Clay County is located in the western mountains of North Carolina. It is adjacent to Cherokee and Macon counties and also the U.S. state of Georgia. The county seat is Hayesville. Clay is small in terms of area and in terms of population, with 10,587 residents as of the 2010 census. The county was established in 1861 and named for Henry Clay, one of the most prominent U.S. politicians of the early nineteenth century and a leading Whig. Before the arrival of white settlers, Cherokee Indians inhabited the area.
Clay County remains isolated and agricultural to the present day, but tourism sustains most of the economy. The Great Smoky Mountains lure visitors from all over the country.
Social conservatism predominates and the influence of religion is strong. 59% are Southern Baptists. Only in 2009 did voters decide to no longer prohibit the sale of alcohol here. Perhaps not surprisingly, the county is strongly Republican; the last Democrat to carry it in a presidential contest was Jimmy Carter in 1976.
1988: R+19 (Solid Republican)
1992: R+13 (Strong Republican)
1996: R+17 (Solid Republican)
2000: R+28 (Solid Republican)
2004: R+30 (Solid Republican)
2008: R+43 (Solid Republican)
2012: R+46 (Solid Republican)
Forecast: Like many rural white counties in North Carolina, Clay has been Republican for a long time, but has grown even more Republican with the passage of time. The Democrats’ alienation of downscale white voters is the cause of this phenomenon.
Perhaps most remarkable about Clay County in particular is the large growth rate that came in the 2000s decade. Data shows that Clay grew by 20.65%. This is a very strong rate of growth and must be considered when assessing the county’s political trends. Who are these new residents? We don’t know except they tend to come from adjacent counties, a few came from Atlanta, and they’re probably Republican, perhaps retirees who came to enjoy the scenic mountain views. It doesn’t pay to analyze this too in-depth, however: only 1,812 residents were added over the course of the decade, the high growth rate is explained by the fact that Clay County was small from the start. In any case, growth has come to a halt and the growth rate is barely positive, the “boom” in Clay County is clearly over.
The Republican influx, in addition to hostility of natives toward the candidacy of Barack Obama, is responsible for the Republican trend over the past decade. In 2012, the President lost here by more than 42 points, a less culturally repulsive Democrat would probably better his performance in 2016. Clay County, however, is firmly in the Republican column, with no Democrat having a chance of victory here, unless his name is Heath Shuler.
Despite the growth during the last decade, Clay County is still tiny and almost irrelevant on the state’s political stage. Furthermore, candidates running statewide often have a difficult time broadcasting their message to the county’s voters, as Clay County is located in the Atlanta media market.