Wilson has voted blue in recent memory and is the birthplace of one of the North Carolina Democratic Party’s most influential leaders of the 20th century. But are the winds of change blowing in the home of the whirligigs? NC Chamber Political Director Kirk O’Steen took a closer look at the political trends of Wilson County.
By the Numbers: Wilson County
Congress: Congressman Don Davis – D
State House: Ken Fontenot – R
State Senate: Buck Newton – R
County Commission: D 4 – 3 R
District 1 – Leslie T. Atkinson – D
District 2 – Sherry Lucas – D
District 3 – Joanne Daniels – D
District 4 – Roger Lucas – R
District 5 – Rob Boyette – D
District 6 – Chris Hill – R
District 7 – Michael Wetherington – R
County Seat – Wilson, Population 47,731 (2021)
Wilson is a vibrant community that is situated between Raleigh, Rocky Mount, Greenville, and Goldsboro. Its history is steeped in agriculture, but new investment and growth over the last few decades have solidified its status as a destination for families and businesses in Eastern North Carolina.
Wilson’s political history can best be told in eras. After Jimmy Carter’s landslide victory for President in 1976, Republican presidential candidates won Wilson County in every election from 1980 until 2008. President Obama won back the county in 2008, and Wilson remained blue for Obama ’12, Clinton ’16, and Biden ’20.
We can also take a more recent look of US Senate races in Wilson:
The two graphs above illustrate the narrowing of margins in recent elections and even a Republican win margin of over 3% in the 2022 Senate Race. The strong Republican showing in 2022 wasn’t limited to Ted Budd. Supreme Court Justices Richard Dietz and Trey Allen also enjoyed victories in Wilson County. Additionally, Republicans Ken Fontenot and Buck Newton flipped each of their seats in the NC General Assembly. (HD-24 and SD-3, respectively).
So, was 2022 a blip on the map for Democrats or a turning point in the county? It’s too early to say, but we can look elsewhere in Eastern North Carolina and see a similar pattern. Some experts that I talk to say the shift towards the GOP is due to the conservative values of Eastern North Carolina Democrats that are falling away from the national brand of the Democratic party and more in line with Republicans. Others say that 2022 was a high watermark for Republicans in the East due to depressed turnout amongst the Democratic base. Last year, Wilson was one of only four counties that was decided by less than five percent of the vote. Regardless of the reason, I expect it to be a “purple” county once again in 2024 and be very competitive.