June 10, 2022 7:00am

Rowe Favored in Wake County Sheriff’s Runoff; Baker Should Bow Out of the Race, Raleigh and Cary Respondents Say

Most don't favor a runoff at all.

Photo of Leigh Tauss
Cary, NC Correspondent

Wake County Sheriff Gerald Butler lost the Democratic primary to challenger Willie Rowe, and if this month’s Power Poll is any indication, he doesn’t stand much of a chance in a runoff, either.

What’s more, respondents say the next sheriff’s top priority should be cleaning up internal messes within the department––including alleged staff shortages and mismanagement––issues critics say have spanned Baker’s term.

Baker unseated Republican Donnie Harrison in 2018, ending Harrison’s 16-year reign over the department. Some of Baker’s support came from his promise to end the county’s longstanding partnership with Immigrations and Customs enforcement, which allowed law enforcement to check an arrestee’s immigration status as part of the booking process and turn them over to federal authorities. Activists opposing the program claimed this led to the deportation of community members for minor, nonviolent offenses, and tore families apart. Baker fulfilled his promise to end the program, but over the course of his term, he’s been accused of discrimination and retaliation in at least four lawsuits filed by former employees and has faced criticism over internal issues within the department.

In last month’s primary, Baker faced off against a field of six challengers, including Rowe, who previously ran for sheriff in 2014, and won the primary before losing to Harrison in the General Election.

This time around, 29.4% of primary voters supported Rowe, and 24.1%voted for Baker. North Carolina law states that a candidate must earn at least 30% of the vote to secure the party’s nomination, otherwise the runner-up may call for a runoff. Rowe missed that threshold by just 522 votes.

Baker intends to call for a runoff, but Power Poll respondents say he’s probably better off bowing out of the race.

In the event of a runoff, 44% of respondents say they’d vote for Rowe. Just 13% supported Baker while a third of respondents say they’d prefer Harrison back in the office.

Baker defeated Harrison by about 10 percentage points in 2018. In 2014, Harrison bested Rowe by nearly twice that margin.

State law might give Baker another chance, but most respondents––60%––say they don’t support a runoff. Of that, 35% say it’s because if Baker couldn’t win the primary, his odds in runoff aren’t great and he should bow out of the race. A quarter of respondents are against a runoff because they feel Baker doesn’t do a good job running the department, and it’s time for someone else to take the lead.

Just 10% of respondents actually support the runoff–6 percent because they think Baker has done a good job and 4% because as the Democratic incumbent, Baker may have a better chance of defeating Harrison again in the General Election.

That being said, 30% of folks responded they don’t care much either way.

Folks do care about what the next sheriff should prioritize once sworn into office. Tellingly, the largest portion of respondents––38%––said their number one concern is cleaning up the department internally and addressing staff shortages and alleged mismanagement, issues Baker’s critics have voiced throughout this term.

About a third of respondents hope the next sheriff focuses on crime reduction and community safety, while another 23% say outreach, education, and building community trust will be the most important issue to tackle.

Just 4% of folks want the next sheriff to resurrect the 287g partnership with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, a program Baker campaigned on ending and did early on in his tenure. It will be interesting to see how well that bodes for Harrison, who continued to express his support for the program at a recent forum. Harrison enacted the program in 2007.

Finally, we always like to throw in a question just for funsies. With summer just around the corner and the heat and humidity already setting in, I asked where you’ll be to escape the heat.

Over half of you said in the pool or at the beach (lucky you!) while 15% said you’d rather be exploring nature, by foot or kayak. Understandably, 13%of you don’t really care as long as there’s a cold adult beverage in your hand, and another 13% just plain don’t care at all. Personally, I identify with the two folks who admitted they’ll probably just be on the couch, same as always.

There was, however, one adventurous soul among the bunch planning to take advantage of RDU’s new nonstop flight to Iceland. Let us know how that goes!

About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of the most powerful, influential people in U.S. cities. It is not a scientific survey. But because the people responding to the surveys comprise the leadership structure of their cities, the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those in a position to make change. Power Poll is distinctly nonpartisan.

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