Politics & Government

Tom Ashcraft, a former U.S. Attorney and leading conservative, dies at 66

Tom Ashcraft
Tom Ashcraft Courtesy of the family

Tom Ashcraft, a former U.S. Attorney and a pioneering leader of Charlotte’s conservative movement, died Tuesday after a long battle with cancer. He was 66.

In the early 1980s Ashcraft went to Washington where he served as chief legislative assistant to then-U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms. President Ronald Reagan nominated him in 1987 for U.S. Attorney for North Carolina’s Western District. He held the post until 1993, when he returned to private practice.

As Helms and Reagan spawned a generation of conservatives around the country, Ashcraft helped build the movement in his hometown.

He was among organizers of a Right to Life organization for anti-abortion activists. He was a charter member of a group of conservatives who called themselves the Huns. For years they were they were the young guns of conservative politics, and Ashcraft was a leader.

“Tom was always true to his conscience,” said friend Kevin Kennelly. “He was just dogged in whatever he did. He was a bulldog. He was an intellectual.”

A graduate of Wake Forest University law school and the London School of Economics, Ashcraft went on to serve on the Mecklenburg County elections board and the board of the Jesse Helms Center in Wingate.

Like Helms, he never wavered from his conservative views.

He made that clear for years as a community columnist for the Observer, a paper he often called “a liberal rag.”

“That liberal bias exists — and has for a long time — can no longer be seriously contested,” he wrote of the media in 2005. “It’s an established fact.”

In 2006, years before Donald Trump, he called for “a moratorium on mass immigration.”

“Create incentives to self-deport by cutting welfare and other government subsidies,” he wrote. “Erect a fence along the entire 2,000-mile border with Mexico. The $8 billion cost would be offset by savings in social programs and incarceration expenses related to illegals.”

“He had courage, he didn’t mind speaking up even when it might not be popular,” said Carter Wrenn, who helped run Helms’ National Congressional Club.

True to his Irish heritage, Ashcraft remained a devout Catholic throughout his life. He continued to attend daily mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral during his illness.

“He never turned away from his faith or his belief in God,” said Mary Potter Summa, who also worked in Helms’ office. “He was very courageous fighting for things he believed in. He was well liked. He would do anything for anybody.”

Ashcraft, who never married, is is survived by his sister, Nicky Wallace and nieces and nephews.

A funeral mass will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at St. Patrick Cathedral, 1621 Dilworth Road East. Interment will follow in Belmont Abby Cemetery in Belmont.

Jim Morrill, 704-358-5059; @jimmorrill