Welch wins DA race decided by a landslide
After a hard-fought and hotly contested race, the job of top prosecutor for the seven western counties was won by Ashley Welch, with a huge margin, carrying 60 percent of the vote.
“I am overwhelmed,” Welch said at her margin of victory. I felt like people were behind me, but when you are running for something like district attorney everybody is going to say they are behind you whether they are or not. So I always took it with a grain of salt. I didn’t want to take anything for granted.”
Welch easily beat out her opponent, Jim Moore. Welch and Moore were both assistant prosecutors — Welch based in Franklin and Moore based in Waynesville.
The current District Attorney Mike Bonfoey is retiring after 11 years in the role, setting the stage for a wide-open race.
Welch distinguished herself as a tough but fair prosecutor, a fighter with unrelenting convictions of right and wrong, a indefatigable worker, and a straight shooter who could not be influenced by the politics of the position.
Welch ran as a Republican, and Moore as a Democrat. However, both said during a candidate forum that they felt the District Attorney race should be non-partisan. While political persuasion enters very little into the role of prosecutors, the Republican or Democrat factor was handy crutch for voters who may otherwise have been making a blind stab.
Michael Johnson, a voter in Franklin who was stopped for an exit poll during early voting last week, said he voted straight Republican — and voted for Welch as a result.
Meanwhile, Karen Lawrence of Franklin steered clear of Welch for that reason.
“She’s a Republican, I’m a Democrat, and I voted for the Democrat,” Lawrence said during an exit poll.
In general, Welch did better in Republican-leaning counties, while Moore faired better in Democratic-leaning counties.
But the race did not follow strict party line voting.
Geography also came to bear in the DA’s race. Welch pulled down an astronomical percentage of the vote in Macon — nearly 70 percent. Her margin of victory was consistently higher in the far western counties.
Leo Phillips, an attorney in Murphy, was campaigning for Welch at the polls on Election Day. Phillips said he admires her character and aptitude in the courtroom. But he also said the seven-county judicial district has been too weighted toward Haywood for too long — with the majority of judges and prosecutors based there.
“It is not centrally located for everyone else,” Phillips said.
Welch went to UNC-Chapel Hill as an undergrad and to William and Mary for law school. She grew up in Hendersonville and was hired as an assistant prosecutor there right out of school. Welch had dreamed of being a prosecutor since a young age.
After two years with the DA’s office in Henderson County, trying primarily lower-level crimes in district court, Welch was recruited to join the DA’s office in the seven western counties, namely as the prosecutor handling the court load in Macon — offering the chance to try major felonies as well, not just the small fry.
Welch proved herself as one of the top-notch prosecutors in the region, handling complex and difficult cases with skill. Her role evolved from overseeing the Macon court docket to working whatever big cases she was needed on at any given time in a multi-county area.
Welch doesn’t plan to give up being in the courtroom.
“I will be very hands-on and very involved. You will see me in the seven counties,” said Welch.
Welch and her opponent, Jim Moore, had collaborated and partnered for years as assistant district attorneys, always batting for the same team. They even tried cases jointly, working side-by-side to bring down criminals together.
Early on, they pledged early to run a friendly race. They were determined to talk up their own attributes and qualifications, without putting the other down in the process.
But the race to the finish line was a long one, lasting a full year, ultimately taking a negative turn in the final stretch.
“I tried to run a campaign that was positive,” Welch said. “There was a lot going on in the background that was hurtful. I chose not to respond to it, and the results shows me that people believed in me and I can’t thank people enough for that.”
“I am so excited to start this and I am not going to let people down,” Welch said.
Moore said he was surprised by the results, and certainly hadn’t expected to lose by so much. He called Welch when the results came in Tuesday evening to congratulate her.
“I want everyone to get behind the next DA. Our judicial system is important and we need to not be detracting from that,” Moore said.
Moore said his top priority right now is preparing for a sex offense case coming to trial in Murphy in less than two weeks. Welch won’t take over as DA until January.
As for what Moore will do then? Moore said he has not contemplated what his next career move will be.
The district attorney picks their team of assistant prosecutors. It is unclear whether Welch would want Moore to stay on, or whether he would want to stay on himself, given the negative turn the race took in the final months. Moore said the ball will be in Welch’s court whether he stays on.
The district attorney has 11 assistant prosecutors to handle the thousands of criminal cases, from first-degree murders and child rape to traffic tickets and everything in between.
30th Judicial District Attorney
Ashley Welch (R)36,601
Jim Moore (D)23,997
Represents seven western counties.
91 of 92 precincts reporting