By Sarah Nagem
Charles Townsend, a Democrat and mayor in Robeson County, didn’t raise money for his campaign for a seat in the N.C. House of Representatives.
Townsend, who won the Democratic primary for District 47 on Tuesday, said he simply wanted to give voters a choice. He said the seat is almost guaranteed to go to Jarrod Lowery, a Republican who raised more than $48,000 and won endorsements from some powerful politicians on the road to his own primary win.
They will face off in November for the district, which spans much of Robeson County and includes Lumberton and Pembroke. But Townsend said he doesn’t plan to do much campaigning.
“Jarrod is a real good guy, and (he’s) going to be tough to beat,” Townsend told the Border Belt Independent on Wednesday.
The District 47 seat has been held for years by Charles Graham, a Democrat who is vying for a seat in Congress. Graham narrowly won the Democratic primary on Tuesday for the District 7 seat in the U.S. House Representatives. He will run against incumbent David Rouzer, a Republican.
Flipping District 47 to the GOP would help cement Republicans’ control of the state legislature, ultimately limiting Democrat Gov. Roy Cooper’s agenda.
It would also be another example of the shifting politics in Robeson County, one of the most diverse counties in North Carolina and home to the Lumbee Native American tribe. Voters here picked Barack Obama for president in 2008 and 2012 and then Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020.
Danny Britt, a Lumberton attorney initially elected in 2016, was the first Republican to win the District 13 seat representing Robeson and Columbus counties in the state Senate.
Republicans have hoped that Robeson, once a stronghold for Democrats, will continue its move to the right. The national party even opened a community center in Pembroke to serve Native American voters – most of them Lumbee, a tribe that has about 60,000 members mostly in southeastern North Carolina.
“We’re excited that this county went red in 2020, but we don’t want it to be a one-off election,” Michael Whatley, chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party, said during the community center’s opening event in January. “We want this to be a Republican county going forward.”
This isn’t Lowery’s first attempt at politics. He lost the N.C. House seat to Graham by more than 17 points in 2018. But with Graham seeking higher office and the shift in voters’ politics, some said this was Lowery’s year.
“The environment right now is a great environment for Republicans nationally,” Lowery told the Border Belt Independent on Wednesday, adding that he has heard many concerns from residents about inflation and rising gas prices.
“It’s at the forefront of the minds of voters,” he said.
Lowery, a member of the Lumbee tribe who served in the U.S. Marines and now works as the community relations manager for Mountainaire Farms, said he was thankful for the Republican nomination for the seat. But he said his work isn’t over.
Townsend, who serves as the mayor of Fairmont, was the top vote-getter in Tuesday’s primary election. He won more than 3,300 votes, or 64% of votes cast in the Democratic primary, according to unofficial results from the N.C. State Board of Elections.
Lowery garnered about 1,300 votes on Tuesday, accounting for about 70% of votes cast in the Republican primary. He beat opponent Mickey Biggs.
While the political tide has shifted in Robeson, Democrats account for most of the registered voters. The county has about 36,500 registered Democrats, 12,300 registered Republicans and 21,300 unaffiliated voters, according to the state elections board.
Switching District 47 to the GOP wouldn’t necessarily mean a switch in votes on controversial topics. Graham, a conservative Democrat who is also a member of the Lumbee tribe, has voted to tighten some abortion rules. He also voted in favor of the so-called “bathroom bill” – a measure that forced people in state-owned buildings to use the restrooms that corresponded to their assigned sex at birth.
Graham apologized last fall, when he launched his campaign for Congress, for voting in favor of the bill that LGBTQ advocates said was discriminatory.
Lowery, whose brother, John Lowery, serves as chairman of the Lumbee tribe, told the Border Belt Independent in January that the socially and fiscally conservative views of many people in Robeson County better align with the Republican party.
“The fact that Democrats went away from supporting American workers to being a little more globalist … I think that was the first tide of going away,” he said.
Lowery has raised far more money than his opponents this election cycle – more than $48,000 from individuals and political action committees, campaign finance reports show. He also won endorsements from U.S. Rep. Dan Bishop, a Charlotte Republican, state Sen. Britt and others.
Other candidates for the District 47 seat didn’t come close to Lowery’s fundraising totals. Biggs raised less than $3,300.
Townsend did not file campaign finance reports with the state elections board. Ghaffar raised about $4,500, records show.
Lowery’s biggest financial contribution – $5,600 – came from the Friends of Tim Moore Campaign, a group for the Republican speaker of the House, records show.
He also received $5,000 from the Committee to Elect Dan Forest, a Republican who served as the state’s lieutenant governor from 2013 to 2021.
“It was really awesome to win,” Lowery said of Tuesday’s victory. “No matter what, I’ve still got a lot of folks to meet in Robeson County.”