July 12, 2012District 6 Republican primary commissioner candidates Hank Henning and Jeremy Williams didn't get a chance to take a breather, or enjoy a short summer vacation, because of the Tuesday, July 17 second primary. The morning after the Tuesday, May 8 primary, the two had to pick up right where they had left off and continue campaigning because – unlike all the other Guilford County commissioner primary races – their race was still unsettled.
Both Henning, 37, and Williams, 39, said they've had their eye on the July 17 prize ever since it became clear it would take a runoff to determine the winner of the District 6 Republican primary.
In that race, no candidate got 40 percent or more of the vote. That gave Henning, who came in a close second to Williams, the right to call for a runoff, something that Henning did quickly after the primary.
Williams, who's been an active member in the local Tea Party group, Conservatives for Guilford County (C4gc) – and who started campaigning in the spring of 2011 – got 37 percent of the votes in the primary, while Henning, a veteran of the Iraq War, pulled in 35 percent. Now the two will face each other in a runoff election on July 17.
The other District 6 candidate, Tony Wilkins – who owns Furniture Connection and is an active local blogger – only managed 28 percent of the vote on May 8, which meant he was the odd man out.
Henning said that, even though he finished behind Williams in the vote, he feels very optimistic about his chances in next week's runoff.
"I only came in 129 votes behind," Henning said.
He added that he felt time was on his side and, he said, having two more months of campaigning will only help him.
Henning pointed out that Williams had known that he was going to be in the race since early 2011, and Williams had already been campaigning for a year for the at-large seat before it became known in February that there would be a District 6 race.
In the few weeks that followed before filing closed, Henning jumped into the race, starting from scratch, and Williams, during that time, made the decision to run in District 6, rather than as an at-large candidate.
Henning said he sees this election overtime period working in his favor.
"I came in this race kind of as the underdog, and came almost within 100 votes of winning," Henning said.
He said that's particularly true given the short time he's been campaigning.
"If you think about it, it's just been March, April, May and June – and here I am," he said.
Henning works as an account manager for Brady Services – a company that provides heating and air-conditioning systems and consults on energy efficiency for commercial and industrial facilities across North Carolina.
Williams is a human resources director for Cincinnati-based Cintas Corp., a business services company.
Like Henning, Williams said he's very optimistic about what's occurred between the May 8 primary and the present, and that he feels the last two months have helped his cause.
"I think it's going real well," he said of his extra time on the campaign trail.
"I finished first in the results in May, and since then our support has actually grown," Williams said.
He said he knows there's a different dynamic in a runoff than there is in a primary, and that fewer voters going to the polls means each vote is more important than it is during a large turnout election.
"Realistically there's likely to be far less voter turnout," Williams said of the runoff.
Williams pointed out that the mid-July date could really take a toll on turnout.
"A lot of people are on vacation," he said, adding that others might not have their mind on the election since the primary just took place and many voters won't be focused on elections until November. He said that means he has to work as hard as ever.
"You can't take anything for granted," Williams said. "We're staying true to our message and trying to get it out to everyone in District 6."
While both candidates say they're going after all the potential voters – both firming up their base and trying to get their opponent's voters to change sides – the runoff may turn on the ability to sway Wilkins voters. Wilkins pulled in 28 percent of the vote in May, and, since he isn't in the primary, those votes constitute a big pool of potential votes that are up for grabs.
Henning said he thinks he has a good chance to pick up enough voters to put him in the victor's seat.
"I've picked up a lot of support since the election and expanded my base," Henning said. "Tony Wilkins endorsed me after the election. [Sixth District Congressman] Howard Coble and [Guilford County Commissioner] Billy Yow joined our team."
Henning added that those are all strong conservative voices in area politics and he said someone like Howard Coble doesn't just throw his support behind anyone.
Williams said he feels his experience in the political community will be an asset. Williams regularly attends and speaks at Guilford County commissioners meetings, and he has been a very vocal opponent of tax increases and government waste.
"The biggest difference between us is the amount of time and activity I've already spent at county commissioners meetings," Williams said. "I've really been digging in, learning the operations, studying the budgets."
He said he doesn't see Henning engaged in the county's political process in the same way.
"I haven't seen him speak out at the meetings," Williams said.
Last spring, when the Guilford County Board of Commissioners was in the process of putting its 2011-2012 budget together, Williams co-led an effort by C4gc to find potential cuts and savings in Guilford County government and spent a lot of time combing through the county budget as part of that effort – though the group's suggestions were ignored by the commissioners when they passed their budget last June.
Williams said the message he has been offering in the runoff is the same one he used in May, and the same one he'll have in November if he wins the July 17 runoff. "If we win the message stays the same – debt reduction, the budget, job growth, free market, accountability."
Williams said he thought he would be able to have a "positive impact" right from the start.
Henning said one can follow the commissioners without coming to the meetings.
"You can watch them on TV," he said.
Henning said that anyone can say that they are conservative, but he said he's the only one of the two candidates who, when you look at his past record, shows a good deal of actual evidence to back up the claim.
Henning has worked for various conservative candidates and causes over the years. He has served as an aide to a Republican senator, Spencer Abraham of Michigan, and former Missouri Republican Congressman Kenny Hulshof.
Henning also served on the executive committee of the Guilford County Republican Party. In addition, Henning is a member of Rotary International, the National Rifle Association (NRA) and Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW).
"If you look at political experience, I'm probably the most conservative person," Henning said.
Henning saw action as a Marine during two tours in Iraq, and he said he thinks his military service will also be an asset in this race.
Until late February, there wasn't going to be a District 6 race at all. However, on Thursday, Feb. 23, US District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina Judge William Osteen Jr. ruled there would be a race this year.
In the July 17 runoff election, Republican voters in District 6 will see four other races on the ballot: NC lieutenant governor, in which Dan Forest is up against Tony Gurley; NC commissioner of insurance with Richard Morgan against Mike Causey; the NC secretary of state race in which Kenn Gardner will face Ed Goodwin; and NC superintendent of public instruction, with John Tedesco going up against Richard Alexander.
The Democrats voting in the runoff will choose between Marlowe Foster and John Brooks, who are running for NC commissioner of labor.
Charlie Collicutt, deputy director of the Guilford County Board of Elections, said that these days runoffs are almost always required, and he said the ballpark cost of a runoff in Guilford County is about $300,000.
He said some election staff is not needed in a runoff, but, to some extent, he said, it's very much like running a normal primary or general election.
"We open up all the polling places," Collicutt said, adding that it's mandatory to have 4 precinct workers at each.
He said that in the 2010 June runoff, 2.9 percent of those eligible to vote in that runoff cast ballots.
If that same percent votes on July 17, that would be a total of 1,247 voters and it would take only 624 votes to win the Republican nomination.
Both District 6 candidates said they agree that, with the small number of voters, there are going to be a lot of unknowns.
"It's a crapshoot," Henning said of the small turnout election.
Williams said he's not worry about the turnout numbers – he's just going to keep campaigning the way he has in the past.
"When it comes to turnout, everybody has an opinion and a guess – history would say that it will be far less," he said.
District 6 has about 43,000 eligible voters and the district covers much of the western part of Guilford County, including parts of northern High Point, western Greensboro, and Jamestown, as well as in some more rural parts of western and northwestern Guilford County.
The winner of the Republican runoff will face Democrat Linda Kellerman in the general election.
That District 6 Democratic race looked like a non-starter because Kellerman and Dan Miller were the two candidates who filed to run in that race, and Kellerman pulled out shortly after filing.
She began working for Miller's campaign and, on May 8, she was at the polls handing out Miller's campaign literature. However, the voters had other ideas: Not only did Kellerman win, she won by a big margin.
Kellerman, who's retired, pulled in 57 percent of the vote to 43 percent for Miller, a professor at NC A&T State University.
The general election this year will be on Tuesday, Nov. 6.