Taking voters’ temperatures

Published 3:06 am Thursday, November 4, 2010

Daily News Staff

If Tuesday wasn’t a good day for some incumbents, others coasted to re-election as voters served up a mixed bag for candidates in Beaufort County.
County voters opted to return three incumbents — two Republicans, Stan Deatherage and Al Klemm, and one Democrat, Ed Booth — to the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners.
Many of these same voters chose to make a change in state House District 6, giving a heavier nod to newcomer and Republican Bill Cook than to Rep. Arthur Williams, D-Beaufort.
In interviews at polling places around the county, voters offered an assortment of concerns as they turned out on Election Day.
“I usually vote a straight ticket. I usually vote a straight Republican ticket. This time, I chose to look them over,” said William Spain, who voted at the Chocowinity polling place.
Spain said there wasn’t one race or issue that motivated him to vote Tuesday.
“I’m kind of concerned about the economy, runaway taxes and people not having to work,” but who are supported by taxes paid by others who do work, Spain said.
At the P.S. Jones-Ward 3 polling place in Washington, chief judge William O’Pharrow said voters weren’t pointing to any one issue or combination of issues as motivating factors.
“Really, they are not saying anything,” O’Pharrow said. “They just are concerned about voting. It’s a very surprising crowd (in terms of turnout).”
Among the big draws for Ward 3 voters were the Beaufort County sheriff’s race, pitting GOP candidate Donald Dixon against incumbent, Democratic Sheriff Alan Jordan; and the congressional contest in which U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., won re-election despite an energetic challenge from Republican Ashley Woolard.
Voters weren’t feeling adventurous when marking the ballot for the sheriff’s slot, electing Jordan to a fourth term.
County voters narrowly awarded the county to Woolard, a Washington resident, but at night’s end, the 1st Congressional District’s spoils went to Butterfield, a Wilson resident.
“There’s something going on, and it’s getting a lot of people out,” said P.S. Jones poll worker Joe Davis, adding that the sheriff’s competition and the Woolard-Butterfield bout were high on Ward 3 voters’ priority lists.
Despite roughly average turnout for a midterm general election, the phones were ringing practically nonstop at the Beaufort County Board of Elections’ offices on Highland Drive.
“It’s been like this since 7 o’clock this morning,” Anita Branch, deputy elections director, said at 4:15 Tuesday afternoon.
For some voters, this intense interest in the election grew more out of a sense of regular responsibility than anything else.
In Bath, voter James Brown replied, “No, not really,” when asked if was motivated to vote Tuesday because of a particular race or issue. Brown said he votes regularly, most of the time without a single race or issue causing him to mark a ballot.
Jerry Evans, an unsuccessful Beaufort County commissioner candidate who was at the Surry-Bath polling place about 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, said he learned something about many of the voters he’d spoken with in recent days: “They want details.”
That’s especially true when it comes to the future of the Beaufort County Medical Center and its parent, the Beaufort Regional Health System, said Evans, who supports BRHS merging with Greenville-based University Health Systems of Eastern Carolina.
Still, a majority of voters signaled their trust in the way the incumbents were handling the hospital issue.
During a last-minute campaign stop in Chocowinity, Deatherage, who would be the top vote-getter of the night, appeared somewhat relaxed, stopping to chat with friends while other candidates or their supporters carried on electioneering outside the polling place.
“People know me,” said Deatherage, a longtime commissioner, who soon acknowledged that he needed to do more pressing of the flesh before the polls closed.
When the last tallies came in, despite a national outcry against incumbency, it seemed Beaufort County voters had stuck mostly with the candidates they knew.
But, even in his post-victory remarks to the Washington Daily News, Klemm renewed his call for “more and better” candidates for county commissioner, already looking ahead to the next election.