When Randy Hammonds, a veteran law enforcement officer of 28 years, announced he was running for sheriff, he insisted that he was running on the Republican ticket because he has been a member of that party for decades, and not out of “convenience.”
It’s an easy sale.
Assuming that Hammonds does not face a significant challenge in the May primary, a bet you should make if you can get it, he gets a bye to the General Election in November 2014. But there he will run up against a Democrat, most likely either incumbent Sheriff Kenneth Sealey or challenger Lennis Watts, a longtime highway patrolman. Sealey and Watts are poised for a rematch of their 2010 primary, which Sealey won with 54 percent of the vote.
A Republican has not won a countywide election in Robeson County since the Big Bang, so Hammonds is swimming upstream. He might find some comfort in knowing that James Sanderson in 1994 was almost elected sheriff as a Republican, but that race was too much about skin color — Sanderson, a white, was running against Glenn Maynor, an American Indian whose election that year made local history.
The Robeson County Republican Party in recent years has made inroads. David Edge, a Republican, was elected to the county Board of Commissioners in 2010, but that was in a district that is GOP-friendly.
Hammonds won’t be so blessed.
In Robeson County, 71 percent of the county’s 75,000 voters are registered as Democrats. Unaffiliated voters account for 18 percent, and Republicans a scant 11 percent.
But the growth is in unaffiliated voters, people who want the option of voting in either the Republican primary or the Democratic primary, but not both. It is because of the efforts of the local Republican Party that more and more people are trying to keep that option.
While this county voted hard for President Obama, local residents line up more with Republicans when it comes to social issues such as abortion, school prayer, gay marriage and the death penalty. Ours is a conservative county, the paradox being we depend so heavily on welfare.
Hammonds stands to benefit from new elections laws. Republicans in the General Assembly have eliminated straight-ticket voting that takes brain function out of casting a ballot, and ID’s will be required, which opponents insist suppress voting, but only by Democrats. There will also be a shorter early voting period.
These new voting laws shift sway toward the more determined voters.
And finally, Hammonds will raise money for a single election, while Sealey and Watts will first have to raise money for the primary, with the winner having to reload for the General Election. Primaries can create baggage for the winner going forward.
It’s all an interesting mix that will play out during the next 13 1/2 months. What is clear is that Robeson County residents will have plenty of choice for sheriff, picking among three candidates who all boast impressive law-enforcement credentials — and what was once considered unimaginable is, well, imaginable.