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Voters stick with incumbents

Dr. John “Les” Cloninger (left) smiles at supporters at Democratic headquarters Tuesday night as he accepts a congratulatory handshake from his Republican opponent, Sam Ausband Jr., while the night’s other winning council candidate, Democrat Larry Mac Hovis (center), looks on.

Three incumbent Lincolnton city officials emerged victorious in Tuesday’s election.
The result means the Democratic Party retains control of city government, but has failed to dislodge recent Republican inroads into what historically has been an exclusively Democratic club.
Republican Mayor John Gilleland Jr. easily won a bid for a second term, 970-792, fending off a challenge from Democratic candidate Pam Huskey, the former Lincoln County Clerk of Court. Gilleland’s 178-vote edge was the largest margin of victory and the highest percentage of the vote for any candidate on the night.
However, Democrats were victorious in defending two council seats and will maintain their 3-1 edge in council votes, with Gilleland only eligible to participate in case of a tie.
Ward II City Council member John Cloninger won by a comfortable margin, 948-809, over Republican challenger Sam Ausband Jr.
Ward IV City Council member Larry Mac Hovis faced a closer fight with Republican Tim Shain, but prevailed 906-844.
In all, 1,770 ballots were cast, based on a voter turnout of roughly 30 percent for registered voters of Lincolnton. Seven out of 10 registered city voters sat this one out.
At the Lincoln County Republican Party headquarters, the mood was somber after the Democrats jumped out ahead early with a large lead from both traditional absentee votes and one-stop absentee votes cast well in advance of Tuesday’s polling.
However, as each group of precincts reported, Republicans edged closer. They were able to prevail in the mayor’s race and make a contest of the council races, thanks to an edge among Election Day voters.
Democrats generally enjoy a significant advantage in voter registration within Lincolnton, thanks in part to a heavy concentration of traditionally Democratic ethnic minorities, while Republicans are better-positioned countywide.
Breakdowns of results by geographic area of the city are not yet available for the absentee votes, but among Election Day votes, Democrats generally carried only the Boger City precinct, except in Cloninger’s race, where he also drew slightly more support in the Lincolnton-South and Salem precincts.
Gilleland addressed Republican supporters Tuesday night, echoing the candidates’ appreciation for “what everyone in this room did,” adding that they had an “army of people helping.” He likewise said he was honored to be mayor and that he would do the things that need to be done to make Lincolnton an even better place to live.
In reference to Ausband’s and Shain’s defeat, Gilleland described the night as “bittersweet,” while also saying it was an honor to run with those “two fine guys.”
Over at the Democratic headquarters, the mood was more celebratory. Party Chair Deanna McGinnis spoke to the crowd and said they would move into 2012 and “hit it with a roar.”
Cloninger noted that they had maintained control, and that’s what they were after. However, he also described the night as “bittersweet,” saying they had worked very hard together as a party, and Huskey not being elected was like a family member or friend not making the team.
Nonetheless, he said, they “must be proud.”
Ausband and Shain thanked their supporters and noted that the night hadn’t turned out the way they had hoped. An emotional Shain also said he would “stay in city politics one way or another.”
The result was ironic for Shain who appeared to have won a similar bid two years ago before the discovery of an error by county elections staff that had placed Shain in the wrong ward, forcing his disqualification and a special election in early 2010 that was eventually won by Republican council member Devin Rhyne.
The elections will set the makeup of city government over the next two years. In 2013, Gilleland’s seat will again be up for election, as will those of Rhyne in Ward I and Democratic council member Carroll Heavner in Ward III. As a result, party control of city government will again be in question if both major parties field candidates for all seats.

Image courtesy of Seth Mabry / Lincoln Times-News

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