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Cumberland Republicans flood the county commission zone, but let Dems win five other seats

Meanwhile, GOP candidates in Democrat-heavy districts say they will beat the odds


While Cumberland County’s Republican Party has eight candidates vying for Dist. 2 seats on the Board of Commissioners this year, the GOP is letting the Democrats take three District Court judge seats without opposition, along with a state House seat and the Cumberland County Register of Deeds seat.

At the same time, the GOP fielded three legislative candidates who are seeking office even though their odds of winning are scant because of the large number of Democrat-favoring voters in those three districts.

Cumberland County Republican Party Chairperson Nina Morton wishes her party had more candidates this year, and she is speaking to local GOP party leaders about their deficit.

“I would love to have Republicans in these seats,” she said. “I don’t like Democrats running unopposed. It bothers me.

“If we can get our grassroots organized through our precinct chairs, we can win,” Morton said. Her party has a new headquarters and is organizing its efforts now to motivate voters, she said.

Why would the Republicans have such a strong showing for the board of commissioners, and be willing to fight for General Assembly seats that will be difficult for them to win — yet let the Democrats win by default in five other local elections?

Interviews and voter data indicate Republicans are competitive for some seats, but Democrat-favoring voters dominate some of the districts.

Meanwhile, two seats for the legislature, Senate Dist. 21 and House Dist. 43, have Republican-favoring voters, making it difficult for Democrats to win. But Democrats filed anyway.

Cumberland County has 213,623 registered voters as Jan. 13. Of these, about 41% are Democrats and about 23% are Republicans. Another 35% are unaffiliated, and without membership in any political party. Another 2,140 voters — just over 1% — belong to the Libertarian Party, the Green Party and the No Labels party. 

County commissioners: 15 Republicans wanted to run

With Republican Dist. 2 Commissioners Jimmy Keefe and Michael Boose retiring in December, at least 15 Republicans were interested in running this year, said Bobby Hurst, who sought GOP candidates for his party for this year’s election cycle.

 “And these are good people, real good people. I went to lunch with all of them, and they’re very good people,” Hurst said.

But when they met, Hurst laid out what each would likely need to win: At least $35,000 in campaign spending, plus a solid base of support from which to draw campaign volunteers (such as friends, fellow church members and other social circles). That led seven Republicans to step back, at least for now, Hurst said.

“So we have some possible — I don’t want to say their names right now — but really good candidates, Republicans, for ’28,” he said. One may run in 2026, when the Dist. 1 and the at-large seats are on the ballot, he said.

(Hurst is an employee of Single Source Real Estate Services, which is owned by CityView publisher Tony Chavonne.)

The board of commissioners has seven members elected from three districts. Dist. 1 has two seats, but isn’t on this year’s ballot. Dist. 2 is on this year’s ballot and has three seats. The three Republicans who lead the results in the March 5 primary will face three Democrats in the Nov. 5 general election. The Democrats have four candidates in their primary.

The third commissioners’ district is at-large, covering the whole county. Like Dist. 1, it’s not on this year’s ballot.

Eight GOP candidates in a county commissioner election is a recent, if not all-time, record in Democratic-leaning Cumberland County. In 2014, six Republicans were on primary ballots for the two at-large seats on the board. Records for the county commissioner elections prior to 2008 were not readily available at the N.C. Board of Elections website.

Previously elected Republicans on the board of commissioners include Boose, Keefe and Diane Wheatley, who now serves in the N.C. House of Representatives. Keefe was originally elected as a Democrat, then later changed parties while in office.

Dave’s Redistricting, a tool for analyzing the voting trends of voting districts, says Cumberland County as a whole has a Democrat to Republican lean of 57.6%-40% (with 2.4% of voters picking third-party candidates). That makes an at-large run difficult for Republican candidates.

Dist. 2 is far more amenable to GOP candidates, with a 50%-47.7% Democratic to Republican lean. In 2020, Dist. 2 voters picked two Republicans (Boose and Keefe) and one Democrat, Toni Stewart. Stewart is seeking reelection. Dist. 2 includes western and central Fayetteville, Hope Mills, and the more lightly populated rural regions of southern, eastern and northeastern Cumberland County.

Dave’s Redistricting rates Dist. 1 as 73.9% Democratic to 23.5% Republican. Dist. 1 had no GOP candidates in 2014, 2018 or 2022. Dist. 1 has parts of Fayetteville plus Fort Liberty and Spring Lake.

House Dist. 45 — winnable for a Republican? No one stepped up

The Republicans strove to find a Republican to run for state House of Representatives Dist. 45, where incumbent Democrat Frances V. Jackson is running unopposed.

“Because she can be beat, even in a D-10 district,” Hurst said. He described Dist. 45 as “somewhat safe” for the Democrats. “But we felt like there was an opportunity for us — someone in the Hope Mills area.”

The Civitas Partisan Index rates House Dist. 45 as D +10 — safe for the Democrats. The Civitas Partisan Index has been a generally reliable assessment of which seats in the legislature favor Democrats, which ones favor Republicans, and which ones are competitive.

“I know that I was very upset … about House Dist. 45,” said Morton, the chairperson of the Cumberland County Republican Party. 

Hurst said the cost of running for a legislative seat plus the time commitment of serving at the state capital may have been factors that dissuaded potential candidates.

Now the county Republicans are looking for candidates for future elections for that seat, Hurst said, “and I’m happy to meet with them personally, one-on-one — phone call, visit — and talk to them about the commitment, and what we could do to help them and support them to get them elected.”

The seat is next on the ballot in 2026.

No Republicans file for judge or register of deeds

The Cumberland County GOP is letting three incumbent Democratic District Court judges run unopposed this year. Also unopposed is Senior Assistant Register of Deeds Andra Brewington, who is running to replace long-time Register of Deeds Lee Warren when he retires at the end of the year.

Each of those seats runs county-wide, and Republicans face the countywide 57.6%-40% Democrat to Republican lean, according to Dave’s Redistricting. Hurst said the GOP focused this year on the county commissioner races and House Dist. 45.

The history of District Court Judge Lou Olivera as a judicial candidate may be indicative of Republican chances for countywide seats:

No Republicans ran for District Court judge in 2018 or 2020.

Olivera is seeking reelection for a fourth term this year, as a Democrat.

Meanwhile, Register of Deeds Lee Warren did not publicly announce his plan to retire after 21 years in office. It’s unknown whether other candidates — Democrat or Republican — would have filed had they known that the seat was coming open.

His senior assistant, Andra Brewington, filed less than an hour before the filing period ended on Dec. 15.

Three Republicans optimistic despite long odds

On paper, three Cumberland County Republican candidates for the General Assembly this year appear to have little chance of winning. But all three were optimistic in interviews with CityView. They said they have strategies to get their messages out and pull unaffiliated and Democratic voters to their side.

These GOP candidates are:

  • Semone Pemberton, seeking state Senate Dist. 19, held by Democrat Val Applewhite. The Civitas Partisan Index says this is a D +17, safe Democratic district.
  • Leonard L. Bryant, for state House Dist. 42, served by Democrat Marvin Lucas (who is retiring from office). Dist. 42 is D +27.
  • Freddie de la Cruz, running for state House Dist. 44 held by Democrat Charles Smith. It’s listed as D +13, safe Democratic.

How do these Republicans plan to pull Democratic voters in their direction?

Semone Pemberton: Pemberton said she can pick off Democratic voters by pointing to instances where Applewhite in the state Senate voted against funding for Fayetteville and Cumberland County.

The $30 billion state budget that the legislature passed in September included more than $127 million for projects in the Fayetteville area.

Most Democrats in the Republican-majority General Assembly, including Applewhite, voted against the budget. The Republican majority plus five House Democrats voted for it.

“The bottom line is to show the community that there are options — you don’t have to vote for someone who you’re not happy with,” Pemberton said.

“The community is asking for certain things, and we do have a high percentage of Democrats, and we do have a high percentage of Democrats in the area that are conservative,” she said. “So even if I’m not on their same ticket, I still represent part of what they’re looking for, and I also represent the ability to get something done within the next two years.”

Freddie de la Cruz: “I didn’t want my precinct, my district — 44 — to go unopposed, without giving the residents in this district the opportunity to vote for a Republican,” de la Cruz said.

Dist. 44 has about 25,000 Democrats, 9,000 to 10,000 Republicans and about 16,000 unaffiliated voters, de la Cruz said. He thinks he can attract socially conservative Democratic and unaffiliated voters to build a winning base.

“I’m counting on the conservative Democrats — the Christian Democrats that are looking at someone who’s pro-life, against men competing with girls in girls’ sports, more on the moral issues — that they will step up and vote for me because I will represent them in that area,” he said.

Leonard Bryant: In Dist. 42, longtime Democratic Rep. Marvin Lucas is retiring at the end of the year. Bryant is waiting to see who his Democratic opponent will be. Four Democrats are in the March 5 primary.

Army veteran Bryant thinks he will attract voters who will pick a local Republican lawmaker because they dislike how Democratic President Joe Biden treats the military, he said, and for how Biden handled the end of America’s military engagement in Afghanistan.

“Democrats are really not very keen on helping veterans,” Bryant said.

The D +27 rating for Dist. 42 may make Bryant the Republican with the most-difficult partisan challenge in Cumberland County’s 2024 elections. But the number doesn’t faze him. He believes the country is trending toward Republican candidates, he said, and that trend will include him.

“The odds were against Washington, too, there’s no way he should have won in the Revolutionary War,” Bryant said. “But he had the right combination of strategy and tactics to take down the largest military in power on the planet at that time.

“So we have a mindset that we can win. We are going to be extremely effective with our messaging and I think that we’re going to take the seat,” he  said.

Senior reporter Paul Woolverton can be reached at 910-261-4710 and pwoolverton@cityviewnc.com.

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elections 2024, republicans, democrats, cumberland, ncga, legislature