of the legislative results."

The voting trend in Haywood started turning in 2004 when Queen lost his Senate seat to Keith Presnell (spouse of Rep.-elect Michele Presnell), Killian said. Since then, there have been more vigorous campaigns locally with choices not only in the primary, but the General Election.

Ensley agrees there is a growing Republican influence in the county. Following his election in November where he lead the ticket, Ensley spoke of the time before the late 1990s when it was difficult for a Republican to get elected in Haywood.

Late business owner Robert Forga and farmer Carlyle Ferguson broke the ice in 1998 when both Republicans were elected as county commissioners, and there has been one GOP member on the county governing board ever since.

Ensley said an increased presence at both early voting precincts where volunteers handed out pamphlets identifying Republican candidates, along with full coverage at all precincts on Election Day, helped elect members of his party.