Gaston Republicans pick new sheriff in lopsided GOP primary day

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Joseph Clithero and Kendall Wondergem walk back to their car after voting in the primary election at the Phillip Center on Echo Lane in Gastonia early Tuesday morning, May 17, 2022.
Joseph Clithero and Kendall Wondergem walk back to their car after voting in the primary election at the Phillip Center on Echo Lane in Gastonia early Tuesday morning, May 17, 2022.

Republican and unaffiliated voters picked Gaston County's next sheriff Tuesday night, giving the job to current Belmont Police Chief Chad Hawkins.

Hawkins won't officially win the office until November, but he will face no opposition on the general election ballot.

Hawkins defeated Mount Holly Police Chief Don Roper, winning almost 55% of the vote in a race many party insiders considered too close to call. Hawkins had 9,949 votes to 8,161 for Roper.

In a night where Gaston County Democratic voters had no local candidates running, Republicans also gave their party's nomination to Clerk of Court Roxann Rankin, District Court Judge Craig Collins, and Dallas Township County Commissioner Cathy Cloninger.

All three of those overcame primary challengers, and will not face opposition on the ballot in November's general election.

Other GOP nominees included Justin Davis for Superior Court judge and Rep. Donnie Loftis for the 109th N.C. House District. Both will face Democrat opponents in November.

Tuesday's primary election saw voter turnout top 16% or 24,426 people voting out of an eligible 151,790 registered voters.

Chad Hawkins leads the Pledge of Allegiance during the Gaston County Republican Party’s 2021 Lincoln Day Dinner on Sept. 25, 2021, at the Gaston Country Club. Hawkins won the GOP nomination for sheriff in Tuesday's primary election, and with no opposition in November appears headed to be Gaston County's first Republican sheriff in decades.
Chad Hawkins leads the Pledge of Allegiance during the Gaston County Republican Party’s 2021 Lincoln Day Dinner on Sept. 25, 2021, at the Gaston Country Club. Hawkins won the GOP nomination for sheriff in Tuesday's primary election, and with no opposition in November appears headed to be Gaston County's first Republican sheriff in decades.

Sheriff's race

Gaston County Republicans have not had control of the Sheriff's Office for decades despite holding all other partisan elected offices in the county for years other than two Superior Court judge's seats.

Hawkins had expected to challenge Sheriff Alan Cloninger, who had announced in May 2021 his plans to seek a fourth full term after first being appointed sheriff in 2005.

In August, Cloninger announced he had changed his voter registration from Democrat to unaffiliated and would not run for re-election. Cloninger accused local Democrat Party leaders of trying to recruit someone to challenge him in the primary. No Democrats filed as candidates for sheriff when Cloninger backed out.

Roper entered the race after Cloninger dropped out, and had the current sheriff's backing and financial support.

But the 47-year-old Hawkins had been on the campaign trail months longer.

Hawkins, a former Gastonia Police officer, also served as police chief in Cherryville before moving to the Belmont Police Department as assistant chief in February 2017. City Council named Hawkins police chief in April 2017.

109th N.C. House

Donnie Loftis
Donnie Loftis

Loftis defeated three challengers to win the GOP nomination for the 109th House seat.

Gaston County Republican leaders picked Loftis to succeed the late Dana Bumgardner after his death in October 2021.

Loftis, a former Gaston County commissioner and Army veteran, faced challenges from Gaston County Commissioner Ronnie Worley, Belmont businessman John Gouch and Lauren Bumgardner Current, the daughter of the late representative.

Loftis won 33.6% of the vote, enough to avoid a possible runoff election in July. He will now face Democrat Eric Hughes in November.

Gouch finished second with more than 23% of the vote, followed by Worley with 22% and Current with 21%.

Superior Court judge

Justin Davis
Justin Davis

Davis, a current Gaston County school board member, won more than 59% of the vote in winning the GOP nomination for Superior Court judge.

Davis will now face Democrat Superior Court Judge Jesse Caldwell IV in November. Gov. Roy Cooper appointed Caldwell in June to replace his father, Jesse Caldwell III, after the elder Caldwell hit the mandatory retirement age of 72.

Davis beat Gaston County assistant prosecutor Beth Stockwell, who received almost 31% of the vote and private practice attorney Eddie Meeks, who received 10% of the vote.

Davis's South Point Township seat on the school board will be filled in November's general election.

District Court judge

Gaston County District Court Judge Craig Collins was invited to Victory Christian Academy to read "The Cat in the Hat" to kindergarteners Wednesday, March 2, 2022. Collins won the GOP nomination in Tuesday's primary election to keep his seat on the bench.
Gaston County District Court Judge Craig Collins was invited to Victory Christian Academy to read "The Cat in the Hat" to kindergarteners Wednesday, March 2, 2022. Collins won the GOP nomination in Tuesday's primary election to keep his seat on the bench.

Collins will keep the District Court judge's seat he has held since March 2016.

Collins won almost 72% of the vote in beating Republican primary challenger Ashley Hyman, an attorney for Gaston County social services the past six years.

Collins does not face opposition in November.

Gaston County commissioner

Cloninger, a county employee for more than 30 years and wife of the current sheriff, won the GOP nomination for the Dallas Township seat on the Gaston County Board of Commissioners.

Cathy Cloninger
Cathy Cloninger

She will not face opposition on November's ballot.

Cloninger received 62½% of the vote in beating Steve Hall, a current member of the Gaston County Board of Education.

Current County Commissioner Tracy Philbeck chose not to seek re-election.

Hall could possibly still run for school board since the filing period does not occur until July.

Clerk of Court

Roxann Rankin
Roxann Rankin

Rankin has worked 38 years, and has been the chief clerk since October 2020.

She replaced Larry Brown, who retired.

Rankin won more than 58% of the vote in defeating Gaston County Commissioner Alan Fraley, who has represented the Cherryville Township on the board since 2004.

Rankin does not face opposition in November.

10th U.S. House District

U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry, a familiar name to voters in Gaston and Cleveland counties, easily won the Republican nomination with about 68% of the vote in a five-candidate field.

McHenry represented the area for years before redistricting several years ago moved him into another congressional district.

He will face a Democratic challenge in November from Pam Genant, who won 77% of the vote in her race against Michael Felder.

Genant, who lives in Burke County, faces an uphill battle in a district that heavily favors Republicans.

About one-third of western Gaston County is in the 10th U.S. House District.

14th U.S. House District

On the Democratic side, former Gaston County assistant prosecutor and Charlotte state Sen. Jeff Jackson easily won his race for the Democratic nomination.

“I am eager to run in the general election and show the district leadership that is honest, decent, and practical," Jackson stated in a press release.

Jeff Jackson kicks off congressional campaign in Gastonia by stopping by Rankin Lake Park to speak to and greet people like Doug Wilson Monday evening, March 28, 2022.
Jeff Jackson kicks off congressional campaign in Gastonia by stopping by Rankin Lake Park to speak to and greet people like Doug Wilson Monday evening, March 28, 2022.

Jackson spent three years as an assistant prosecutor before going into the state Senate for eight years, first as an appointment to a vacant seat.

He defeated Ram Mammadov in a new district split between Mecklenburg and Gaston counties that leans Democratic.

For Republicans, Pat Harrington easily beat Jonathan Simpson for the GOP nomination.

About two-thirds of eastern Gaston County is included in the district.

You can reach Kevin Ellis at 704-201-7016 or email him at kellis@gastongazette.com.

This article originally appeared on The Gaston Gazette: Gaston Republicans pick new sheriff in lopsided GOP primary day