Update: One day after Carolina Journal first reported the news, former four-term Wake County Sheriff, Republican Donnie Harrison formally announced plans to file for his former office in the upcoming 2022 mid-term elections.
“I am making it official. I will be a candidate for the GOP nomination for Wake County Sheriff in the March 2022 primary. I feel confident about the broad-based support I am receiving from voters across the county and look forward to winning the primary and competing in next fall’s general election,” said Harrison.
More than a year before the 2022 election, a former four-term Republican Wake County sheriff has announced he will run again, attempting a return to the top law enforcement spot in North Carolina’s largest county. Donnie Harrison had a surprising loss in 2018, a strong Democrat election year, but believes this is the time to get back on the ballot.
Harrison was first elected sheriff of Wake County in 2002, he was re-elected to a second term in 2006, to a third term in 2010, and a fourth term in 2014. Harrison was the first certified law enforcement officer to be elected sheriff in Wake County. In total, he served as Wake County sheriff for 16 years.
Harrison took pride in being a hands-on sheriff, working the roads with his deputies, showing up at calls, checking in with the detention staff, going on drug raids, and accompanying detectives as they investigated cases.
“I always said I would be a working sheriff, out there with our employees,” Harrison says. “With over 53 years of law enforcement experience, I’ve been there and know what they face. I wanted them to know that I love law enforcement just as they did, and I was proud to work side by side with them.”
Harrison’s first campaign for Wake County sheriff in 1998 against long-time incumbent John Baker was unsuccessful. Baker, nicknamed “Big John,” was an iconic Raleigh political figure and former defensive lineman in the NFL. Baker was first elected sheriff in 1978, becoming the first black sheriff in North Carolina since the Reconstruction era. Harrison sought a rematch in 2002 and won.
In 2018, Harrison ran for re-election a fifth time but was defeated by Gerald Mauroka Baker during the midterm elections. Baker defeated Harrison by 55 to 45% of votes. He has been serving in the sheriff’s office for 28 years; 15 under Harrison. Baker has been critical of the federal immigration program while Harrison fully cooperated with it.
Baker is no relation to the former Wake County sheriff of the same name but benefits from the similarity politically, and has been surrounded in controversy during his term.
In 2018, Republicans had a net gain in sheriffs in North Carolina, fueled by victories in solidly red counties that previously had Democrat sheriffs. But Republicans lost sheriff races in North Carolina’s largest counties, including Guilford and Wake.
Wake has grown extensively, and more Democrat, since Harrison was first elected. Since 2010, Wake has grown 7% more Democrat in voter registration with Democrats now making up 36% of registered voters in Wake; Republicans only 23%. Unaffiliated voters make up the largest voting block at 40%. In the past, unaffiliated voters leaned more left in Wake County compared to unaffiliated voters in other parts of the state. In 2018, roughly 60% of unaffiliated voters in Wake County cast ballots for Democrats.
Those connected to the Harrison campaign tell Carolina Journal that, much like the rest of the country, support for President Biden and Democrats is plummeting among unaffiliated in Wake, and say those same voters are highly concerned about public safety issues. They also believe a strong GOP year, plus a massive defection of unaffiliated voters away from Democrats, gives Harrison a plausible path to victory.