09/13/06 — Starling defeats LaRoque for District 10 GOP nod

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Starling defeats LaRoque for District 10 GOP nod

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on September 13, 2006 1:54 PM

KINSTON -- Willie Ray Starling won the Republican nomination for the District 10 seat in the state House on Tuesday, defeating incumbent Stephen LaRoque, 1,062 to 969.

The vote was a rematch of the May primary, ordered by the state Board of Election after voter discrepancies in Lenoir disallowed Starling's 11-vote victory.

LaRoque, seeking a third term, carried his home county of Lenoir, 863 to 602. But the margin was not enough to stave off Starling, who lives in Wayne County. Starling carried all four of the eastern Wayne County precincts in the district, 369 to 47. He also won eight of 10 precincts in Greene County, where he received 91 votes to LaRoque's 59.

Despite predictions of a low voter turnout, 216 more voters cast ballots Tuesday than in May.

It took several hours for Lenoir election officials to determine the final tally. Voting machine troubles in Kinston Precinct 4 held up the final result until after 10 p.m. A state election official was present to help straighten out the problem, which surfaced when voting machines in the precinct malfunctioned.

Starling took his victory in stride.

"I don't think this is going to sink in until tomorrow, maybe the next day," Starling said.

Starling will now face Democrat Van Braxton in November.

LaRoque said that despite the defeat, he was not dispirited. He said that after finishing out his term, he would return to his business interests in Kinston.

"It's been a tremendous honor to represent the district. It's not something everybody gets the chance to do and it's been an honor to do it. I hope I helped to improve the quality of life for the people in District 10. That was my only goal coming in," LaRoque said.

In Lenoir, Starling carried four precincts: Kinston 5, Contentnea, Mosley Hall and Pink Hill 2. He and LaRoque tied in both Trent 1 and Trent 2.

LaRoque received the most support in Kinston 4 and Falling Creek, along with the absentee ballots cast.

During the May primary between LaRoque and Starling, a voting machine calibration problem in Lenoir prevented some voters from having the opportunity to cast ballots. Also, Lenoir poll workers failed to ask unaffiliated voters if they wished to vote a Republican, Democrat or unaffiliated ballot, which is required by state law. LaRoque protested and after two hearings in Kinston, the state Board of Elections called for a second vote.

On Tuesday night, Lenoir County Board of Elections Chairman Bobby Waller announced that the Kinston 4 machines malfunctioned and had been replaced that morning. One of the replaced machines would not shut down when polls closed at 7:30 p.m., preventing poll workers from determining the votes for each candidate until later in the evening.

Starling credited his victory to conservative voters who wanted a change in Raleigh. During the campaign, he was critical of LaRoque's support of Republican leaders who cut a deal with Democrats that made Democrat Jim Black Speaker of the House. Black has come under fire for alleged campaign contribution violations.

"I'm a Christian conservative Republican. I think people are fed up with the shenanigans in Raleigh. I think they need someone up there who is concerned about the average person and the average businessman, who is going to lower their taxes and make North Carolina a worker-friendly and business-friendly place," Starling said.

He said he would continue to campaign on the same issues until the November vote.

Tuesday was the third time Starling and LaRoque faced each other. LaRoque defeated Starling in the Republican primary in 2004.

Results from the election will be made final following canvasses in each of the three counties on Friday.