Clarence Birkhead joined the Duke University Police Department in 1988 and served as a detective. He rose up through the ranks to become Duke’s Chief of Police, before leaving the department after 17 years.
Now, Birkhead will likely be Durham’s next sheriff.
The local law enforcement post was one of many positions being contested. Primaries for a number of offices—ranging from the U.S. House of Representatives to Durham’s school board—were held Tuesday.
“The big question [for North Carolina in the 2018 midterms] is, will there be a big enough wave the Democrats can capitalize on to break the supermajorities either in the state House, state Senate or both?” said Mac McCorkle, associate professor of the practice in the Sanford School of Public Policy. “That would start to give Gov. Cooper way more leverage and would change the shape of Raleigh politics.”
Locally, Durham’s most closely watched races were the battles for the Democratic nominations for sheriff and district attorney. Where there are no Republican challengers in either race, Tuesday’s winner will take the office without further contest barring a write-in candidate in November.
Birkhead overthrew incumbent Sheriff Mike Andrews by a healthy margin of approximately 69 to 31 percent following a campaign focused on the candidates’ policies towards immigration enforcement. Birkhead jumped out to a two-to-one lead in absentee ballots and remained ahead for the rest of the night.
The former chief of police at Duke, who has also served as Hillsborough's chief of police, campaigned on a promise to not honor ICE detainers. If no write-in candidate overtakes him in November, he will become Durham’s first black sheriff.
The district attorney race was tight the whole night. Ultimately, incumbent Roger Echols fell to challenger Satana Deberry by 48.78 to 40.56 percent. The two were neck and neck as the early returns came in, before Deberry started to pull away over Echols and a third-place challenger.
McCorkle said the strongest takeaway from the district attorney’s race is the power of the People’s Alliance—which endorsed Deberry and Birkhead—in Durham’s local politics. The sheriff’s race, however, was more indicative of the candidates’ split on an issue, the professor explained.
However, McCorkle said he does not view the Durham results as being representative of the state as a whole.
“I think the Durham races are just such Durham races,” McCorkle said. “They don’t reflect the larger North Carolina, except in very faint ways, because Durham is so much more progressive—left—than the rest of the state.”
The sheriff and district attorney positions were not the only contested seats in Durham Tuesday.
With nearly 77 percent of the vote, incumbent David Price won the Democratic primary race for the District 4 seat in the U.S. House of Representatives over two challengers. Mike Lee, Bettina Umstead, Matt Sears and Natalie Beyer won the Durham County Board of Education races.
Total voter turnout for the county was 33,547 out of 221,856 eligible voters—equaling approximately 15 percent—according to the Board of Elections’ website.
A few other key races in the state were for the Wake County commissioners seats and a U.S. House of Representatives seat. The hotly contested Wake County commissioner races were split between newcomers and incumbents in the Democratic primary.
In a surprising upset, incumbent Robert Pittenger fell by two percent of the vote to his challenger Mark Harris in the Republican primary for the District 9 seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. McCorkle noted this may prove a challenge for Republicans in November if Harris is too far right for the district.
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Bre is a senior political science major from South Carolina, and she is the current video editor, special projects editor and recruitment chair for The Chronicle. She is also an associate photography editor and an investigations editor. Previously, she was the editor-in-chief and local and national news department head.