Ashe County is located in the northwestern corner of North Carolina, with Virginia to its north and Tennessee to its west. Included within Wilkes County until 1785, the area was then annexed by the State of Franklin, an unrecognized territory that had claimed independence from North Carolina and declared itself to be the fourteenth state in an attempt to provide autonomy for Appalachian frontiersmen. Modern-day Ashe County was returned to Wilkes in 1788, and it became a county of its own in 1799. Ashe County is one of the Lost Provinces, a group of counties in northwestern North Carolina isolated by the impassable terrain of the Blue Ridge Mountains until the mid-twentieth century.
Today, Ashe remains predominantly rural, with an estimated 27,218 residents as of mid-2017. The county saw virtually no net gain or loss in population between 2010 and 2017 – although Ashe experiences regular out-migration typical of rural counties, an influx of new residents from the neighboring Watauga County (home to Boone and Appalachian State University) keeps the county’s population stable. Ashe’s county seat and largest municipality is the town of Jefferson, with other incorporated municipalities including the towns of West Jefferson and Lansing. The county’s economy is boosted by tourism derived from rich mountain scenery, and although Ashe has historically benefitted from cattle and poultry farming, its most prominent industry today is the production of Christmas trees. Ashe County trees are frequently selected for display during Christmas celebrations at the White House.
Ashe County has historically displayed a mixed voting record – it voted for Democratic and Republican nominees five times each in presidential elections from 1932 to 1968, never giving a candidate of either party more than 55% of its vote. However, after last voting for a Democratic presidential nominee in 1976 (Carter vs. Ford), Ashe County has trended heavily towards the Republican Party, losing its reputation as a swing county to become entrenched within the GOP column. Ashe gave over 70% of its vote to Donald Trump in 2016, its largest show of support for a presidential candidate in any election within the last century.
1992 Presidential PVI: R+11 (Likely Republican)
1996 Presidential PVI: R+21 (Safe Republican)
2000 Presidential PVI: R+21 (Safe Republican)
2004 Presidential PVI: R+21 (Safe Republican)
2008 Presidential PVI: R+31 (Safe Republican)
2012 Presidential PVI: R+36 (Safe Republican)
2016 Presidential PVI: R+46 (Safe Republican)
Donald Trump – 70.11%
Hillary Clinton – 26.07%
Richard Burr – 69.37%
Deborah Ross – 26.80%
Pat McCrory – 65.80%
Roy Cooper – 32.06%
On a statewide level, Ashe County has experienced a similar trend towards the Republican Party – it last voted for a Democratic statewide candidate in 2008, supporting then-Attorney General Roy Cooper in his bid for a third term. The county has since only supported Republicans in statewide elections, choosing Governor Pat McCrory over Cooper by a comfortable margin in 2016. Ashe County is also solidly Republican on a local level, with a unanimously Republican county commission and no Democrat having won a seat for the office since at least 2006. The county’s strong support for GOP candidates is reflected in its legislative and congressional representation – Ashe is currently represented by Republican Congresswoman Virginia Foxx (CD-05), state Senator Deanna Ballard (SD-45), and state Representative Jonathan Jordan (HD-93), although the latter may face a contentious reelection bid in 2018 as liberal voters in the neighboring Watauga County look to elect a Democrat to his seat.
Ashe County has historically been less generous to Democrats than other counties in the Appalachians, so its recent movement into the GOP column suggests that it will be even more difficult for Democrats to win back than other counties that have done the same. Republicans should consider Ashe to be safe in federal, statewide, and local elections well into the future, and unless Democrats begin to shift their focus back towards rural areas sometime soon, Ashe will likely become even more supportive of Republican candidates than it already is.
To access the 2013 version of this profile written by John Wynne, please click here.