NEW HANOVER COUNTY — Every vote counts.
That was the overriding message in the New Hanover County Board of Education election as primary results trickled in Tuesday night. Although it’s clear Chris Sutton will not represent the Republican party, the final Democratic candidate in the eight-person race is still up in the air. Incumbent Nelson Beaulieu scored just three more ballots in his favor than his newcomer opponent Jennah Bosch.
At the polls, about 17.67% of registered voters — 30,939 of 175,101 — showed up this election. There are still provisional and mail-in ballots to tally to determine who will represent the Democratic party.
“I’m still very hopeful but of course nervous,” Bosch said. “And I know those nerves won’t go away until after the absentee and provisional ballots are certified and then we have a recount.”
Votes are not final until the local board of election canvasses the results on May 27. Such close margins of less than 1% — Beaulieu with 7,296 votes and Bosch with 7,293 — could trigger a recount.
Bosch acknowledged she campaigned without a team or an incumbent advantage, both of which may have been dings on her popularity.
“Most people did not know who I was,” she said. “One of the biggest differences I will make for my campaign, if I’m blessed enough to make it to the general election, will be getting my name and face out more so that I can really spread my message, and the voters can get to know me and what I stand for.”
Her now-primary opponent, Beaulieu, is well known. Elected in 2018, he came in fourth place on the November ballot with 41,549 votes, or 12.69%. He was also on the board as sex scandals came to light and served as the vice chair in 2020 and 2021.
“You prepare for every eventuality on election night, but a lot of the times the one you don’t prepare for is the one that happens,” Beaulieu said. “That’s where we are. So I’m just gonna wait as patiently as anybody can wait for results, and I will support whatever outcome the voters have delivered upon us.”
There are four seats up for grabs on the New Hanover County Board of Education. In the primaries, voters got to choose up to four of five candidates to represent their party. Sutton, who originally tried to petition to run unaffiliated before switching to the Republican party, is out of the race after scoring 2,317 votes behind fourth-place winner Pete Wildeboer. In total, Sutton collected 8,217 ballots in his favor, 15.64%.
Democrat Veronica McLaurin-Brown came out on top for the Democratic party. She garnered 11,852 votes, a ballot total of 26%. She’s known for sitting front row at school board meetings and advocating for an end to suspensions for young children as a member of Love Our Children. She broke $20,000 in fundraising during the first quarter, according to campaign filings.
The publisher of Wrightsville Beach Magazine, Pat Bradford, was the top-vote getter in the Republican race. Her numbers were also reflective of her cash at hand, as she was working with more than $30,000 in campaign finances. Bradford collected 22% of the voters on her ticket, a total of 11,659.
Overall, Republican candidates had more supporters. Republicans Melissa Mason, Josie Barnhart and incumbent Wildeboer all advanced to the general election with over 10,000 voters checking boxes by their names.
Mason was right behind Bradford with 11,570 votes, a ballot percentage of 22.02%, and Barnhart accumulated 10,563 votes, 20.10%.
In fourth place, Wildeboer just made it to the November election with 10,534 supporters, 20.05%. The retired principal also pulled low totals in 2020, losing in fourth place to Democrat Hugh McManus by 3,448 votes. He was appointed to the school board after his GOP nomination to replace Bill Rivenbark, who was elected to the county commissioners. Now he must successfully reclaim his seat to keep the job.
For the Democrats, Dorian Cromartie was behind McLaurin-Brown with 9,450 votes, 21.09%. Cromartie possesses some family recognition as his grandmother is the namesake of Rachel Freeman Elementary.
Judy Justice, an incumbent who first ran at the same time as Beaulieu, was on the lower side with 8,910 votes, 19.89%. It was still enough to progress her candidacy to the November election. She has faced some scrutiny after the board members censured her and passed a vote of no confidence. In 2018’s general election, Justice earned the second-most votes, behind Stefanie Adams who is not seeking re-election.
The four winners in November will join chair Stephanie Kraybill, vice chair Stephanie Walker and McManus.