ROCKINGHAM — When Sheriff Mark Gulledge runs for reelection in 2026, he’ll have a different letter beside his name on the ballot.
The sheriff announced Wednesday morning that he has switched his political party affiliation from Democrat to Republican.
“This decision has not been made out of haste, but with a lot of prayer, discussion with my family and thought into the decision,” Gulledge said in a statement.
“I am fortunate and beyond blessed to serve Richmond County as your Sheriff,” he continued. “My lifelong desire has (been) to always be a public servant, to have the support of the citizens of Richmond County, not just for me personally, but for the entire Richmond County Sheriff’s Office, has been overwhelming and very humbling.”
Gulledge was hired in 1999 by then-Sheriff Dale Furr and worked in the detention division before becoming a road deputy, where he was assigned to the shift under James Clemmons.
When Clemmons was elected sheriff in 2010, Gulledge was made chief deputy.
Following Clemmons’ death in August of 2021, Gulledge was appointed to fill the remainder of the term. The local Democratic Party had recommended Gulledge for the appointment, which was approved by the Richmond County Board of Commissioners.
Gulledge won his first election last year after defeating challenger Nigel Bristow in the Democratic primary.
“Serving as Sheriff includes leading a team of dedicated men and women that oftentimes put the citizens of Richmond County before themselves,” Gulledge said. “The sheriff’s office is not about partisan politics, we do not assist or respond to a call for service depending on an individual’s political affiliation. Therefore, my party affiliation will not have any (effect) on the work the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office does to make Richmond County a safe and better place to live, for everyone. It will remain an Office of the people. My door is always open to ALL.”
He concluded his statement saying: “Thank you for your continued support for me and all the hard-working men and women in the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office.”
Gulledge’s switch is the latest in the county’s political shift.
Once a Democrat stronghold, Richmond County has been trending toward the right over the past decade.
In 2010, Ben Moss became the first Republican elected to the Richmond County Board of Commissioners in more than a century. He set another milestone in 2020 when he became the first Republican to represent this district in the N.C. House of Representatives.
Prior to Moss being elected to the General Assembly, Tom McInnis was elected to the state Senate in 2014.
(Note: McInnis switched his residency to Moore County for the last election and no longer represents Richmond County. However, the county is represented by Republican Sen. Dave Craven of Randolph County.)
Last year, the RO reported that the Republican Party has gained 957 registered voters since Oct. 15, 2018 — 210 since the start of 2021; 106 from the Democratic Party; and 104 who were formerly unaffiliated.
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Also in 2020, three Republicans — Jeff Smart, Toni Maples and Andy Grooms — were elected as county commissioners.
Prior to the most recent election, Commissioner Dr. Rick Watkins switched his party affiliation to Republican; and three other GOP members — Robin Roberts, Jason Gainey and Justin Dawkins — were also elected, making an all-Republican board.
(Note: Dawkins had been appointed in late 2020 to fill the remainder of Moss’ term.)
A majority of the county also supported Donald Trump in the 2016 and 2020 elections, as well as Republican candidates for the U.S. House and Senate.