Election 2014: Buncombe goes blue as Turner, Ager pull upsets


By James Harrison and Jason Sandford

It was a terrible night for Democrats, unless you happened to be one in Buncombe County.

On an evening where political pundits contemplated a Republican wave sweeping the country, representation for the greater Asheville area became awash in shade of deep Democratic blue.

By the time polls closed, most of the county’s GOP faithful had not arrived at their party’s victory bash, held at Off the Wagon Dueling Piano Bar on Market Street. But as the room slowly filled, attendees were greeted with less than welcome news—many of their candidates were getting thumped in early voting returns.

Across town at The Mill Room, Democrats and their supporters stuck to their smart phones and a flat screen TV, nervously watching the latest numbers roll in. Early on, several people in the room said they were guardedly optimistic. Those close to campaign workers in the field felt they at least had a shot at a couple of upsets.

At the Republican gathering on Market Street, brief applauses welcomed state Rep. Nathan Ramsey (District 115) and commission candidate Christina Merrill as they arrived, but cheers quickly faded as groups huddled around phones and laptops, watching results trickle in.

“They usually get us in early voting,” one person said, referring to Democratic efforts to encourage voters.

Variations of the line were repeated across conversations. No one seemed worried. State Rep. Tim Moffitt (District 116), who also trailed his Democratic opponent Brian Turner in early voting, was nowhere to be seen.

The conversation at the Holiday Inn Biltmore West in Enka, where Turner and his supporters gathered, centered on the positive impact that early voting had for Democratic candidates. The leads – in the range of a couple thousand votes or less – were slim. Could they hold as results poured in?

As Ramsey made repeated trips outside to check his phone and make calls, it became clear the outlook was bleak.

“If it’s good news, tell us,” one man said, as another prepared to relay the latest set of numbers from his phone to a group. “If it’s bad, don’t even look at it at all.”

“Moffitt’s lost,” another man said, as results became apparent.

Turner, surrounded by family members and campaign workers, was swept into a side room as they received the news. “The Citizen-Times has called it? They’ve called it!” one supporter told Turner, who turned and tightly hugged his wife, Katina. Turner appeared stunned, at one point turning around amid the knot of people around him and announcing, “I don’t know what to do.” Ten minutes later, he walked into the hotel lobby to an energized crowd cheering his name.

When the news arrived back at the piano bar that U.S. Reps. Patrick McHenry and Mark Meadows, both Republicans, had won re-election to their respective seats, there were no cheers or sighs of relief—focus was instead completely placed on races at the state and county-level. Reactions were muted as races were called.

The mood became dispirited, as candidates fielded by the Buncombe County Republican party failed to win a single seat in races against their Democratic opponents.

Miranda Debruhl, who ran against independent Nancy Waldrop for commission District 3, was the only winner in the room.

“The people have spoken. So be it,” one woman said.

“The people?! The people of Asheville,” another replied.

There were no speeches. Instead, a piano player struck up “America the Beautiful,” followed by sing-along hits like “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Take on Me.” No one sang along.

Outside, Ramsey juggled calls between radio hosts and supporters. The outgoing representative wished his opponent John Ager the best, and added that he wasn’t surprised to have been defeated in a race where outside groups poured money in support of Ager’s campaign.

“You get outspent 7-1 in a district that’s 50-50, you’re gonna lose,” Ramsey said. “Unless you’re an incredibly talented person who can walk on water. And I can’t.”

In Enka, Turner stepped upon the dais set with a podium and a big banner bearing his name. “Buncombe has a new voice in Raleigh, one that is accountable and has no strings attached,” he said. Volunteers and friends clapped Turner on the back, hugged him and turned to one other as they savored the take-down of Moffitt, a one of the most controversial members of the Buncombe delegation of state House members in recent memory. 

At The Millroom on Asheland Avenue, Democrats reveled with enthusiasm over the night’s results.

Democratic candidates had been victorious in contests across the board—Ager for House District 115, Turner for House District 116, Terry Van Duyn for Senate District 49, Ellen Frost in commission District 2, Todd Williams for district attorney, Van Duncan for sheriff and Steven Cogburn for clerk of superior court.

“What a night!” a man screamed as craft beer flowed and Bruce Springsteen’s “No Surrender” blared.

A line of people waited to hug Ager, who said he was “giddy” at the night’s outcome.

“We’ve got work to do,” another supporter said.

The room, buzzing with celebration, eventually thinned as the night grew late.

Jake Quinn, a long-time Democratic Party activist, said earlier in the night that if Buncombe Dems could knock off two state House incumbents, the results would put the mountain county squarely back in the center of the universe of statewide – and possibly national – Democratic Party politics.

“In two years, we’ll have a presidential election and we’ll have to find someone to run agains (U.S. Sen. Richard) Burr,” Quinn said. “Maybe it’s about time folks look west to find the right candidate who can win.”

Remaining supporters eyed the incoming results of the narrow U.S. Senate race between Thom Tillis and U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, which would have been icing on the cake for the group had Hagan won. In the end, it was Tillis who eked out a victory in a bitter campaign that now ranks as the most expensive race ever for  U.S. Senate seat, with both candidates spending a total of $100 million.

But no matter—the group’s gains on the local level were reason enough to whoop it up.


Barry Summers November 7, 2014 - 10:23 pm

Two big issues for conservatives, which the mainstream media in Asheville refused to cover, were tolls on interstates and drones.

At the CIBO debate in August, Moffitt was asked about how to cover the shortfall in traditional funding methods for highway construction, and the only thing he could think of was privatized HOT lanes. When it was clear that that was not well received by the audience of conservative business owners, he tried to do a 180, but no one bought it. Later, he was asked about it at a Tea Party meeting, and he tried to tell them that the I-77 toll lane project was “just conversations at this point – no commitments have been made.” Wildly false – the contracts have been signed, and there’s no stopping it short of fighting it in court. They didn’t buy his attempts to sweep that one under the rug either.

Same sort of story on drones – no need to re-hash it. But the leader of the Tea Party was so convinced Moffitt had lied to them, that she basically urged members to not vote for him. That rippled out into the conservative community for weeks.

Local reporters and editors have refused to report on either of these issues, and so were caught off guard on how much they may have influenced the vote for/against Moffitt. Too bad, because the NCGOP across the rest of the state need to know why the rising star of the west was brought down – by his own.

Barry Summers November 6, 2014 - 10:05 pm

Even Pete “Don’t Give Moffitt Tough Debate Questions To Answer” Kaliner has to ask,

“Did Republicans abandon Rep. Moffitt?”

bit.ly/1ybDCD8 (drag & drop)

‘Abandon’ is a curious word. It implies cowardice or betrayal. How about ‘Withdrew Support From Someone Who Didn’t Share Their Values’?

Privatization, State seizure of municipal utilities, toll lanes, warrantless drone surveillance… Does Pete have the nerve to really delve into why conservatives didn’t vote for Tim Moffitt?

NFB November 7, 2014 - 1:51 pm

According to an article that ran in MX last year, a link of which it included in an analysis in another post here at Ashvegas, both Moffitt and Ramsey were invited to speak to a CIBO gathering. After each gave their speech they were invited to stay and meet with people.

Ramsey accepted the invitation, while Moffitt refused by saying “I have a real job to get to.”

So, given that here is an elected official insulting people who would tend to be his natural allies, it might not be a big stretch to conclude that Moffitt felt invincible in his ambitions and overconfident in his goals. If one believes Brian Turner’s side of the story of their meeting last summer, Moffitt seemed annoyed that he was even having the run for reelection while he was trying to become Speaker. That certainly seems to match up with the Moffitt we have seen over the past four years.

It simply appears that Moffit took too much of his base for granted in office. It is not unreasonable to think that there are more than a few business oriented Republicans in Buncombe County who saw no need for the war he was raging against Asheville and felt that the water bill could be a disruption for business. It would not surprise me if more than a few of these found Turner to be an acceptable alternative.

One of the interesting aspects of Tuesday’s results was that Moffit’s defeat was by a larger margin than Nathan Ramsey’s even though Moffit’s district is more Republican friendly. Many observers thought that Ramsey was the more likely of the two to lose.

luther blissett November 7, 2014 - 6:13 pm

While John Ager will be an excellent voice in Raleigh, I have a smidge of sympathy for Nathan Ramsay, who you could well imagine trundling on as a small-c conservative taking care of local business in Fairview and east Buncombe, perhaps picking a few more battles with the nutjob GOP leadership out east, had he not come into the vicinity of an ego-driven careerist who had all sorts of mustache-twirling schemes to propel him up the greasy pole

(Timmy never even showed up at Off The Wall on Tuesday night, which shows just how much respect he had for other candidates and activists in the local party, other than as props for his own advancement. He remains a very ambitious man in all the worst ways.)

Both Ramsay and David King were naive enough to take a ride in the Moffitt bus, got thrown out the door and had it backed over them.

NFB November 7, 2014 - 6:30 pm

“Both Ramsay and David King were naive enough to take a ride in the Moffitt bus, got thrown out the door and had it backed over them.”

Yeah, but the difference is that David King got thrown out the door by a genuine loon. Michelle Bachmann is headed to the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners.

While Nathan Ramsey doesn’t have the foam at the mouth zealotry of ambitions that Moffitt has he DID, with full knowledge and cooperation sell his soul to him so it is difficult for me to manage even that smidge of sympathy for him that you have.

WNC GUY November 5, 2014 - 7:20 pm

Anyone thinking that AVL LVR maybe Tim Peck in disguise? LOL

ashevillain November 6, 2014 - 12:07 pm

Nah. He’s too much of a narcissist for aliases.

luther blissett November 5, 2014 - 3:59 pm

I see that Mouthpiece is busily celebrating victories he had no part in, and making veiled threats about what the NCGA may now do to Asheville.

Given the weak turnout and disappointing results among Democrats statewide, doesn’t that make Moffitt’s ouster (with Ramsey as collateral damage) a very personal repudiation of him and his nasty little mob?

NFB November 5, 2014 - 4:52 pm

Interesting that they want to blame Asheville when very little of the city is in that district. If they should “punish” anyway, it should be the western part of Buncombe County. They were the ones who turned Moffitt out of office.

roo November 5, 2014 - 11:59 pm

Mr Peck probably doesn’t realize that he cost Moffitt 600-700 votes just by being himself.

cwaster November 5, 2014 - 12:54 pm

Glad Republi-Muppett is gone.

chris November 5, 2014 - 3:51 pm

Hopefully this is the end for the mouthpiece, as well.

Tim Peck November 6, 2014 - 8:12 am

It’s like a nightmare, isn’t it?

chris November 6, 2014 - 8:30 am

You’re more like a suppurating rash.

roo November 5, 2014 - 10:49 am

Nathan wins the surly concession speech award. Stay classy, Nathan.

NFB November 5, 2014 - 2:16 pm

Given how he conducted himself over the past two years in Raleigh, letting himself be led around by the nose by Tim Moffitt, I’d say it’s a little late for that.

As the old saying goes “if you lie down with dogs you’re going to get fleas.” Nathan Ramsey simply fell in with the wrong crowd and he paid the price for it last night.

NFB November 5, 2014 - 4:50 pm

I would also add that Ben Scales didn’t exactly when the price for most gracious concession either. He is his quote in today’s ACT:

“Their organization crushed me,” “If you’re their candidate, you win. I really thought if I shared that I was the best candidate, I would win. I did not understand it’s way more than than. As Ron (Moore) called it, it’s the machine. I didn’t have a machine; I had my wife and me.”

Interesting he leaves out NORML, again.

Melissa November 5, 2014 - 9:58 am

Great job on the coverage, Jason & James!

Politics Watcher November 5, 2014 - 9:38 am

Could someone explain to AVL LVR that the McClures, Clarkes, and Agers are a long-standing public spirited Buncombe family devoted to the land and the community, very much in the Mayberry mold. John Ager is also a deep down kind and old fashioned man as well. The posters peculiar comment should not go unchallenged.

AVL LVR November 5, 2014 - 12:53 pm

I’m not against voting Democrat per se. I switched my vote for Brian Turner (glad he personally supported private education).

I will miss Ramsey. Ager doesn’t come close to being a good replacement. Ager reminds me of a disgusting slimy octopus, though I hope I’m proved wrong for all our sakes.

Barry Summers November 5, 2014 - 1:12 pm

John Ager is a good man, and we’re lucky to have him. I know you’re freaked out to wake up in a solid blue county, but maybe give the vitriol a rest.

AVL LVR November 5, 2014 - 9:06 am

Overall it was a good night. The Republicans won the senate and Moffitt was defeated. Unfortunately, Nathan Ramsey was defeated by the weird perverted-looking Ager. Ramsey was someone I could trust. He was a deep down kind and old fashioned man like in Mayberry R.F.D. I was proud to have him represent me. Thank you Ramsey!

Barry Summers November 5, 2014 - 11:09 am

AVL LVR – the McClures, Clarkes, and Agers are a long-standing public spirited Buncombe family devoted to the land and the community, very much in the Mayberry mold. John Ager is also a deep down kind and old fashioned man as well.

luther blissett November 5, 2014 - 11:10 am

I don’t know what AVL LVR looks like, but he definitely sounds creepy.

Nathan Ramsey is an old-fashioned conservative who made some very poor choices. Like David King, he was lured by Timmy the Moff’s sneaky schemes and faced the consequences. You don’t get to vote out the crazy Republicans in other districts. But you can vote out the people who support the crazy Republicans in other districts.

Anyway, I don’t know who to feel sorriest for in local politics: Miranda DeBruhl, whose utterly vacuous campaign will run slap-bang into the reality of county government next year, or the rest of the commissioners who’ll have to deal with that collision.

AVL LVR November 5, 2014 - 12:00 pm

I hope Miranda DeBruhl keeps county government in line.

If you look on a precinct level map for NC’s US Senate seat, you’ll notice the scariest areas voted Hagan. Where some of my relatives live in eastern part of the state, the east side of town voted 90%+ democratic and the west side of town voted Republican. The east side is crime ridden and government dependent (most don’t work). Even in Western NC, Highlands, Cashiers, Blowing Rock all voted Republican. I’d rather WNC look like those beautiful areas with the productive potential of the west side of the towns in the eastern part of NC. At least the precinct of Asheville where I live in voted Republican.

Barry Summers November 5, 2014 - 12:08 pm

The “scariest areas”. Wow.

AVL LVR November 5, 2014 - 12:24 pm

Just look in the news where all the crime is happening. I’ve never had to lock my car door where I live now, but two years ago when I stayed at a hotel in a “democrat” section of town, I had my car window smashed and $600 worth of my stuff including my GPS stolen despite the car door being locked.

luther blissett November 5, 2014 - 12:48 pm

We’ve already established in past threads that AVL LVR has a deep, deep problem with all things “urban” and wishes they’d just go away. He’s good at the ol’ dog whistle.

I’d rather WNC look like those beautiful areas

Acreage doesn’t vote. Trees don’t vote. Rocks don’t vote, though in your case, I’ll make an exception.

As for DeBruhl, she has a choice: to serve out her term like a responsible conservative or become another Lisa Baldwin, bringing tinfoil-hatted disruption and irrelevant Tea Party talking points to county commission meetings. Given that her campaign was a giant bag of nothing, I have my expectations, but we’ll see.

NFB November 5, 2014 - 2:19 pm

Scariest parts.

Yeah, I know I never go walking around North Asheville, even in the daytime.

And they say Democrats engage in class warfare!

Foghat November 5, 2014 - 2:27 pm

Lived in N. Asheville for going on 10+ years. Never had a lick of trouble. Watch your words.

Harry November 5, 2014 - 9:00 pm

Has nothing to do with class warfare and everything to do with personal security. Hang out where you want, and we will do the same.

NFB November 6, 2014 - 10:50 am

Foghat — that was my point. The claim that the “scary areas” voted for Hagan is not born out by any sense of reality and North Asheville are among those places that voted for her.

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