Republican Sandy Roberson was re-elected as Rocky Mount mayor this week. The Republican was first elected to lead the city, which sits in Nash and Edgecombe counties an hour east of Raleigh, in  2019.  

However, the GOP mayor of the 55,000-resident city will be busy next year as his home of Nash County takes on huge political significance in 2024. 

Nash County was formed in 1777 from the western part of Edgecombe County. Located in the northeast section of the state, it is bounded by Edgecombe, Wilson, Johnston, Franklin, and Halifax counties. It was named for General Francis Nash (1742–1777) of Hillsborough. General Nash was a soldier who was mortally wounded while fighting under General George Washington at Germantown during the American Revolution. Nashville, the county seat, was settled in 1780 and chartered in 1815. First land grants in the area date back to 1743. 

Since the Civil War, it has been known primarily as a leading agricultural county, but it has experienced steady industrial growth since that time. 

Nash’s 95,000 residents make up nearly 13% of the First Congressional District, North Carolina’s only true toss-up congressional district in recently adjusted election maps.  

The district is currently represented by fist-term Democrat Don Davis of Greene County. 

Nash has been closely divided for some time. In 2016, President Donald Trump won the county, with just 84 more votes than Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton. Nash was one of only two counties that Trump won in 2016 but lost in 2020. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden came out ahead in Nash County by just 49 votes. 

Since that time, the county has seemed to move red.  

Republican Ted Budd beat Democrat Cherie Beasley for US Senate 53% to 46%, as all the key races in Nash went red in 2022. Democrat Cal Cunningham beat Thom Tillis in 2020 49% to 48%, for a net Democratic gain of 755 votes.  

Gov. Roy Cooper cruised to re-election in his home county 53% to 46%. Earlier this year, Cooper hosted President Biden on a tour of Nash Community College as part of Biden’s  Investing in America Tour

Registered Democrats make up 42% of Nash’s voters. Republicans and unaffiliated voters each make up 28%. Half the county is white, and 38% is black. 

Nash County is the second-largest county in population in the 22-county First Congressional District that covers much of northeastern NC along the Virginia border.

The John Locke Foundation predicts all of the legislative seats in Nash County to be close contests. 

Nash is part of a three-county state Senate seat with Franklin and Vance counties that is rated as a toss-up district, with a slight Democratic lean. Republican Lisa Barnes currently represents this district. 

Most of Nash County is represented in the state House by Republican Alan Chesser, currently in his first term. His new district is also a toss up with a slight Democratic lean. 

Republican Ken Fontenot represents all of Wilson County and a sliver of Nash, in another toss-up district that leans slightly to the Democrats.  

Although Trump defeated Hillary Clinton by 885 votes in 2016, Roy Cooper won his home county by 2,160 votes, in a squeaker of a contest decided by 10,277 votes statewide out of 4.7 million cast.  

Nash County has always been a key anchor in the Democrats’ road to the Governor’s Mansion. Like Cooper, Gov. Mike Easley (2001–2009) is from Nash County. Gov. Jim Hunt (1977–1985, 1993–2000) is from neighboring Wilson County.  

However, Democrats will likely nominate Attorney General Josh Stein from Orange/Wake County for governor, in a break from picking eastern North Carolina Democrats for governor.  

The three recent times that Democrats have lost the NC governor’s race, Democrats nominated non-eastern-NC Democrats — in 1984 Rufus Edmisten of Watauga County, in 1988 Bob Jordan of Montgomery County, and in 2012 Walter Dalton of Rutherford County. Pat McCrory in 2012 was the lone Republican to win Nash County in a governors race in 2012 in the last six elections for North Carolina’s chief executive. 

In total, Nash County will have an outsized say in NC Politics in 2024. It’s not outlandish to believe NC will go as Nash goes.