ELECTION: Harding, Pittman, Masters win Primary

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Trio will face Democrat Howard Larsen in General Election for seats on board of commissioners

  • Election Jeff
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Mitchell County Commissioner Jeff Harding, right, speaks with Tim Hoilman Tuesday, March 3, at the Grassy Creek precinct polling place at Deyton Elementary. (Brandon Roberts/MNJ)

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BAKERSVILLE – The 2020 Republican Primary Election in Mitchell County had 11 candidates vying for three seats on the Mitchell County Board of Commissioners. A large number of candidates created a considerable increase in voter turnout from the county’s two previous primaries, and two of the three incumbent commissioners lost their bids for re-election. 

Incumbent Jeff Harding was the top vote-getter in the election, garnering 1,947 total votes. Harding is currently serving a two-year term as commissioner after finishing third in a four-person race in the 2018 primary with 1,347 votes.

“I am totally shocked at the support and very honored that the people put their trust in me,” Harding said. “Over my next term, I will work hard and continue making the best decisions I can based on the facts.”

Challenger Brandon Dean Pittman finished in second place, just 73 votes behind Harding with 1,874. He said he was humbled by the results of the election and is excited to be one of the Republican Party candidates in the November General Election.

“It is an honor to have the trust and support of the people of Mitchell County,” he said. “It is not something I take lightly, and true success can only be measured down the road. I am proud of is the fact I was somewhat of a non-traditional candidate. When I was working the poll on Election Day, it was a privilege to see and talk with many of the people that came out to cast their vote for me. I didn’t go into this election with or seeking the endorsement or support of some of our county’s more influential citizens. The thing I am most proud of is I was elected by every day, working people.” 

Pittman said he was excited to see former students come out to vote for him, and several were voting in their first election. 

“If I am elected in November, my sincere wish is this is a victory, not just for me, but for us all. I am continuing to learn as I embark on this new chapter. I think the biggest asset I bring is my particular career gives me the opportunity to get a lot of feedback from the community. One thing I can promise is I value and will listen to that feedback.”  

Challenger and lone female candidate Harley Masters won the third and final seat with 1,640 votes, just 234 votes behind Pittman. A mere 184 votes separated masters and fourth-place finisher Raymond Cantrell Jr., but the difference was enough to eliminate the possibility of a runoff mathematically.

“I am honored to be the youngest candidate to make it through the Primary Election here in Mitchell County,” Masters said. “I plan on staying educated on issues as well as the decisions made by the current board until November. I will be live streaming the commissioners’ meetings until the current board establishes its own means to do so. In addition, I plan to meet with the other candidates who will be in the General Election to see how we can form a gameplan and make decisions that will best benefit the citizens of our county.”   

The first-place winner, Harding, and third-place winner, Masters, were separated by just 307 votes. 

Incumbent commissioners Danny Burleson and Jacob Willis finished fifth and sixth, respectively, with Burleson garnering 1,141 votes and Willis had 757. Burleson won with 2,333 votes and Willis with 1,648 votes in the 2016 primary.

Voter turnout was higher this past Tuesday than in the previous two primaries with 5,154, or 49.51 percent, of the county’s 10,410 registered voters casting ballots. Voter turnout in the May 2018 primary was 21.5 percent (2,352 ballots cast), well below half of this year’s, and a nearly 7 percent increase from the March 2016 primary, which had a 42 percent turnout (4,660 votes cast). There are 530 fewer registered voters in Mitchell County now than there was in May 2018.

Harding supporters seem to have had their minds made up early as he received 967 total absentee one-stop (943) and absentee by mail (24) votes in addition to 980 votes on Election Day. Pittman received the most votes on Election Day at 1,057, followed by Masters with 1,018. 

Harding won two precincts. His 1,205 votes at Grassy Creek was 330 votes more than Pittman’s 875, and he also won the Snow Creek precinct with 243 votes, 27 votes ahead of Pittman. 

Pittman and Masters each received 269 votes in the Bakersville precinct, which was tied for the most, followed by Cantrell at 260 and Harding at 219.

Masters won the most precincts with five – tying in Bakersville and outright winning Bradshaw, Harrell, Little Rock Creek and Red Hill – and Cantrell carried two, Cane Creek and Poplar.

The three Republican Primary winners and Democratic candidate Howard Larsen will vie for the three seats on the board of commissioners in the November General Election.