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Nifong Holds Off Opponents To Remain Durham County DA

Posted May 3, 2006

— Despite criticism that Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong spoke too soon and too publicly about key facts in a rape investigation involving members of Duke's men's lacrosse team, he won his first bid for election Tuesday night.

With 58 of 59 precincts reporting, Nifong received 45 percent of the vote in the DA race, beating out opponents Freda Black, who received 42 percent of votes, and Keith Bishop, who received 13 percent.

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"My whole message was that the case has nothing to do with the campaign," Nifong said. "All I could do was handle the case the best way the case could be handled, and that's what I tried to do."

Despite the outcome, Nifong never saw himself as a sure winner.

"I'm not sure I'd have a right to be surprised at anything the vote was. I didn't have a sense of what the vote would be," he said.

In recent weeks, Nifong was under fire from defense attorneys and his opponents about his handling of the Duke lacrosse investigation.

On the eve of election, Kirk Osborn who represents one of the two players charged, filed a motion demanding Nifong remove himself from the case. Nifong said he does not put much stock in the legal maneuver.

"Kirk Osborn is trying to get me off the case because he doesn't want to try the case against me, and I don't blame him," he said.

Nifong avoided most questions about the lacrosse rape investigations, but he did say he expects a second round of DNA results to be back by May 15.

Coming up short in the unofficial results, Black, who was one of his most vocal critics in recent weeks, refused to bow to the numbers.

"Our hope is still that the numbers will show that I am the most qualified candidate for district attorney and that the people believe in me to be Durham County district attorney and we will wait and see what happened," she said.

Provisional ballots will be counted on Friday, but an election official told WRAL that it is unlikely those votes will make any difference in the outcome.

Moore County GOP Seat

In other key races across the state, Joe Boylan, of Southern Pines, took the lead in the race for the District 52 seat in the state House of Representatives. With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Boylan received 52 percent of the votes while House Speaker Pro Tempore Richard Morgan received 48 percent.

Morgan faced a tough primary opponent for the second straight election season because of continued animosity between the Republican party's conservative leadership and GOP moderates championed by Morgan. He, along with several other Republicans, struck a deal in 2003 to share the House speakership with Democrat Jim Black, D-Mecklenburg.

Boylan claims the Moore County seat because no Democrats have filed in the district.

Franklin County Sheriff's Race

In the , incumbent Jerry Jones lost his bid for re-election. Jones has been criticized for signing a secret deal to lease a helicopter, which later crashed, in 2004, killing Sheriff's Deputy Ted Horton. The pilot, Ben Barrick, faces manslaughter charges for flying a faulty aircraft.

With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Democrat Pat Green took the Democratic nomination, receiving 48 percent of the vote. Republican Kent Winstead won the Republican nomination with 74 percent of the vote. Green and Winstead will face each other in November's general election.

Wake County Commissioner's Race

In Wake County, incumbent Tony Gurley was declared the winner of the GOP spot on the Board of Commissioners in November's general election, receiving 77 percent of the vote with 99 percent of precincts reporting. Gurley, who supports the idea of school construction bonds, beat out his opponent, Cary software programmer Michael Luther, who supported a "pay-as-you-go" approach to school construction.

Durham County School Board Race

Back in Durham County, four seats were on the ballot for the embattled Durham County Board of Education, which has become well-known for constant bickering and infighting among members.

Incumbents Jackie Wagstaff and Regina George-Bowden both lost their bids for re-election to Omega Parker and Fredrick Davis, respectively. Kristen Kainz and Stephen Martin also won seats on the board.

Another candidate in the school board race, Steve Matherly, lost with only 10 percent of the vote. Last week, Matherly, who has been a candidate for Durham City Council and once before for the school board, received 18 months probation for disrupting a school-board meeting last year.

Cumberland County Sheriff's Race

Democrat Earl "Moose" Butler won his fourth term as Cumberland County Sheriff.

Butler defeated three challengers to keep his job. There was no Republican opposition.

Voters first elected him in 1994.

Other Races

In other legislative primaries, Watauga County commissioner David Blust defeated GOP Sen. John Garwood of Wilkes County, 61 percent to 39 percent, according to complete, unofficial returns. Blust entered the race after Garwood's absence during the final vote on the lottery last year helped gain its passage.

Three judges, led by appellate judge Robin Hudson, jostled closely for position on the November ballot for an open Supreme Court seat.

In the race for a state Supreme Court seat, Appellate judge Robin Hudson will face judge Ann Marie Calabria in November. The winner will replace Associate Justice George Wainwright, who did not seek re-election to a second term.

On the Court of Appeals, incumbent Bob Hunter advanced to the general election, snagging 61 percent of the votes with 66 percent tallied, according to unoffiial returns. He will face Kris Bailey (24 percent) in November.

Appellate incumbent Linda Stephens, who received 45 percent of the vote, will face Donna Stroud (31 percent) in the Court of Appeals race.

Voter Turnout Low Across The State

North Carolina voters were expected to record the lowest recorded primary turnout in state history, officials said Tuesday before the polls closed.

Officials hoped to see a turnout of about 13 percent, North Carolina elections chief Gary Bartlett said. That would tie the record low set in 1994, the last time there were no open seats in the U.S. Senate, no high-profile state contests, such as governor, and no presidential race. The state has only kept turnout figures for primary races since 1988, Bartlett said.

Primary turnout generally hovers around the 20 percent benchmark, although those numbers have dwindled over the past two decades.

"It looks like we're in a downward trend," Bartlett said.

For example, several Wake County precincts welcomed only a few dozen voters, with a polling station in Cary taking in only 30 ballots through nine hours of voting despite having over 2,100 registered voters -- a rate just over 1 percent. A Raleigh polling place had a similar turnout -- 36 voters out of about 2,300 registered.

While turnout was low, Bartlett were pleased to note that most of the new electronic voting machines were working without problems. About 15 memory cards had failed early in the day, Bartlett said, something the state was anticipating. Those machines were quickly fixed and back online.


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