by Eric Ginsburg
Shortly before 10:30 p.m. on election night, Bruce Davis’ odds shifted considerably in the Democratic primary for Congressional District 13.
The former Guilford County commissioner had trailed Greensboro developer Bob Isner late in the evening, down by just 98 votes. But when nine of the final 10 precincts reported, Davis jumped up to snag a 103-vote lead of his own.
And when the last of the 220 precincts in District 13 came in, Davis only built on his lead, carrying 4,694 votes to Isner’s 4,582. Meanwhile, Greensboro entrepreneur Adam Coker trailed with 4,098 votes, significantly above Greensboro’s Mazie Ferguson (2,943) and Durham’s Kevin D. Griffin (1,938).
A mere 0.61 percent separated Isner and Davis, which gives Isner the ability to request a recount because the gap is less than 1 percent, Guilford County Elections Director Charlie Collicutt said on Tuesday night after the results. He added that his office still needs to count provisional ballots and will be accepting absentee by mail for up to three days after the election.
“This is still a moving target right now,” Collicutt said, adding that the results could grow closer, further apart or stay the same.
Earlier in the evening at Davis’ campaign headquarters in High Point, the atmosphere was grim. A subdued audience of about 40 supporters murmured while watching online results refresh every few seconds on a projector screen.
“We’re pretty tense right now,” campaign staffer Andrew Henson said.
Davis shared the sentiment.
“This is a nervous time, just waiting for numbers to arrive,” he said. “We’ll just keep our fingers crossed.”
But about an hour later, big blocks of Davis’ base in High Point and black precincts in Greensboro started to roll in, and the mood shifted as a win started to look possible.
Isner and his campaign could not immediately be reached for comment.
On the rooftop patio at M’Couls in Greensboro, Adam Coker’s supporters mostly stared quietly into their phones, hoping for a spike in his numbers as the evening pressed on. Coker, a self-described progressive who won the endorsement of pro-LGBT Replacements Limited PAC, didn’t appear optimistic even as some supporters cheered his improving numbers. As some supporters started to drift out, one reassured him: “We’re still counting.”
By around 10 p.m. with a little more than a dozen precincts left to report, Coker said he would need to wait until all the results were in before calling it.
The Republican side of the District 13 race proved to be a much more clear-cut contest, with ProShots gun range owner and first-time candidate Ted Budd of Davie County walloping establishment candidates and others, somehow amassing 20 percent of the vote in a race packed with 17 contenders.
Budd, who describes himself as a conservative and “outsider” on his campaign Facebook page, structured his efforts around “taking on the establishment,” “helping families thrive” and “insisting on fiscal responsibility,” according to his website.
State Rep. John Blust of Greensboro, who placed a distant second with 10.4 percent of the vote, credited the funding behind Budd with upending the race. The Club for Growth PAC heavily financed Budd’s campaign.
“When somebody comes in with probably three-quarter million dollars, it totally changes what the race was,” Blust said at his watch party at Darryl’s restaurant in Greensboro.
Commenting before the night ended, Blust said that if he lost, he didn’t think that things would change in Washington.
“People voted the way they did in 2014 because they wanted change,” he said. “And they definitely didn’t see any change.”
Budd thanked his supporters via Facebook around 10 p.m. on election night.
“Thanks to everyone who prayed, volunteered, donated and voted!” he wrote. “Very grateful tonight!”
Guilford County Commissioner Hank Henning of High Point barely trailed Blust, just 23 votes behind Blust’s 3,293 on election night. But Budd pulled in a whopping 6,308, running away with the contest.
If the results on the Democratic side hold, Davis and Budd will face off in the fall.
The Republican primary for the 6th Congressional District proved even easier to call, with Congressman Mark Walker celebrating on the patio of the Marshall Free House in Greensboro among a throng of eager supporters before 9 p.m. Walker — a first-term congressman who faced a challenge from the right in Chris Hardin, a pharmaceutical businessman and police officer — swept the floor with nearly 78 percent of the primary electorate, 16,779 to 4,743.
Noting that 51 percent of the redrawn district is new to him, Walker said the results are a mandate. In his celebratory remarks, he noted that the district is now more diverse and includes NC A&T University, pulling on an Aggies baseball cap and saying he welcomed the new makeup of the 6th District, which covers about half of Guilford County but is predominantly rural, reaching into Alamance, Randolph, Chatham and Lee counties. Walker will face Democrat Pete Glidewell in the general election.
If re-elected, Walker said he will focus on giving educational control to the states, veteran’s issues and mental health reform, as well as building relationships with his new constituents in the redrawn 6th District. But before he turns his focus to the future, he took a moment to relax and celebrate with his supporters, including local sheriffs such as BJ Barnes of Guilford County.
“Enjoy yourselves, eat some of this English food and have a good time,” Walker said to the crowd, answered by much applause.
Brian Clarey and Joanna Rutter contributed to this report.