Tucked away between two brick walls at the Boricua Soul restaurant on an otherwise quiet and empty American Tobacco Campus, Joshua Gunn addresses his crowd of unwavering supporters seconds after votes from all Durham precincts were reported.
Gunn had notched 18,490 votes, putting him in fourth place just below Councilwoman Javiera Caballero, with 18,885 votes. Beer bottles and a stray bag of Joshua Gunn for City Council pins sat on a nearby wooden table, under strings of glowing yellow lights. Although all precinct votes were in and Gunn is still 395 votes shy of a council seat, he spoke with determination and a cool, calm confidence.
“We have provisional ballots and we have absentee ballots, that have not been counted,” Gunn said. “We can make up this margin with those votes.”
Applause erupts from the crowd as Gunn continues. “We are far from a night of concessions, to be clear,” he said.
Earlier in the night, Gunn had slipped for a bit into third place, pushing Caballero down to fourth with 63% of precincts reporting. The margin was razor thin, as Gunn was ahead by less than 50 votes.
“I’m excited,” he said then. “This is just exciting.”
As more votes were processed, however, Gunn fell behind Caballero once again. With 95% of precincts reporting, Gunn had notched 18,076 votes against Caballero’s 18,287.
With the race drawing to a close, nervous energy and excitement radiated from the small crowd. Supporters turned their heads away from their conversations with each other to fix them on a TV screen updating results.
When the screen read that 100% of the precinct votes had been counted, Gunn didn’t miss a beat. He grabbed a microphone and spoke to a crowd still filled with hope.
“We got 19,000 votes in the 2019 general election for city council,” he said. “In the primary, we got 6,700 votes. We tripled our votes.”
Applause momentarily drowned out Gunn’s voice. The 4% margin between Gunn and Caballero is well beyond the range of a recount, Gunn said. He tells his supporters that he’s not giving up yet.
Although the first-time candidate noted he is unfamiliar with the recount process, Gunn said he believes this election warrants a double check.
On Nov. 14, the board of elections will meet to tally up any outstanding ballots, including provisional and absentee ballots. They will determine then whether a recount is called for.
About 20 minutes after Gunn made his speech, the watch party began to thin out. Gunn, surrounded by an intimate group of supporters and his wife and two young children, looked tired, but not defeated.
“It’s hard right now to appreciate the fact that almost 20,000 people voted for a first-time candidate,” Gunn said. “I’m trying to remind myself of the scale of what we have accomplished, but ultimately, you want to win.”
“I’m going to go home tonight, lick my wounds, say a prayer, and hope we wake up in the morning to some good news,” he said.