NEW HANOVER COUNTY — In the region’s tightest race, former Wilmington Mayor Harper Peterson took home 38 more votes than incumbent State Senator Michael Lee, flipping – but just barely – the seat from Republican to Democrat for the first time in years. Democrats took seats on the county’s top boards as well, and by safer margins.
RELATED: Here are the final results of Election Day 2018 for Brunswick, New Hanover, and Pender counties (free read)
In Brunswick and Pender counties, Republican candidates had strong showings in local races. Republican candidates won every open Board of Education, Board of Commissioners, and Sheriff seat.
At the state level, Republican State Senator Bill Rabon won re-election with a 20-point margin; across the board, Republican candidates held four of the five state representative seats, with Democrat Deb Butler – who ran essentially unopposed – as the exception. At the federal level, Republican David Rouzer won re-election to Congress, defeating Democratic challenger Kyle Horton by about 13 points.
But in New Hanover County, Democrats scored several upsets.
With all of New Hanover County’s precincts reporting, Peterson had 41,627 votes to Lee’s 41,591 — a margin of just .04 percent. The results are still subject to the county canvassing next week, which will include absentee ballots postmarked by Election Day and received by Friday. The race is also well within the range for a recount.
Peterson’s Election Day victory comes after a campaign that grew increasingly heated as November approached. The final week of the race was marked by an ethics complaint filed by a former chair of the New Hanover County Republican party over Lee’s alleged use of his public position to further his private law practice. Lee categorically denied the allegations, calling them “ridiculous.” Peterson, for his part, denied any involvement in the complaint.
Shake-ups for New Hanover County boards
On the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners, Democrat Rob Zapple won re-election and Julia Olson-Boseman won a return to the board she served from 2000 to 2004. Boseman was narrowly defeated two years ago, landing close enough in the polls to request a recount.
Republican Skip Watkins finished third in the race for two open commissioner seats, placing just over a percentage point behind Olson-Boseman. Barring an upset before the county canvassing, the Board will be majority Democrat – with Zapple and Olson-Boseman, as well as Jonathon Barfield – now joining (or rejoining) Republicans Patricia Kusek and Chairman Woody White.
The most drastic shake-up in the region was the New Hanover County Board of Education. The Board was guaranteed at least one new face back after outgoing Chairman Edward Higgins lost in May’s primary election.
After Election Day voting, it looks like the Board will get four new members, including three Democrats who will now join the formerly all-Republican board.
Democratic candidates Nelson Beaulieu, Stefanie Adams, and Judy Justice will all join the board, along with Republican Bill Rivenbark. Republican incumbents Janice Cavanaugh, Don Hayes, and Bruce Shell were all defeated.
The race for two of the seats was very close, with four candidates landing within a half percentage point; several candidates could request county-wide recounts.
|Votes||Percent of vote|
|Stefanie Adams (D.)||44,278||13.69%|
|Janice Cavenaugh (R.)||38,619||11.94%|
|Judy Justice (D.)||43,006||13.30%|
|Bruce Shell (R.)||39,314||12.16%|
|Elena Rosemond-Hoerr (D.)||39,225||12.13%|
|Bill Rivenbark (R.)||40,244||12.44%|
|Nelson Beaulieu (D.)||40,952||12.66%|
|Don Hayes (R.)||37,778||11.68%|