Swain County residents overwhelmingly chose John Ensley in Tuesday’s Democratic primary runoff for sheriff — those who voted anyway.
Ensley, the owner of Yellow Rose Realty and a certified North Carolina law enforcement officer, easily prevailed over opponent Mitchell Jenkins with 478 votes.
With more than 60 percent of the vote, Ensley is all set to face Republican incumbent Curtis Cochran this fall.
“I’m really excited, and I’m happy that it’s over with,” said Ensley, who plans on taking a vacation in Alaska before getting back into full swing campaigning before the November election.
There were initially eight Democrats on the ticket vying for the chance to challenge Cochran. Of the crowded field, Ensley had been the first to announce his intentions to run, throwing his name in the ring more than a year before the primary.
Ensley said going head to head with Cochran would undoubtedly be a challenge. “He’s a very good campaigner, and people like him. I know I’ve got my work cut out for me,” said Ensley.
Cochran, who received strong backing from his party in the May primary, says he feels optimistic about the fall election. Whether his opponent is Ensley or Jenkins would make no difference in how he runs his campaign.
“I’m not going to run against them, I’m running to win the election,” said Cochran. “...I started my campaign four years ago. The people in 2006 put enough trust in me to do this job. I think they’re going to be confident enough in this election to put us back in.”
Jenkins, a self-employed logger with nine years of law enforcement experience, fared better in the runoff than he did in the May primary, when he faced seven other candidates. Jenkins locked down 314 votes, the remaining 40 percent.
Jenkins had called for a rematch shortly after the primary results came back with Ensley receiving less than 29 percent of the vote in May.
Primary runoffs can be held only if the top vote-getter fails to secure 40 percent of the vote.
Jenkins was unavailable for comment as of Wednesday morning.
Only a dismal 11.5 percent of Swain voters eligible to cast ballots showed up for Tuesday’s rematch, compared to the impressive 28 percent who took to the polls during the May primary.
Still, it was far better than the typical voter turn-out witnessed in runoff elections. The local runoff boosted Swain’s voter turnout when compared to the rest of the state and surrounding counties, where the only race on the ballot was a Democratic primary runoff for the U.S. Senate.
Only 3 to 4 percent of voters in Haywood, Jackson and Macon counties cast their ballots Tuesday, choosing between Elaine Marshall and Cal Cunningham. All four counties went for Marshall, who won the primary with nearly 60 percent of the vote statewide.