Just the Facts

Longtime commissioner unseated in low turnout primary

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Morgan Stewart

With big names dominating big races, Super Tuesday could have been a ho-hum affair, but Macon County departed from the ordinary and elected newcomer Barry Breeden over three-term incumbent Paul Higdon for county commissioner.

The real twist to this election is that while incumbents are almost always very hard to beat, early voting and election day results showed the race was Breeden’s to lose. When early voting closed March 2, the local businessman led Higdon 1,493 votes (54.7%) to 1,234 votes (45.2%). And though the incumbent tightened the race on Super Tuesday, it was not enough. Breeden won with 3,319 votes (51.78%) to Higdon’s 3,091 votes (48.22%).

VOTERS MARK their ballots at a local polling place.

A winning platform

During his campaign, Breeden staked out a vision he hoped would connect with voters. 

“To continue moving Macon County forward, we must prioritize investing in and strengthening what we have; our school system, our county employees, emergency services, parks and recreation, senior services, etc., while still exploring creative ways to drive economic growth.”

BARRY BREEDEN greets Marcia Randall as she comes to cast her vote on Super Tuesday.

As Macon Sense visited polling places, Breeden’s support for smart growth and a new Franklin High School clearly resonated. 

Super Tuesday voter Drew Mason said, “I like the way Barry is involved in the community and the things he does for us. He supports growth and the new school, and that’s what we need in the community.”


Voter Molly Philips backed Breeden’s position on education, “It’s the most important non-partisan issue you can have in rural areas. Investing in that is important to me.”

Other local races

In the county commissioner race for District 2, incumbent Josh Young, who ran on regional housing concerns and growth with effective financial planning, defeated challenger Chris Browning, the “No New Taxes” candidate, by more than 20%. Young garnered 3,935 votes (61.05%) to Browning’s 2,511 votes (38.95%).

The N.C. District Court Judge District 43 race pitted Franklin’s Virginia Hornsby against Sylva’s Andy Buckner. Voters in Haywood, Jackson, Swain, Graham, Cherokee, Clay, and Macon counties elected Hornsby with 13,618 votes (52.7%) to Buckner’s 12,193 votes (47.2%). 

With no Democrats running for the commissioner or judicial seats, Breeden, Young, and Hornsby will run unopposed in November.

Low turnout

In most years, a presidential primary combined with a gubernatorial election drives higher turnouts. But this year, out of 28,362 local registered voters, only 8,415 went to the polls.

“With the Commissioner races, I thought more voters would cast a ballot. Since there was no opposition for those seats, those races were basically decided in the primary,” said Melanie Thibault, director of the Macon County Board of Elections. She believes a lack of competition in the presidential races could be one of many factors in low turnout. 

Statewide, President Joe Biden garnered 87.3% of the vote. Donald Trump won 73.8%. In Macon County, Biden earned 88.3% and Trump 74.6%. In Macon County, 6,821 Republicans voted in the presidential primary compared to 1,500 Democrats and 15 Libertarians. 

In the governor’s primaries, Republican Mark Robinson won with 64.8% and Democrat Josh Stein rolled with 69.6%. In Macon, Robinson earned 62.09%, while Stein received 76.1%.

Why Maconians voted 

While local turnout was low, concern across the board was high.

In Otto, Marcia Randall voted for Trump to fix the border, the economy, and the nation’s moral compass. 

“The people in Washington are Godless people. They are not considering what the people want. They’re not considering our rights and what’s best for this country. This nation was created on Godly principles and I want us to go back to those.”

In North Franklin, a retired pastor, asking to remain anonymous, voted for Nikki Haley but saw Trump’s relationship with God differently. 

“I like Trump’s policies, but when he ran last time, I said we are voting for Babylonians not Christians, so we need to think about issues. The current president is too old and Trump is too divisive.”

In Holly Springs, Lora Barham also supported Haley.

“I feel like the majority of Americans are sick of the hard right and the hard left. Most people live in a world of moderation. Those four years of Trump were exhausting.” 


Another Holly Springs voter, Amanda Downs, said one reason she supported Trump was because he would ensure fair elections. 

Another Otto voter, Luke Abel, backs Trump because of the open border and high housing costs. “I don’t like what’s going on at the border, and I’d like to see someone do something about the price of housing. I’m very opposed to big corporations buying up all the housing and inflating everything.”

Dave Patterson was less policy oriented. “I’m voting against the regime we got in the government today. They’re ruining our country. They’re trying to put Trump in jail, but they’re the ones that need to be in jail.” 

Voter Gabe Webb voted “No Preference” on the Democratic ticket stating, “Gaza was the most important issue. When you see the pictures of kids that have been disfigured, it’s disgusting. I can’t in good conscious vote for Biden again.”


Franklin’s Latosha Adams backs the current president because “I have more faith in Biden than Trump” to handle tough issues like the economy and wars. 

Morgan Stewart has experience in local, state and national political campaigns and is a former editor for the Washington, D.C.-based Campaigns & Elections Magazine.