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N.C. House candidate Shelly Willingham stands outside an election precinct July 10 near D. S. Johnson Elementary while campaigning during a second primary election.

Telegram file photo

N.C. House candidate Shelly Willingham stands outside an election precinct July 10 near D. S. Johnson Elementary while campaigning during a second primary election.

Willingham edges Holderness in N.C. House runoff election

By John Carson

Staff Writer

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Getting “reacquainted” with the N.C. General Assembly landscape will be one of the first orders of business when new District 23 N.C. Rep. Shelly Willingham ventures to the state capitol next year.

Willingham edged Rusty Holderness in a Democratic primary runoff Tuesday by 197 votes to claim the House seat being vacated by N.C. Rep. Joe Tolson.

While Willingham advances to November’s General Election, that vote will be little more than a formality with no Republican candidate for the seat.

“I am elated and very happy,” Willingham said. “I felt I ran a hard campaign, and we worked hard. I believe the results showed that.”

Willingham will head back to the House for a second time, but the first as an elected representative. He had previously been appointed to fill an unexpired term in the 1990s.

Familiarizing himself with the layout of the General Assembly tops his list of priorities when the legislature convenes for its 2015 long session.

“I want to get reacquainted with the House leadership,” Willingham said. “The only way to get things done is know the folks in charge. I also want to try and get on committees that will enable me to do something for the area and get on committees that deal with something I know about.”

Admitting virtually everyone – including himself – would covet a spot on the budget committee, Willingham added he would be interested in any committee that deals with education and human services.

“I’m going to look around to see where I can do the most good for the district,” he said. “I want to get as involved as I can.”

Tuesday’s race proved much closer than May’s initial primary, which saw Willingham emerge on top with 35.6 percent of the vote and Holderness finish second with 30.4 percent in a four-man contest.

Of the 5,152 total votes cast Tuesday in the district – which encompasses Edgecombe and Martin counties –Willingham garnered 2,668 votes, or 51.8 percent, to Holderness’ 2,471 votes, or 48.2 percent.

“I’m obviously disappointed, but it was a good, close race,” Holderness said. “He did a good job getting the vote out. The world goes on, and Shelly will be our new representative. He should make a good representative.

“I wanted to win, but there has to be a winner and a loser. I learned a lot and enjoyed talking to folks and learning about the concerns in the district. I’m glad for and enjoyed the experience.”

With both candidates expecting a close race, each was pleased with a surprising turnout for a primary runoff – where historically turnouts are less than 5 percent.

The turnout in Edgecombe County was 11.9 percent as 3,877 of the county’s 32,592 registered voters showed up at the polls.

In Martin County, 1,275 ballots were cast for a 9.08 percent turnout that saw Holderness make a late charge to win, 638-632.

Edgecombe County Elections Director Jerry Spruell said Tuesday’s vote will become official when a canvass is taken at 11 a.m. on July 22.