Mitchell County is located in the mountains on the Tennessee border. The county seat is Bakersville. Mitchell County is lightly populated and isolated. It is known as the Mineral City of the World. Named for Elisha Mitchell (1818 – 1857), a professor at the University of North Carolina who died while climbing Black Dome Mountain, the state’s highest mountain, later renamed in his honor.
Mitchell was formed from parts of Burke, Caldwell, McDowell, Watauga, and Yancey counties. Those living in the isolated, rugged western part of this region held no slaves and were staunchly opposed to secession. They differed sharply from the Confederate sympathizers in the eastern parts of these counties, and after a while it was decided that they had best go their separate ways. Mitchell County was formed as a result. It was a Union stronghold for the duration of the Civil War.
Given this early history, it is not surprising that Mitchell became the strongest Republican county in the state. In fact, Mitchell is one of the few counties in the United States to have never supported a Democratic nominee for President. Only once in its history has Mitchell not voted Republican for President. That was in 1912, when the county supported Theodore Roosevelt as the Bull Moose candidate.
Mitchell County initially supported Republicans because they were the party of internal improvements and economic development, issues that were especially important to isolated mountain communities. As time passed, the Republicanism of Mitchell County, and other Appalachia counties in eastern Tennessee, was based more on heritage than any substantive issues. Hence, Mitchell resisted the realignment of the parties that occurred around the 1960s. Now, the county supports Republicans because of its strongly social conservative views, and there is no evidence that this Republicanism is subsiding. In fact, 2012 saw Mitchell as among the top three counties in North Carolina where Barack Obama’s support dropped the most from 2008. Only one other county, Yadkin, saw stronger support for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
1988: R+47 (Solid Republican)
1992: R+44 (Solid Republican)
1996: R+48 (Solid Republican)
2000: R+53 (Solid Republican)
2004: R+43 (Solid Republican)
2008: R+48 (Solid Republican)
2012: R+55 (Solid Republican)
Forecast: There is nothing in the future that indicates a decline in the Republicanism of Mitchell County. In a presidential race in a tied national election, the Republican should be favored by 55 points. It is likely that a non-Obama Democrat could do better here, but not by much.
The problem for Republicans? At less than 20,000 residents, Mitchell just doesn’t have many voters. And the 2010 census saw Mitchell County decline in population, the only western county to do so. Future projections are that Mitchell will continue to lose population, and at a higher rate. For some reason, this region of the mountains has not attracted new transplants as has been the case in the Great Smoky Mountains. Unless this changes, Mitchell is likely to continue to lose influence. One thing, however, is certain – Mitchell is going to be a Republican bastion for a long time to come.
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.