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Watauga Democratic and Republican Chairs Speak to High Country Press About Mobilizing for Election Day

By Jesse Wood

With two months left until Election Day, Watauga County Republican Party Chair Matt Snyder and Watauga County Democratic Party Chair Diane Tilson spoke about their involvement in the party; preparations for the upcoming election; collaborations with party leaders; and core issues.  


Watauga Democrats Mobilize Behind Obama-Biden, Rest of Field For Nov. 6

Aug. 27, 2012. Job creation, Social Security, and women’s issues are the focus of the Watauga County Democratic Party for the upcoming Presidential election, according to Chair Diane Tilson, who said “there is more at stake in this election” than in previous years.  

“I think so many of the social and economic issues are bound to change if the [current] administration changes,” Tilson said.

She said Social Security, which will likely change under Romney-Ryan, is an earned benefit – not an entitlement. She also mentioned the “crazy talk about abortion/rape,” saying it’s really important to maintain protections and choices for woman. 

But the foremost issue on everybody’s mind, she said, is the economy and job creation, adding that the Democrats need another four years in office to fully develop programs that have begun.

“That needs to be the focus,” Tilson said. “I think there are jobs to be created with new innovations that need to be brought on board. You have to be open and willing to look at new ways to do business, and I think Democrats are going in that direction.”   

Watauga County Democratic Chair Diane Tilson

Tilson became involved in the Watauga County Democratic Party in 1999, when she began helping in the campaign of a friend who ran for County Commissioner.

“I saw what an organized and energetic party we have here in Watauga County, and I was immediately drawn to the kind of work they do and the fact that they work so hard for local issues and things that were important to me,” Tilson said.

She said the local party chapter has begun “getting our message out,” recruiting volunteers in various communities of Watauga County and preparing to launch a “strong” campaign.

The grand opening of Watauga County Democratic Party headquarters, which is located at the old BeansTalk building on King Street, is planned for 3 p.m. on Sept. 9. The Watauga County Democratic Party has also recently participated in a few “Cash Mobs,” where a group gathers, infusing cash into local businesses like it did last weekend at The Mountain House and Appalachian Antique Mall.  

Party members at one of their “Cash Mobs” at The Mountain House last Saturday. Photo by Lonnie Webster

(Organizing for America NC, the official state campaign for President Barack Obama, is currently in the process of opening its local headquarters at 130 N. Depot St.)

Aside from mentioning the opening of headquarters and the “Cash Mobs,” Tilson declined to expand on preparations for the upcoming election.

“We don’t want to give away all of our secrets,” Tilson said, laughing. “We will do the obvious things. One of the things, the local Democratic party does most effectively is that we work in the community as well as the political arena.”

Iva Dean Winkler celebrated her 101st birthday with the party during a recent Cash Mob on Saturday. Photo by Lonnie Webster

“Actions should speak louder than words. It’s not just about us. It’s about our community, and how we function together,” she said, citing the groups work with nonprofits Hospitality House, Habitat for Humanity, The Health & Hunger Coalition and Project on Aging’s Meals on Wheels program.

Along with the N.C. Obama campaign in downtown Boone, Tilson said she has a “good relationship” with regional organizers, as well, where the entities exchange information and work together, and the Watauga County Democratic Party continues to embrace social media, which Tilson added is needed to hold a “viable” campaign these days.

“It’s a grassroots effort,” Tilson said. “The Democratic party has always worked that way. Not a top-down organization, it’s a bottom-up effort. I think this campaign, as much as any, will embody that.”

And, of course, the party will continue working with students at ASU, where it has a campus coordinator.

“We always try to work with the students,” Tilson said. “That’s certainly no secret. I think we all understand how important the involvement of young people is to building a strong country.”

Even though, the Watauga County Democratic Party supports Obama 100 percent, she added that not every Democrat agrees with “everything that has come from Washington.”

“We have lots of opinions. One thing I like about the Democrat Party is that everyone listens to everyone’s opinions, and then we come to a consensus – that we are able to do that is what makes us so strong,” Tilson said.

As for former U.S. Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill’s comment that “All politics is local,” she agrees with that statement “100 percent.”  

“It’s not all about who is president and who represents you in Washington” Tilson said. “Who is your county commissioner? Who is on the school board?  Who represents you in Raleigh?  Those are the folks who make decisions that affect everyone on a day to day basis.”

Asked if the party is focusing on any particular candidates, Tilson mentioned the three county commissioner candidates and three school board candidates, along with state representatives.   

The Watauga County Democratic Party doesn’t divvy out funds to candidates like their Republican counterpart. But, Tilson said, it plays a support role by raising money to operate headquarters and for media spots, which serve the candidates.

On the national level, the lack of civility has been at the forefront of politics, but so far locally, the tone has been agreeable, according to Tilson, which she said hasn’t always been the case – especially on the state level.

“I think a level of civility is usually maintained on the local issues,” Tilson said. “On the state level, there will be some money infused. The last state election in 2010 was pretty nasty, the nastiest election I’ve been involved in, and there have been a couple local elections that have gotten pretty nasty.”

She added, “I personally feel that if you can win an election by pouring money into it, even a local one and you put out nasty ads that denigrate your opposition, that’s not the way to win an election. I think you should win on your merits. If your heart is good and the reasons for running are right, that is unnecessary.”

Asked if there are any Republican opponents with shortcomings that the Watauga County Democratic Party can take advantage of, Tilson laughed, adding: “We aren’t going to play our hand this broadly. We try to keep an eye out for things, but no, I am not going to comment on that.”

She said that Democrats should be excited heading into the Nov. 6 election because the economy is turning around.

“I think the economy is beginning to come around … we will be able to rebuild the ground we lost during the downturn and many of the programs, given enough time to work, will prove to be effective,” Tilson said. “Peoples lives will be better and it will be Democrats who have made that happen.” 

Watauga County Democratic Party headquarters is located at 352 W. King St. in downtown Boone. Once the office opens in September, the office will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays and until midday on Saturdays. For more information, click to www.wataugadems.com or call 828-386-1039.

Upcoming Events:

  • Tuesday, Aug. 28: Youth Campaign Kickoff takes place at Democratic headquarters from 6 to 8 p.m. to rally and strategize for Fall campus campaign.
  • Sunday, Sept. 9: Democratic headquarters grand opening from 3 to 6 p.m. features a hotdog cookout.
  • Tuesday, Sept. 11: Executive Committee Meeting happens from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Boone Town Council Chambers and is open to executive officers, precinct officers and all registered Democrats.
  • Thursday, September 13: “Barack ‘n’ Roll’ Call takes place from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Duck Pond Field on ASU. The event features music and a free cookout. It is a political season kickoff hosted by the ASU College Democrats as a ‘meet the candidates and rock the vote’ event.
  • Saturday, Sept. 22: Fall Rally takes place at Rivers Street Cafe on ASU. The BBQ dinner costs $10 per plate. 


Watauga Republicans Mobilize Behind Romney-Ryan, Rest of Field for Nov. 6 

Aug. 27, 2012. A smaller government with fewer regulations and less spending is the focus of the Watauga County Republican Party for the upcoming election, according to Chair Matthew Snyder, adding that the view is represented by Republicans on the local, state and federal level.

“In order for everyone to be better off, we have to allow people to make their own choices rather than government telling people what they can and cannot do,” Snyder said. “We have to allow business to operate without heavy taxation, so they can hire people, so they can make a living and feel like they are being rewarded for working hard.”

Watauga County Democratic Chair Matt Snyder. Photo by Jesse Wood

Snyder, who grew up in a politically-active household, has been involved with the Watauga County Republican Party for four years.

“I felt it was a good time for me to get involved,” he said, adding that it is a way of being an active participant in the community. 

As chair, Snyder’s duties include organizing precincts, recruiting candidates, fundraising, coordinating different committees within the party, bringing awareness to Republican values and helping with the local party’s online presence.

With a little more than two months until the election, the local party chapter is staying busy. Snyder said the party is fortunate to have a large group of energetic and dedicated people participating in the “day to day” business of the party. 

Last Saturday, the Watauga County Republican Party recently held its grand opening of its headquarters at Shops at Shadowline, where local and regional candidates stumped for themselves and other lesser known GOP candidates on the Nov. 6 ballot.  

A crowd of dozens gathered at the grand opening of the Watauga County Republican Headquarters last Saturday at Shops on Shadowline. Photo by Jesse Wood

In preparation for the election, the party has organized local meet and greets in the smaller communities within the county; volunteers making phone calls and mailing candidate information; and starting in September – on the first, second and third Thursdays – the headquarters will host a “round table” with candidates and citizens talking about the issues important to them.  

And as the voting starts, Snyder and crew will coordinate and offer rides to the voting booths for those who do not have access to transportation.

“And just encouraging, everyone to get out and vote this year,” Snyder said. “I think voting is very important, a kind of civic responsibility. Though I prefer folks to support the republican candidates, I think it’s important that everyone gets out and votes.”

The role of social media and the internet has not only made it easier, quicker and more efficient to mobilize support and inform the public regarding party platforms, but it has also made easier to communicate with party officials outside of the High Country.  

Snyder said he has been in contact with the regional coordinators for Presidential-candidate Mitt Romney about what is happening in Watauga County. He added that he has been in touch with GOP leaders at the state level for the past year and a half, attending educational opportunities, training sessions and just discussing local issues.

Local and regional party leaders participate in ribbon cutting for grand opening of headquarters at Shadowline. Photo by Jesse Wood

“We have a good relationship with the state GOP and with the different campaigns,” Snyder said.

The Watauga GOP chapter, Snyder said, is 100 percent behind Romney-Ryan, and the local chapter has recently been “flooded” with calls for Romney-Ryan bumper stickers and yard signs.    

“I believe this year’s presidential race probably has the biggest difference, as far as issues for which they support, between the candidates,” Snyder said.

Though, this upcoming election has been dubbed “The Most Important Election in Our Lifetime” by several local and state GOP leaders – including Snyder, he agrees with the famous statement by the former U.S. Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill, who coined the term “All politics is local.”  

“You definitely feel the impact of local politics more quickly than you do national politics, whether that be from business restrictions or zoning regulations,” Snyder said. “People can affect change on a local level and see the impact of that very quickly, whereas on the national level it may take a little longer and some [national] regulations may not pertain to you, but we are all affected by the school board, county commissioners, our state representatives and the N.C. Supreme Court.”

As for ASU students, a traditionally-Democratic stronghold, Snyder said he has seen more younger conservatives than in years past.

“I see students are becoming more aware of the political choices they have and the implications of those choices,” he said. “I have seen and over heard more conversations by students that were very conservative, and I seem to be seeing more and hearing more of that. It’s a growing number – mainly because its their future being decided.”

The Watauga County Republican Party, which divvies out funds to go along with what is raised by the candidates, isn’t focusing on any particular race because as Snyder said, “We really feel every race is very important.”

“I know maybe in years past, one race might have had more consequences, but to get us moving in the right direction and our economy and jobs going again, we believe it’s important to get our candidates on all levels elected.”

On the national level, the lack of civility has been at the forefront of politics, but so far locally, the tone has “been pretty smooth,” Snyder said. Though, he expects that to change as Election Day nears and “people get more passionate about their views.” 

“I hope it is a very civil election, where people can agree to disagree,” he said.

Asked if there are any Democrat opponents with shortcomings that the Watauga County Republican Party can take advantage of, Snyder said: “What’s the old saying? He who throws dirt loses ground.”

“I think most people in the county disagree with the extreme liberal stance, the local state and national Democrats favor and support,” he added.

Overall, Snyder is excited as Election Day nears and said he feels very privileged to have the “caliber” of Republican candidates on the ballot. And other than the Romney-Ryan ticket, he has met all of the candidates.

“It’s an entire slate that everyone can be proud of,” Snyder said. “I hope people are energized this year and say, ‘This is my country. I am an owner – not a renter, and I need to participate.’”

The Watauaga County Republican Party headquarters is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. For more information, click to www.wataugarepublicans.com or call 828-355-9708. 

Upcoming Events: 

  • Tuesday, Aug. 28: Hotdog Dinner/Candidate Meet and Greet to be held at Mutton Crossing from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at 4469 Bamboo Road. RSVP Jim Merchant at 828-262-0312.
  • Wednesday, Aug. 29: Republican Women’s Club Meeting held at the Golden Corral in Boone from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Meeting starts at noon.
  • Thursday, Aug. 30: Executive Committee Meeting held at GOP headquarters from 6 to 7 p.m. All registered Republicans are welcome and encouraged to attend.
  • Thursday, Sept. 6: GOP BBQ held at home of Sam and Victoria Smith in Laurel Ridge from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. $50 per person. For reservations, call 828-963-4253. Space is limited