Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Battle Of The Boot: United West Beats Split City

First of all the turnout. My friend Rod Sullivan rightly notes that 11.85% turnout is still not something to brag about. But one step at a time... and in my 16 years of doing this I have NEVER seen an order of magnitude leap forward like this.

Two years ago the Iowa City Community School District had a geographically contentious, big field school election. We had 4492 voters, a record for a non-bond election.

This looked similar: geographically contentious, big field. We nearly DOUBLED it at 8727, beating even the bond record set in 1995 by more than 3000 votes. Only major special bond elections have been bigger. And I've never seen a turnout record broken by that much.

Results got delayed a little because, despite an all-day effort, we finally ran out of ballots in Coralville and the last couple dozen voters got photocopied hand-counted ballots. My senior colleagues say the last time that happened was in a 1987 sales tax vote.

As for the results: this was a Survivor Island election with multiple factions and strategic voting, but there seemed to be three main clusters. The west side, Coralville and North Liberty were united on incumbent Tuyet Dorau and new candidate Chris Lynch, the top two finishers and both Coralville residents. They gave a weak third endorsement to Sara Barron but tacitly encouraged the use of just two votes. And indeed "bullet voting" was heavier west than east.

East siders were split. A "Save Hoover" faction backed Barron, Phil Hemingway and Greg Geerdes, while a City High faction, perhaps looking to Hoover as expansion turf for the landlocked high school, backed incumbent Karla Cook and newcomer Brian Kirschling. Cook lost her seat but Kirschling grabbed the third seat, just 104 votes ahead of Hemingway who gets his second narrow loss in a row.

In a strange indicator of the geographic divisiveness: half the precincts were won by candidates who finished out of the top three.

The Winners:

1. Tuyet Dorau  The incumbent wins her second term with overwhelming margins in the west - 75% in Coralville, 73% in North Liberty and 56 at West High. Held her own in the rest of the district, probably helped by the teacher endorsement and the No vote on closing Hoover.

2. Chris Lynch. Finished a close second in all the same west side places Dorau won. Weaker east side performance, probably just lost in the mix, left him 600 votes behind Dorau across the district.

3. Brian Kirschling. Top performance was at Lemme, the highest percent turnout precinct (Coralville and North Liberty had more total voters). Kirschling scored 56% there and 48% at Horace Mann for first places. The east side but not the immediate Hoover neighborhood. Also won the absentee, though that was really splintered. But key to the narrow win: slightly better showings on the west (weak thirds in the Dorau-Lynch precincts) than Hemingway.

The Rest:

4. Phil Hemingway. Would a more professionalized campaign, with just one mailing or a couple ads, have made the difference? Or would it have undercut his outsider appeal? This is Phil's second narrow loss in a row and poor showings in Coralville and North Liberty (17%) have done him in each time. He was an overwhelming winner in the tiny Hills precinct with 75% and also won Twain with 42%. Both areas historically are outsiders in school elections, for example least likely to support money issues (indeed the PPEL actually lost in Hills). Hemingway was also a strong second at City High, heart of the Hoover neighborhood.
In any case, expect to see still Phil at every board meeting, and to make a play for any vacancy that may occur. (The rumor mill has been going wild about Jeff McGinness's legal woes...)

5. Karla Cook. A landslide winner two years ago, Cook is swept out. The vote to close Hoover? She didn't do well at City High, and took a harder hit at Lincoln, which fears it will be next on the chopping block. But she was first at Lemme, three votes ahead of Kirschling. But what really beat Cook: she was out of the running in Coralville and North Liberty. Often overheard: Coralville/North Liberty fears of an all Iowa City, almost all east side board.

6. Sara Barron. Barron could very easily have come in second or even first, as the east sider acceptable to the west. But that west side support was just lip service and third votes that could have gone to Sara were left blank. They didn't want her to push Lynch or Dorau into fourth. So Barron finished very poorly in the upper teens in Coralville, North Liberty and West High. She was first at City High, with both Hoover support and liberals from Longfellow and downtown.

7. Jason Lewis. Strongly identified with the Twain neighborhood, he was a decent second there and also at Horace Mann where he was popular with north side lefties. But he seemed lost in the shuffle of the key factions.

8. Greg Geerdes. Favorite weird factoid of the election: Guy finished eighth out of nine yet wins a precinct, Lincoln. Hemingway was second there and Cook did badly, again Lincoln sees itself as next Hoover. Looks like Geerdes was the weak link in the Save Hoover faction, finishing a not great third at City High.

9. Jim Tate. Jim is a great guy but he seemed like he was the fourth or fifth choice of multiple factions; yeah he'd be OK but we're really backing these other three. His only solid endorsement was organized labor, and their influence was diluted by the high turnout. Last everywhere with his best showing 15% at Twain.

Other Districts:

Solon was the hot spot, by percentage even hotter than Iowa City. Two clear factions and the votes for winners Dick Schwab, Rick Jedlicka and Tim Brown tracked closely with the Yes votes on the Kirkwood levy while the No votes tracked closely with the losers. A pattern we've seen before in what seems to be an ideology thing.

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