Madison County is located in the North Carolina mountains, along the Tennessee border. It is situated north of Buncombe County and the city of Asheville. The county seat is Marshall. It also contains the town of Mars Hill, the site of Mars Hill College.
Isolated, rugged and decidedly rural, Madison County was Republican since the Civil War. But the political machine of Zeno Ponder helped transform Madison into a strongly Democratic county. The Ponder machine was rumored to control all aspects of political life in the county and was notorious for its casual approach to voter fraud. Ponder served as sheriff of Madison County from the 1950s until his retirement in 1986, one of the most colorful characters in North Carolina political history.
1988: D+1 (Toss-Up)
1992: D+5 (Leans Democratic)
1996: R+5 (Leans Republican)
2000: R+14 (Strong Republican)
2004: R+7 (Leans Republican)
2008: R+9 (Leans Republican)
2012: R+13 (Strong Republican)
Forecast: The Ponder machine has fallen, but Democrats still maintain control of county politics, and they hold a strong 17-point edge in voter registration. However, the county has not gone for a Democrat for President since Bill Clinton in 1996, and Madison’s voters are increasingly willing to support Republicans at the state level. Overwhelmingly white (96.49% in 2010), the county nonetheless contains many working class voters who vote in favor of Democratic approaches to economic policies. Thus, Obama performed much stronger with white voters in Madison than other comparatively rural counties. But the social and cultural liberalism of the Democratic Party has made Madison increasingly Republican.
The county growth rate from 2000 to 2010 was a weak 5.75%. Thus far Madison has failed to attract retirees from Florida as have many other counties in the mountain region.
Though Democrats are on the decline at the presidential level, a bid by Hillary Clinton would make Madison County competitive again, though a revival of gun control as a salient issue could complicate things. The bottom line: Madison has a strongly Democratic heritage and its residents are almost entirely composed of white, working-class, rural voters, and Democratic prospects in the future rely entirely on their appeal to that subgroup.
John Wynne is the “conservative voice” at PoliticsNC, where he also provides polling analysis and commentary on legislative campaigns. When not writing about politics, he enjoys gardening and listening to opera. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.