Politics & Government

Baker upsets longtime sheriff Donnie Harrison in Wake County race

Democratic challenger Gerald M. Baker upset longtime Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison Tuesday, out-polling the Republican incumbent by a wide margin, according to unofficial results.

Baker had 54.5 percent of the vote to Harrison’s 45.5 percent with nearly all precincts reporting at midnight. At 56, raised in Southeast Raleigh, Baker retired from his sergeant’s job in May, promising to hire and promote more minorities. He could not be reached late Tuesday.

“I just congratulate him,” Harrison said. “I wish him the best. Anything we can do we’re there to help him.”

Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman also appeared to sail to an easy re-election, taking 63.1 percent of the vote over challenger John Bryant, who had 36.9 percent with nearly all precincts reporting.

“Grateful to still be here,” Freeman said Wednesday morning. “I’m excited to be able to serve the people of Wake County. We have a major transition with the raising of the juvenile age in our state.”

The Wake sheriff’s race reflected the national debate on immigration in its last days as Harrison, seeking his fifth term in office, won both praise and condemnation for working with the Trump administration to detain undocumented immigrants.

The ACLU took out advertisements criticizing Harrison’s office for participating in the federal 287(g) program, which allows local law enforcement to join with ICE agents.

Wake is one of six sheriff’s offices statewide involved in the program, for which the American Civil Liberties accused Harrison of “tearing families apart and stoking racial tensions.”

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U.S. Rep. George Holding, a Raleigh Republican, defended Harrison’s office in his own ad, hitting his opponent Linda Coleman for backing sanctuary cities and calling Harrison “100 percent right.”

Baker did not support the 287(g) program. In his campaign, he questioned both the sheriff’s integrity and management skills, offering criticism mainly because Harrison retained a deputy charged with assault in the spring after turning a K-9 dog on an unarmed man.

Baker is the first candidate with totals anywhere near Harrison’s since 2002. That year Harrison narrowly defeated the late John Baker, a former NFL linebacker and North Carolina’s first black sheriff since Reconstruction, who is no relation to Gerald Baker. Harrison won with 63 percent of the vote in 2006, 66 percent in 2010 and 59 percent in 2014.

Freeman, first elected to the Wake top prosecutor’s job in 2014, was on track to win a second term as DA having previously been clerk of court.

She won attention in high-profile cases prior to the election, notably prosecuting the embezzlement charges against Wake’s former register of deeds and seeking a review from the State Bureau of Investigation on whether House Speaker Tim Moore may have improperly combined his public office and his private law practice.

Bryant, a longtime Raleigh attorney, touted his extensive trial experience.

Josh Shaffer: 919-829-4818, @joshshaffer08
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