Wake County District Attorney Race Thoughts

Wake County voters will elect a new District Attorney, the first DA elected by voters in more than two decades not named “Colon Willoughby.” Willoughby announced that he would not seek re-election in January and then soon after announced his retirement. District Court Judge Ned Mangum was appointed as interim DA to fill out the balance of Willoughby's term.

In the spring, Democratic voters selected Lorrin Freeman, the current Wake County Clerk of Court as the Democratic nominee. In the summer, in a primary run-off after no Republican candidate received the required 40 percent, John Bryant was nominated as the Republican candidate.

Bryant has been endorsed by Republican Senator Richard Burr, Congressman George Holding, Wake County Commissioner Paul Coble, former Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court Beverly Lake. If elected, Bryant would be the first Republican District Attorney in Wake County, reflecting the forty-year shift in North Carolina politics from a Democratic Party stronghold, to a swing state, to what is likely to be a reliably Republican state going forward.

During his career, Bryant earned an AV-rating from Martindale-Hubbell, and was an administrative law prosecutor for two decades. Among other qualifications, Bryant has touted his extensive jury trial experience as a practicing attorney.

Lorrin Freeman, whose father Franklin Freeman was an advisor to Democratic governors Jim Hunt and Mike Easley, was appointed by Hunt to fill a vacancy on the North Carolina Supreme Court in 2000, but was defeated in his bid to win election to a full term. Lorrin Freeman has worked as an assistant district attorney, assistant attorney general, and now Clerk of Court.

Who Will Win?

After a heated Democratic primary and a crowded Republican primary, the general election has been fairly quiet with occasional candidate forums, announcements of endorsements, and, at least in Bryant's case, television ads.

While Wake County has historically been a Democratic county, in recent years the county has been a swing county. In 2012, while the state went for Mitt Romney, Wake County went for Barack Obama. Even so, George Holding, the Republican, beat the Democrat, Charles Malone, by 23,000 votes in the county (and by a larger margin outside of the county). Governor McCrory, the Republican, beat Democrat Walter Dalton by 700 votes in the county, in spite of Barack Obama's substantial margin in the county.

With no reasonably popular high office Democrat on the ballot, with an unpopular Democratic president (typical of an off-year second term election) and with Democrat Kay Hagan's seat hanging by a thread under an avalanche of Republican and Republican-affiliated campaign spending, Bryant's best hope is that county Republicans come out and vote for Republicans down the line (even though straight-ticket voting has been eliminated in North Carolina.)

This could be a Republican year.

Lorrin Freeman, however, comes from an establishment Democratic family, will have a Get Out the Vote (GOTV) operation to assist in getting reliably Democratic voters to the polls, and will enjoy a natural several-point bump from being a female running for elective office. While the primary had few voters, Freeman's support was clear in spite of being outspent by her opponent.

UPDATE: The New York Times reports: Senator Kay Hagan is receiving a similar boost in North Carolina. Of those who have voted so far, 47 percent have been registered Democrats and 32 percent are registered Republicans. Twenty-four percent of early voters are black. The figures are similar among the voters who did not vote in 2010.

 

Damon Chetson

Damon Chetson is a Board Certified Specialist in State and Federal Criminal Law. He represents people charged with serious and minor offenses in Raleigh, Wake County, and the Eastern District of North Carolina. Call (919) 352-9411.