Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Random Late Election Night Thoughts: Local Edition

First off, congratulations to the candidates I backed, Janelle Rettig and Janet Lyness. Congrats also to Mike Carberry who I'm glad to support this fall. Thanks also to Lisa Green-Douglass who fell just 126 votes short, a strong showing that leaves her in good shape for a future effort. That's our closest primary since 2004 when Rod Sullivan narrowly led Mike O'Donnell for the third supervisor seat.

The Johnson County Democrats have a "unity picnic" coming up at our monthly central committee meeting Thursday, and that'll be a critical start to the fall campaign. Tempers were hot, accusations were many and tensions were high. But it sounds like the concession and congratulation calls are happening.

The Democratic ticket of Rettig and Carberry may seem uneasy for now but they start with a several thousand vote edge over Republican incumbent John Etheredge just on straight tickets and general party leaning. A general election with a top tier US Senate race is a VERY different climate than the low turnout special that Etheredge won in an upset in March of 2013.

Rettig led the field by more than 1000 votes, much of that lead coming from Iowa City and absentees. She also led Coralville and was second in North Liberty.

Green-Douglass led her base in North Liberty, but turnout was low and a lot of voters chose GOP ballots rather than Democratic ones.  She finished second behind Rettig in Coralville and just 78 votes behind Carberry in Iowa City.

Newport Township turnout was down dramatically from 2006, when over 500 Newport Democratic voters put Larry Meyers over the top. This year turnout was less than half of that, at 204. Carberry carried Newport with 69% but Rettig, the supposed "enemy," was second at 42%.

The decisive factor in Carberry's win? Early votes. Green-Douglass led Carberry on Election Day by 54 votes but lost the early vote by 180. Carberry's higher profile early in the race, and the shift toward earlier early voting (a month out instead of a week out) may have been the difference. My initial read on this race - that it was Vote Against Carberry or Vote Against Rettig and that Green-Douglass would get votes from both, proved wrong. As I realized when the finance reports came out, there were a lot of Rettig-Carberry supporters.

As for also ran Diane Dunlap, she trailed nearly everywhere save for a couple low turnout rural precincts that trended Republican this year. The rationale for her candidacy - if you can call it that - is still unclear.

Bullet voting - voting for just one candidate instead of two - is harder to track here. The average voter cast 1.67 votes for supervisor, meaning roughly a third of the supervisor ovals were blank. But it seems likely - anecdotally and statistically - that many voters drawn by the county attorney race skipped the supervisors entirely.

And county attorney was definitely the big draw. John Zimmerman's one real victory was that he defined the terms of the debate. Unfortunately those terms did not favor him and also gave Janet Lyness a chance to talk about the actual work she is doing on diversion and alternatives.

The biggest lesson here, as we move forward to a courthouse expansion vote this fall and as we look back at the failed justice center votes, is a number. We has 2280 Democratic primary voters, just under a third, willing to reject a highly qualified and experienced attorney with strong feminist and party credentials in favor of a legal novice simply over the drug war issue. (Because as often as Zimmerman tried to pivot to race issues, his supporters invariably pivoted back to pot.) And many voters heard "just passed the bar" and crossed him off the list when they might have considered, say, someone like Rockne Cole.

So they needed a stronger candidate - and a weaker opponent. Janet Lyness was the all-time record vote getter in a contested Johnson County primary in 2006, and she has now won her second two to one primary margin.

A smarter Zimmerman campaign strategy - targeting actual likely voters rather than random Facebook readers and downtown denizens - may have also done better with the same message. From the beginning, Team Zimmerman seemed ideologically committed to an Expand The Electorate strategy that has only ever worked for Barack Obama and the Iowa City tavern league.

As I noted yesterday, student early voting was better than most primaries but FAR below the 21 Bar levels that actually won elections in 2007 and came close in 2010.  And today student turnout was, as usual on June 3, non-existent. Southeast side turnout was low as well. Zimmerman won a couple student precincts, but lost a couple too. But in an electorate of 7580 Democrats, do scores like 13-2 or 8-4 even matter? Yes, every vote matters. But before that last 1 vote or 10 votes win it, you have to get within the next 100 or 1000.

So the Zimmerman camp knew, or should have, from Day One of voting that the massive student numbers weren't there. Yet they didn't adapt. For weeks after the students left, they kept with the same day-long Ped Mall music events which sounded fun but reached the same few dozen people over and over, not the 3791 he needed to win.

In contrast, Janet Lyness was winning high turnout east side precincts with percentages in the high 60s to low 80s and vote totals in the hundreds. She won 75% in North Liberty and 78 in Coralville. Zimmerman's only strong precinct with significant turnout was lefty bastion Iowa City 18 (Longfellow) where he trailed 56-43%.

The legislative surprise for Democrats was David Johnson's narrow win over Dennis Boedeker in House 73. Like Green-Douglass, Boedeker led election day but lost on the early vote. Boedeker was a highly touted recruit but his campaign effort seemed lacking. Johnson, however, has some serious fence mending to do with House leaders and needs to significantly step up his fund raising if he wants his challenge to Bobby Kaufmann to become a targeted race.

That's not a problem for Kevin Kinney, a three to one winner over Richard Gilmore in the Democratic Senate 39 primary. The open swing seat is a must-win for both parties.

On the Republican side of that race, Bob Anderson had a big lead in Johnson County, but was swamped when Mike Moore's vote came in from Washington and Keokuk counties. Moore was a poor third here in Johnson. Royce Phillips had scattered spots of success.

No comments: