What Really Happened in the CD13 Special Election

A good deal has been written in the last two weeks about the results of the special election for Congressional District 13.  Democrat Alex Sink, Florida’s CFO from 2006 to 2010, lost to Republican lobbyist David Jolly in an expensive special election for the seat of Republican Congressman Bill Young; who passed away a few months ago.  The district had voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, and for Alex Sink during her 2010 gubernatorial campaign.  The district is 35% Democratic and 37% Republican.  The seat was viewed as prime pickup opportunity for Democrats while Republicans were desperate to hold it.  David Jolly was Young’s preferred successor.  However, the aid-turned-lobbyist had to go through a Republican primary first; where he won with under 50% in a three way race.  Sink, meanwhile, faced no primary challenge.  While Sink out-raised Jolly overall, third party groups evened-up the money battle.  The district was flooded with calls, canvassing, radio and TV ads by the political parties, the candidates, and third party groups.  The race was always going to be close, with polling indicate a 1 to 2 point race.   Polls showing 5 point gaps or more were generally regarded as outliers by many commentators.  Heading into election day, it was my personal view that Sink had an advantage based on the rate of absentee ballot returns.  However, when the results came in, Sink lost the race by 2%.  Despite winning absentee and early votes, Sink lost the election day ballots and thus lost the election.

The map below shows the raw votes cast in each precinct for the election.  In addition it shows how Sink and Jolly did compared to Obama and Romney two years earlier. While Sink won some areas that President Obama lost in the Clearwater area in the north, she lost several regions, especially in Pinellas Park, that the President won.

CD13 Raw Vote 3

Once the results were final, the internet and media was flooded with explanations and hypotheses on what happened.  Many pieces of analysis and criticism were not based on any abject facts, but rather on perceived notions.  Claims of Sink not being liberal enough, to claims the healthcare debate hurt her (she was bombarded with the issue), to gaffs by candidates, or the state of the campaign, were thrown out there with little or no facts, figures, or backup.  Meanwhile, I dug through the data available and waited for Pinellas to release its final turnout figures by party.  It took 2 weeks but the data finally became available.  With the data available to the public, we can now figure out what really happened.

Absentee Chase

Absentee ballots were the largest source of votes cast in the special election.  Early voting provided a handful of votes, but the real fight was over absentee.  Heading into election day, Democrats had a reason to be cautiously optimistic.  Absentee ballot returns rates were narrowly favoring the Republicans, but by a margin less than their 2012 figures.  By election day the Republicans had a 4.7% gap with ballots returned over the Democrats.  This was above the 4% bare minimum they would need to have a chance, but below the 5.76% advantage they held in 2012 when they still LOST the district to President Obama by around 1.5% of the vote.  A side by side of how the ballots were cast by the parties and how they broke down for the Presidential election in CD13 is below. Click the image to see a larger version.

past2

As the table shows, Obama narrowly lost absentee despite the gap in ballots cast against his party.  In addition, a 7% Democratic disadvantage in turnout on election day still saw a near tie when it came to election day ballots for Obama or Romney. These figures reflect the fact that the larger independent population of the district tend to skew towards Democrats.  Sink or Obama could afford to have their base not keep up with the GOP turnout because the independents would swing to the left.  With Democrats performing better turnout-wise with absentee ballots than in 2012, this gave Sink a larger margin of error with election day voting.  As long as the E-Day turnout gap wasn’t much larger than 2012, Sink had a good chance of winning.

When the polls closed on election night, the absentee early vote results were released first.  Alex Sink had won both early vote and absentee ballots.  She held a lead around 48% to Jolly’s 46% (a libertarian candidate took the rest).  The President had lost absentee votes two years earlier.  For myself, this gave me more hope for Sink winning.

However, as election day results came in, the results quickly narrowed and soon Jolly was leading.  By the time all the ballots were counted, Jolly had won.  The culprit was election day, Sink lost it by 12%.  What happened on election day could not be verified until Pinellas released all its turnout figures nearly two weeks after the election.

Election Day – Things Fall Apart

If the ballots for early and absentee voting were the only ones deciding the election, the precinct results would have looked like this.

Before Election Day

However, the precinct map for election day alone looked like this.

Election Day

So what happened on election day?  For two weeks it was impossible to say for sure.  My general belief was that it was a turnout gap much larger than the 7% gap from 2012.  The only other explanation would have been independents voting for Jolly.  However, for Sink to have won absentee ballots, she must have won the independent vote. It was unlikely that Sink would win independents on absentee, but not election day.  In addition, the polls that showed a close race repeatedly showed Sink winning voters with no party affiliation.

Around a week after the election I sat down with the data and tried to get an estimate of what turnout was like on election day.  I started off with the absentee and early vote results.  Pinellas already had the partisan breakdown of turnout for those two voting methods.  Based on the partisan share of the vote, I calculated the percents that each candidate would need from their own party and from independents to end up with the votes they got. I calculated separately for absentee and early voting.  Estimating these vote shares was also aided with cross-tabs from public polls.

In both cases I estimated that each candidate received a vast majority of their party’s vote.  Polls indicated the libertarian took more from Jolly than from Sink, so I calculated that Jolly would have slightly less party unity than Sink.  With absentees, Sink needed around 59% of the independent vote to get the win she did.  With early votes, her margin was achieved with either 70% of independents or even stronger Democratic loyalty.  Early voters generally skew much more liberal and democratic than the rest of the electorate.

I applied roughly the same percents for party loyalty and independent share to the election day ballots cast.  I estimated that, assuming the two parties were largely loyal to their candidate, and independents sticking with Sink, then Republicans would have needed  a 20 point advantage in terms of their share of the electorate casting ballots.  I estimated that the partisan breakdown of those casting ballots on election day was over 50% Republican and just over 30% Democratic.  My work is below, and in this link,

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/pub?key=0Ahg9HQktLxFZdGRrc1VyblZzNVN2VFg5bzIwYlpTNWc&output=html

Estimates

I posted my estimates the weekend after the election.  Otherwise I continued to wait for the final turnout data to be released.  The data became available the next week.

When the data was released, it showed election day had a 17% gap in favor of the Republicans.  Independents made up a larger share of the vote than I estimated.  The electorate on election day was 50% Republican, 32% Democratic, and 18% Independent.  Based on the turnout data I revised my calculations.  Assuming the parties remained loyal, Sink likely won 59% or so of the independent vote.

estimates2

Comparing the results and turnout in the special election with the ballots cast for President show where the issue lied.  While Sink outperformed the President with absentees and did roughly the same with early votes, she did much worse with election day votes.

compare

While the conservative media tried to frame the loss as a reflection on the healthcare law or the President, the data does not back that claim up.  Sink won the independent vote in the district.  The problem laid in an issue Democrats constantly struggle on, turnout.

Why Was the Turnout Gap so High

Before the data for election day was even released there were already groups trying to explain why turnout was so low.  These groups were reacting to the overall turnout number of 39%.  However, these figures did not include party turnout.  Most assumed, correctly, that Democratic turnout had not kept up with Republicans.  Without the data available, theories began to abound.

The most common theory was the effect of municipal elections on turnout.  Several coastal communities, St Pete Beach being the most prominent, were holding principle elections the same day as the special election.  In some of these municipalities the turnout was higher than the district overall.  In addition, many of these cities were more Republican than Democrat.  Some people argued that the higher turnout in these Republican cities, fueled by local election interest, aided Jolly by inflating Republican turnout.  However, this theory does not hold up to scrutiny.  It was not just a handful of beach cities hosting elections.  Eleven municipalities had local races that evening.

City Voting

In some of these cities turnout was much higher than the district-wide turnout.  St Pete Beach, a small Republican city, won the turnout race with 54%.  The turnout spike in St Pete Beach and the surrounding area fueled the narrative that municipal elections drove up the vote in key areas.   However, when you combine all eleven municipalities together, you get a different story.

First and foremost, turnout was not high in every city hosting a local election. Turnout ranged from 33% to 54%.  Second, several of these cities have more registered Democrats than Republicans, and even more were evenly divided. Clearwater, the largest municipality holding elections, is evenly split between the parties. Third, Democratic turnout was outpaced by Republican turnout in ten of the eleven municipalities.  When voters went to the polls in those ten areas, the electorate was more Republican than the registration figures.  The issue was not that Republican cities were voting, it was that Democrats were not as energized across the board.  Fourth, the notion that local elections drove higher turnout does not add up.  Looking back at turnout for these municipalities, I found the last time each had a local race, and turnout was much lower back then; with the exception of Kenneth City.  These municipalities saw a spike in turnout, indicating that the special election drove people to the polls, not the municipal races.  Fifth, and final, the combined areas hosting municipal elections were more Democratic than those not hosting down ballot races.  The combined cities voted for President Obama 50.9% to 47.6%, and narrowly voted for Jolly 47.9% to 46.8%.  The registration figures were nearly even, and the Democratic under-performance was smaller in the cities than it was outside the cities.  This excel file shows all the cities that had local races; including their registration and ballots cast. It shows the Democratic margins (mostly negative) for registration and cast votes.  Then it shows if the margin improved or got worse based on turnout.  It shows the turnout for this year and for the last time each city had a municipal race.  It then shows the totals for all the cities combined, the totals for the non-city areas, and the totals for the district.  As the data shows, the city areas were better territory for Democrats.

Cities

So, if not municipal elections, what caused Democrats to underperform Republicans?

Candidate Quality

This is where blogs and news articles spent a good deal of time guessing.  One issues brought up was candidate appeal.  Some claimed Alex Sink didn’t appeal to the base, or didn’t seem charismatic enough.  However, this negates the fact that Democratic turnout lagged Republican turnout in a special election for Florida House District 36 the previous fall. In that race, the Democrat, Amanda Murphy, won a close battle.  The district was 37% Democratic and 34% Republican.  However, of the votes cast for that race, 46% were Republican and 37% were Democratic.  This included a 18% gap in favor of the GOP on election day and a 5% gap on absentee.  Murphy was well liked by Democrats and proved to be a very strong candidate, but Republicans still won the turnout battle.  The Murphy win very likely came from stronger cross-over support from Republicans thanks to her support from the GOP State House member who was leaving the seat, Mike Fasano.  In addition, the Republican challenger, Bill Gunter, was painted as too far-right for the district.  The party-level turnout for the HD36 race is below.  Despite the GOP turnout advantage, Murphy won by 300+ votes.

HD36

Murphy was a strong candidate with charisma and fit the district well.  However, turnout for Democrats still lagged.  The cause for this was not Murphy’s appeal as a candidate.  Therefore, we cannot just assume that turnout lagged in CD13 because of Sink’s appeal or lack-there-of.

Special Elections are Special

The issue of turnout is a complex issue for Democrats across the county.  In both the special elections, Democrats used a well-publicized ground game to push voters to the polls. I have no doubt that no ground game would have resulted in greater turnout disparities.  However, major parts of the Democratic base are made up of two key groups, young voters and minorities.  Both groups are subject to vote less and special elections are especially the case.  This is why Nate Silver, Dave Wasserman, and other experts, will always tell you that special elections are special.  Rarely do special elections mark indicators of coming waves.  Democrats lost the NYC special election a year before President Obama was re-elected, Republicans lost an upstate New York race a year before their 2010 landslide.  Special elections are only indicators if they occur in ground where one party has little hope for success.  The string of Democratic special election wins in conservative districts in Illinois, Louisiana, and Mississippi foretold the 2008 cycle.  In addition, contrary to claims, running avid liberals do not guarantee higher democratic turnout.  Many liberals have lost elections in years with depressed turnout and many conservative democrats have won elections on the coattails of Obama or on their own.

So what happened to Alex Sink?  In short, she lost because of turnout on election day.  Why was turnout so rough?  The Democratic base is made up of those who would not be considered super voters.  Questions about Sink and her ability to connect to voters, and particularity her inability to articulate her ties to the Pinellas area, may have turned off some voters.  However, I believe any gaffs or bad quotes aided more in limiting cross-over support from moderate Republicans than it did in depressing Democratic turnout.  Democratic turnout was reasonably high for a special election, it just was not enough.  Remember, the district is largely white and older.  Older white voters skew toward the GOP, and they vote.  The beach communities didn’t cast ballots because they had local races, they voted because they are affluent; a group which constantly votes in higher numbers. Look at the turnout map below.

Turnout

Now, look at the average income in the district

Raw Vote Special

Those conservative costal areas had something more in common than hosting munical elections.  Those areas are higher income.  Thus, they were more likely to vote, and more likely to vote Republican at that.  The demographics of the district, this just being one, made turnout an easier task for Republicans.  The GOP base is older and wealthier, thus more likely to vote.  The Democratic base on young, minorities, and working class, are less likely to vote.  Add in that this district is largely white, older, and wealthier, and it’s no surprise the turnout gap was so high.

Claims that Obamacare doomed Sink do not hold up, claims that she wasn’t liberal enough do not hold, claims that she wasn’t appealing enough don’t hold.  Special elections are tricky, you win some and lose some. Democrats won the HD36 special while being outspent by hundreds of thousands of dollars. They lost CD13 a few months later.  I don’t consider this a reflection on anything other than special elections continuing to be special, subject to turnout.  The electorate casting ballots does not reflect the electorate as a whole.  Democrats will continue to find ways to increase turnout among their base.  Republicans will continue to hope that does not happen.  As the special election showed, attacks on Obamacare are not working. Sink won the independents resoundingly.  If Democrats can increase Democratic turnout by a few more points, then Republicans will find themselves in real trouble.  If Democrats cannot increase their base’s turnout, then they will find themselves short of a House majority anytime in the near future.

Is abortion hurting Wendy Davis with Texas Hispanics?

A great deal of the focus on Tuesday night’s Texas Primaries were on the Republican side of the ballot.  Democrats had a few primaries to watch, but Republican fights for Lt Governor and a handful of congressional seats were the focus of most election watchers like myself. In fact the big story from Tuesday was Lt Governor Dewhurst coming in second in his primary for re-election, in addition to Congressman Hall’s need for a primary runoff to hold his seat.  However, articles are appearing all over local and national press about the Democratic Primary for Governor in the state of Texas. Most casual observers may not have known that Democrat Wendy Davis, the star candidate out of Texas, famous for her filibuster to a state senate bill to dramatically restrict abortion rights (including a 20 week abortion ban and massive regulation aimed to close clinics), had a primary to secure the nomination for the Democrats. Davis faced an unknown opponent, Rynaldo Madrigal, who raised no money and won the nomination with 79% of the vote.  Republican Attorney General Greg Abbot won his primary with 91%.  Davis’ defeat of Madrigal was no surprise.  However, what is being pointed out by the Press and the Republican Party of Texas is that Davis lost several Hispanic counties in southern Texas.

2014 Texas Dem Primary

The southern border of Texas is a heavily Hispanic region of the state and a major source of Democratic votes.

Texas Hispanic

Democrats routinely lose Texas by 10% or more, even when pushing strong candidates. Both the 2010 and 2006 Governor races saw Democrats put up a fight for the state but come up short.  In all three races the Democrats relied on the southern region of the state for wins.

2006 Governor — Courtesy of Inqvisitor on wikipedia

2006texas

2010 Governor — Courtesy of Romeisburning on Wikipedia

 

2010texas

This region is giving its votes to an unknown candidate against Wendy Davis, who has very high recognition and has already been spending money in the state.

The Republicans are quick to pounce on this news (this Politico article has both sides), claiming it shows Davis is weak with Hispanics, most of whom are Catholic in south Texas, because of her stance on abortion.  Democrats contend that it was the Hispanic surname of Davis’ opponent that allowed him to win those counties.   Local Democratic leaders in the area have argued both things may be true; that Davis is weakened with Hispanics because of abortion, and that Madrigal’s name got him votes in the south.

I was inclined to think that the name had more to do with the votes in south Texas.  However, I couldn’t help but wonder how a complete unknown could beat the rising star of Texas Democrats just because he was Hispanic.  Davis isn’t some generic Democratic candidate, she is a major player in the state.  Perhaps the abortion issue was real and not just a GOP talking point.  Looking to polling, I believe I found an answer.

So first let me state something for those who don’t follow Texas politics..  The Hispanics of Texas are not as Democratic as Hispanics nationwide.  Republicans normally get 35% or more of the vote and can crack the high 30s or low 40s.  Hispanics in Texas are predominately Catholic and thus more conservative on social issues.  Meanwhile, Republicans in Texas don’t appear to have killed their image with Hispanics like the California Republicans did back in the 1990s. Davis’ pathway to victory isn’t just winning the Hispanic vote, she needs to crush Abbot with Hispanics.  White voters will only go so far in Texas and are firmly entrenched in the Republican camp.  Davis’ path to victory relies on a mixture of high Hispanic turnout and high Hispanic margins.  Polling, however, shows that Davis is not getting the numbers she needs with Hispanics.

Polling has been minimal in Texas, so I am going to rely on two polls from Public Policy Polling.  The firm polled the race in June 2013, shortly after Davis made national waves for her filibuster.  The June numbers were hypothetical, as Davis had not declared her plans to run.

  • In June, Davis lost to Abbott 48-40.  She had 40% approval and 14% disapproval with Hispanics.  She got 47% of Hispanics to Abbott’s 31%.  The abortion law was little known with Hispanics, 12% supported the law while 25% were against it.

Then, as the months went on, Davis announced she would run for governor and the campaign began.  In October, pro-life groups began running Spanish-language ads attacking Davis on abortion.  The ads focused entirely on the 20 week abortion ban. Public Policy Polling did a follow up poll a month later.

  •  In November, Davis lost to Abbott 50-35.  Her approval with Hispanics remained 40%, but her disapproval grew to 35%.  Abbott was then taking 43% of the Hispanic vote to Davis’ 38%.  Hispanics remained divided on the abortion law, but most knew about it; 40% favored the law, 43% were against.

chart2

Those shifts show a very problematic trend for Davis.  Hispanics lean toward Abbott, who has been campaigning for the Hispanic vote.  Abbott is hoping to get more than Rick Perry’s 38% from 2010.  Abbott has toned down his rhetoric (he is very conservative) and his wife, who is of Hispanic decent, has been prominently featured.  Abbott’s polling position with Hispanics, if unchanged, would ensure his victory.  Republican candidates who have won in the past did worse with Hispanics than Abbott is now.

In fact, here is the 2008 Presidential Election in Texas, the 2010 Gubernatorial election Texas, and current 2014 polling.  McCain in 2008 won Texas with 11 points and Perry in 2010 won by 12.  Neither did as well with Hispanics as Abbott is in polling.

Chart

Now, Davis could still win the Hispanic vote, and the November poll is some time back (PPP has not released another one).  However, these polling numbers conform with Davis’ problems in south Texas on primary night.  It is just unlikely that the name of her opponent would be enough to cause such deviation from the rest of the statewide vote.

What also appears clear is that the abortion bill Davis filibustered is not a winning issue with Hispanics.  At best Hispanics are divided on the issue, and the trend-lines show a dramatic increase in support for restrictions.   This is no doubt thanks to Republicans framing the bill as more about the 20-week ban (a popular position nationwide) than on the sneaky regulations that aimed to close clinics.

chART3

Now, the abortion restriction question was worded different between June and November (with June referencing the bill itself), which could explain why so many voters were undecided on the issue.  However, Hispanic voters in the June poll were asked if the supported Davis’ filibusterer, and 85% registered an opinion.  Hispanic voters supported Davis’ filibusterer by a 46-35 margin.  The 35% against, however, shows the social conservative influence of Texas Hispanics.  

Now, Davis’ campaign as certainly not been running on the abortion issue.  In fact, Davis garnered press when she said she could support a 20-week ban on abortions as a stand alone bill.  Davis’ campaign has been focused on education, immigration, wages, and other issues important to Catholic Hispanics.  However, it does appear the attacks from October and onward have had an effect.  Without more polling it is hard to confirm anything regarding Texas Hispanics, Wendy Davis, and abortion.  More polling, with cross-tabs, is needed.

What I do know for sure is this.  Davis has a very tight window for victory in Texas.  If the Hispanic numbers do not turn around in a major way, then sadly, the slim chances Democrats have in Texas in 2014 will completely evaporate.

 

What Whatcom County and the City of SeaTac tell us about the nationalization of local elections

The premier races of November 2013 were found in Virginia, New York, and New Jersey.  Political pundits focused on how big a win New Jersey Governor Chris Christie would win by, if the Democrats would sweep all three statewide offices, and if DeBlasio would win New York City by more than a 40-point margin.  However, in the county of Whatcom and the city of SeaTac, millions were being spent on elections that no one in the rest of the country knew were going on.  This article focuses on two pares of local elections, how they became a political battlefield unlike anything they had ever seen before, and what it means for the future of local races.

Coal in Whatcom County, WA

While outside money poured into Virginia, making it the premier destination for SuperPACs, environmentalists and the coal industry were focused on a string of local elections on the Northwest corner of the country.  In little-known Whatcom County, home to 205,000, a major fight over national and international policy, fueled by unprecedented fundraising and outside money, turned what are normally quiet county commission elections into a national referendum.

The fuel to these elections was the Gateway Pacific Terminal, a proposed $600 terminal that would sit in Whatcom County.  The terminal in question would received coal shipped via train from states like Wyoming and then shipped via boat to China.  The terminal would have been the biggest on the west coast.  The issue quickly became a concern of the environmental movement, as coal burned in China still affects the overall CO2 levels of the world’s atmosphere.  Coal companies wanted the terminal built and Whatcom had the space for the proposal.  The belief was that the council had the votes to narrowly approve the measure.  However, the proposal would not be finalized before the regularly scheduled elections for four of the seven council seats.  This set up a massive fight over the issue that engulfed the local elections.  Four of the seven commissioners were up for re-election.  Two of the incumbents, Kershner and Knutzen, were conservatives who likely supported the measure, two were liberals, Weimer and Mann, who likely did not.  I say likely because commissioners were barred by state law from stating their positions on upcoming issues during elections.  The two conservative commissioners were challenged by liberals, while the two liberals were challenged by conservatives.  Each side hoped to hold their two incumbents and knock off the other sides two incumbents.  Donations flowed into the bank accounts of the incumbents and challengers, and outside funding spiked as well.  Who’s side each candidate was on became noted quickly as environmental and coal money pored into the county.  In total, the 8 individuals on the ballot, the 4 incumbents and 4 challengers, raised over $600,000; with the liberal incumbents out-raising their opponents and the liberal challengers out-raising the people they hoped to unseat.  Both the county Democrats and county Republicans found their war-chests growing with either pro or anti coal funds.  In addition, over $400,000 in outside money was dumped into the state in third party ads. Overall, environmentalists fueled by the League of Conservation Voters and billionaire Tom Seyer outspent the pro-coal side.

Television ads were non-stop and mailboxes were flooded with glossy pieces.  Many mailers focused on slate-like voting, advocating all 4 liberal or all 4 conservatives running.

1 2 3

Other lines of attack were used.  Earlier in the year the council approved 4-3 to have a slaughterhouse built in part of the farmland of the county.  The conservatives who voted yes were attacked for that vote.

4

And while the coal terminal fueled the money, social issues were used as attacks as well.

5 6

With the coal terminal illegal to discuss, all different types of issues were used to prop up or tear down different candidates.  But one frequent tactic from the third-party groups were slate-level voting rather than individual focuses.  The conservative incumbents and challengers were often attacked as tea-party members and television ads tied the conservative members of the county to national Republicans like John Boehner.  In a county that gave Obama 55% of the vote, liberal groups and candidates aimed to nationalize the elections as much as possible.

The campaigning continued for months and weeks until election day finally arrived in November.  The results tell us a lot about how effective the campaigning was.

The results… a major victory for the environmental movement.  The two conservative incumbents, Kathy Kershner and Bill Knutzen, were ousted from the council, while the liberal incumbents, Carl Weimer and Ken Mann, held on.  This shifted the power of the council from 4-3 conservative to 5-2 liberal.  The coal terminal was surely dead.

What is most striking about these results is not just who won or who lost, but how close all four of the elections were tied together.  All council seats are elected at-large, and the difference in percentages and votes was very narrow between all four seats.  The following four maps show the results for each seat.  (Authors Note:  You can click any image to open it in a new page and zoom in if you desire).

This was conservative commissioner Kershner’s loss

Whatcomb 1A

Liberal Ken Mann held on in his re-election

Whatcomb 2A

Liberal Weimer also held on in his re-election.

Whatcomb 3A

And conservative Knutzen lost his re-election.

Whatcomb ATLG

The two liberal challengers scored almost the exact same percentages, with a raw vote difference of 274.  The two liberal incumbents had a slightly larger difference in the vote, as Carl Weimer proved to be slightly more popular, however, the vote difference between the two incumbents was less than 600 votes.  Over 64,000 votes were cast for each seat.

The population of Whatcom is focused in the western edge of the state, with a large chunk of the population in the city of Bellington, which is a coastal city in the area were the dark-blue precincts reside.

Whatcomn dot density Bellingham

Bellingham itself is a major source of Democratic support and rests along the coast.  30,000 votes, just under half the total, came from within the cities’ precincts.

The elections showed a great deal of loyalty at the precinct level.  Only a handful of precincts switched votes between conservative and liberal candidates.  The conservatives did best in the more rural north while the southern areas voted heavily for the liberal slate.

Loyalty

To further examine how tied each race was to the other, I looked at vote differences between candidates at a precinct level.  To start off, I looked at the difference in the percents between the two liberal challengers.

Challenger Difference

Most of the precincts had a vote difference with 0% and 4%.  Vote differences were lowest in Democratic stronghold Bellingham and spiked in rural areas.  The mean difference in the precincts were 2.8%.

Next I looked at the differences between the liberal incumbents.

Incumbent Difference

Again, differences were low.   The mean difference in the precincts were 2.9%. However the upper rural area had a larger vote difference while the difference in the south was incredibly low.  The differences in he north were because Weimer outperformed Mann in the north.

Then I looked at the average of the liberal challengers and the average of the liberal incumbents at the precinct level.

Incumbent over Challenger

Margins were small.  Meanwhile the liberal incumbents outperformed the liberal challengers in the more populated south while the challengers did better in a handful of rural and city precincts.

The correlation between liberal incumbent and liberal challenger percents at the precinct level are very consistent.  The scatterplot below shows how tight the correlation is.

Average Scatter

The difference between the highest and lowest percent for the four liberals was less than 3%.  Precinct level differences between Buchanan and Weimer is below.

Weimer’s stronger performance in the north was a major source of the difference, while the two had the smallest difference in Bellingham.  Overall, Bellingham had the narrowest differences in many different criteria.  The democratic city stuck with the liberal slate and did not deviate.

Difference

The four county council elections weren’t just tied to each other.  On the ballot was a statewide referendum on the labeling of GM crops.  The measure was supported by environmentalists, but failed statewide.  However, the measure was approved within Whatcom, almost at the same level as the liberal candidates for county commission.

GM Crops

Support for the measure came from the same areas that supported the liberal slate.

How the precinct-level vote for the measure compared to that of the liberal incumbents (who performed closer to the support for the measure than the liberal challengers) is below.

GM Crops Over

The measure actually performed worse in the southern end of the county, including Bellingham.  Meanwhile, it overperformed in the areas that were opposed to the liberal incumbents.  There were large differences in the vote in rural and city areas.  However, only a small number of precincts voted for the GM amendment and against the liberals, or vice-versa. One possible reason for the overperformance in the north could have been farmers supporting a measure that could potentially weaken competition.  Those gains may have helped offset the loses in the south where the population was being bombarded by anti-labeling advertising by different food cooperation who were against the measure and outspent the supports.

While the liberal slate and GM labeling won out in Whatcom, it wasn’t a clean sweep for liberals.  One Republican-aligned official to hold on was Port Commissioner Dan Robbins.  The position in question, responsible for management of the ports on the counties cost, was elected county-wide.  Robbins managed to narrowly win re-election against a Democratic-aligned candidate. The Democrats thought they had a shot at this seat as well, but were shocked when Robbin’s managed to survive while the conservative commissioners were swept out.  Robbins did three points better than the conservative commissioners  However, while he held overperformed the conservative commissioners, his precinct-level vote strongly correlated with those same individuals.

Robbins Scatter

Robbins’ correlation line (yellow) closely matches a perfect correlation (red line).  The key difference was that Robbins did better in the heavily liberal precincts and ended up performing slightly worse in the conservative precincts.  A precinct-level map of Robbins overperforming is below.

As the precinct map shows Robbins’ source of extra votes did NOT come from the more conservative north, in fact Robbins did worse than the conservative commissioners in the more rural region.  Robbins’ winning votes came from the liberal south, including the city of Bellingham.  This conforms with the findings from the scatterplot above.  Overall Robbin’s was still crushed in the Bellingham region, but he did much better than the conservatives, and with Bellingham accounting for almost half the votes cast, those gains ensured Robbins’ win.

Robbins

So why did Robbins hold on?  Well the answer partly comes down to the fact that the race was not the focus of third party efforts from the liberal side.  Meanwhile, coal-supporting PACs did back Robbins for re-election.  This race was never the major focus of environmental groups because the terminal’s fate was in the hands of the county commission.  The lack of green money, while the coal money remained, were definitely a contributing factor in Robbins’ re-election.

The commission elections in Whatcom showed an amazing degree of slate-unity and were no doubt nationalized by the outside money and large fundraising.  However, Whatcom wasn’t the only region in Washington to be bombarded by outside spending.

Wages in SeaTac

Several counties south, in the small city of SeaTac, a referendum over wages sparked a million dollar campaign.  The city, who’s primary employer was the SeaTac-Tacoma International Airport, had a referendum on raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, the highest proposed in the nation.  The campaign resulted in $1.1 million being spent by pro-labor and anti-labor factions.  Money poured in for canvassing, phone calls, television, and mail  The measure won, by the narrowest margin.

Seatac

In the city of Seatac, $1.1 million was spent on a proposal that was voted on by 6,000 people.  That means $182 was spent per vote, which must one of the all time records.  Each side wanted a victory to give momentum to their side as national fight over the minimum wage grew.  This election marks the peak of the nationalization of local elections.  The people so SeaTac wanted their wages in the service industry at the airport to be better.  However, the nationalization turned it into something more than one town’s issue, it became the centerpiece of a national issue.

The Future of Local Races

The effect of the SeaTac referendum is still to be seen, as the courts are debating if the airport employees are subject to the local law.  However, the results from Whatcom killed the proposed coal terminal.  It is unlikely that the next time SeaTac or Whatcom hold elections they will see such a bombardment of advertising.  Things may return to normal for these areas.  However, what can be taken from 2013 is simple, no jurisdiction, and no issue, is exempt from being nationalized and turned into a million dollar fight.  As SuperPACs grow on both sides and local elections continue to be seen as referendums on larger issues, this trend will continue.  If you life in a small little town or county and enjoy the relative peacefulness of your local races, then watch out, the next national fight might be come to your back yard before you know it.

Broward County Commission Districts Disenfranchise Minority Voters

Through 2011 and 2012, Broward County, the second largest county in Florida, went through its redistricting process.  The 9-member county commission, made up of 8 Democrats and 1 Republican, had to redraw the commission lines in preparation for the 2012 elections to account for population shifts over the last 10 years.  The commission held hearings, took testimony, and allowed groups and citizens to submit maps.  After months of debate and proposals, the commission settled on a final map.

Map 8 - Initial Map

The heavy blue lines are the new boundaries while the different colors represent the different cities (35 in total) of Broward.  If the lines look convoluted to you then you aren’t the only one.  Cities are broken up for no legitimate reasons and reports of the commissioners using their influence to ensure favorable turf were well reported in the press.  The lines also produced districts who’s racial makeup do not match the county at-large.  In fact, the districts appear to willfully split the minority voters, especially Hispanics, across lines, diluting their power.

Broward County is is a very racially diverse region of the state.  As the 2010 Census, it is 43% White, 27% Black, and 25% Hispanic.  However, the redistricting of the commission boundaries produced 7 white districts, 1 black district, and one district tied between Black and Hispanic residents.

Map 5 - Redistricting Current Lines

How did that racial breakdown come about?  Look to the next map, which shows each census block in Broward colorized by their dominant racial makeup.  See the where the commission lines go.

Map 1 - Redistricting Blocks Current Lines

The lines crack Hispanic pockets of voters across different districts.  Hispanic pockets in the west and south are spread out over four different districts.  Meanwhile the black community in the center of the county is packed heavily into one district rather than aiming for a second minority district in the area.

These lines go out of their way to split minority voters up. This is not an issue of drawing weirdly drawn districts to create minority districts; rather it is a case where compact districts that gave minority voters a united say where scrapped in favor of politically-motivated, oddly drawn, boundaries.

The commission cannot claim that the above map was the best that could have been done.  Below is a cleaner, fairer, map that I created.

Map 2 - Redistricting Blocks New Lines

I aimed to balance three criteria when creating the boundaries above. 1) Increase minority voter power 2)  Be as compact as I can, and 3)  Respect city boundaries where possible.  These three tasks are a tough balancing act.  Many of Broward’s cities are very un-compact and several of them are racially split.  Southern cities like Miramar and Pembroke Pines have strong east-west racial differences.  With criteria 1 being most important, a racially divided city would be split.

The results were much more in tune with Broward’s racial makeup. Four districts where white, 1 was majority black, 2 where plurality black, and 2 where plurality Hispanic.

Map 3 - Redistricting New Lines

Creating a majority Hispanic district would have required sacrificing the second Hispanic seat.   The full breakdown of the new districts is below.

Map 9 - Chart

Hispanic voters are the plurality in districts 1 and 3, but also are strong minorities in districts 2 and 7.  African-Americans are favored in districts 2, 6,and 7; especially when the Democratic primaries, which would tilt more African-American, decide most races in Broward.  The map makes it so that minorities could make up 5 of the 9 commissioners.

While also being more racial sensitive, these boundaries are reasonable compact and try to respect city boundaries as much as possible.

Map 4 - Redistricting Cities New Lines

While this map would give minority voters a larger say in the representation on the commission, there are still a few hiccups.  The main issue lies with Hispanics.  Hispanic’s have a much lower registration rate than white or black voters in Broward.  It has always been the case that minority voter registration is lower.  However, Hispanic registration is especially low in Broward.  While part of this can be attributed to immigration (people counted by the census but are not citizens) it does not explain registration drop-offs in major suburban sectors where non-citizen populations are very low.  In addition, the 16% of Broward residents that are non-citizens are not all Hispanic, many are Caribbean black as well; yet Hispanic registration drop-off is much higher than the drop-off among black residents.

Below is the census tracts of Broward by race.

Map 7 - Tract Race

Hispanic pockets are concentrated in the south and in the mid-western region (which is the city of Weston).  Now look at the racial makeup by voter registration.

Map 6 - Precinct Race

Look how high the dropoff for Hispanic registration it; falling to 16%.  Especially focus on the area of Weston.  That suburb is affluent and well educated.  It is 45% white and 45% Hispanic.  However, registration wise, it is 53% white and 38% Hispanic.  This drop-off is happening in a well-educated, well-to-do area with a low non-citizen population.  It means this issue of Hispanic drop-off in registration goes beyond socioeconomic ties.  It is an issue that also effects the true power of these proposed county commission lines.

Under my lines, Hispanics are a plurality in two districts.  However, registration wise, they are the plurality in zero.  The drop-off in registration is steep enough that the Hispanics lose influence in both districts.  They are still well positioned in district 1 because they started off so strong, but lose a great deal of ground in district 3.  Look at the side by side of the districts by census data and then by registration to see the full effect (click it for zoom in).

Map 10 - Chart 2

The issue of Hispanic registration drop-off has been a long-standing issue that will take time to resolve.  In the shorter term, however, are the current commission lines in Broward.  Even with the registration drop-off, Hispanics would be able to unite and influence the election of my district 1.  However, under the current lines they are effectively shut out; divided over several districts and at a disadvantage in the one they are tied with blacks in.  In addition, black voters are shortchanged with two districts instead of three.  The current lines create 7/9 white districts in a county that is only 43% white.  Its impossible to say for sure that race was a factor (I do not believe that the Democratic commissioners are racist).  However, I do believe this was about preserving power of the incumbents.  These boundaries make no logical sense racially or city-wise.  Communities of interest are broken up and weakened.  Broward voted overwhelmingly for the Fair Districts amendments in 2010.  It is time their own internal boundaries met the standards that those amendments stood for.

Rick Scott’s new Lt Governor hardly helps in Miami-Dade

Tomorrow morning (or really soon), Rick Scott will announce Miami-Dade Property Appraiser, Carlos Lopez-Cantera, as his new Lt Governor.  Cantera is known well inside Tallahassee circles from his days as Majority Leader in the Florida House, serving under past Speaker Dean Cannon.  He served until 2012 when he was termed out of office and promptly ran for Property Appraiser in his home county.  Cantera won the officially non-partisan election by ousting the incumbent Republican, Pedro Garcia, in the August primaries.  With only two candidates running, no runoff was required.  Cantera capitalized on problems within the incumbents office; from bad appraisals (that were often overruled when a homeowner appealed a decision) to a lack of transparency and easy access to information.  Perhaps the biggest story was when Garcia told the city of Miami that they would have to pay property taxes on a new parking garage for Marlins Stadium, after he had initially told them they would be excempt.  Cantera, still in the legislature, maneuvered a provision into law that made the parking garage tax exempt (despite legislative staff advising that the exemption was likely to be unconstitutional).

Not long after, Cantera filed for Property Appraiser and promptly raised $262,000 for the race.  Garcia, meanwhile, only raised $112,000 (still alot but not enough for the Miami market).  Cantera was able to go on TV while Garcia had to stick to radio.  In addition, a political committee, Citizens for Lower Property Taxes, formed in Miami-Dade and raised $207,000.  The committee claimed to be supporting Amendment 4, which would go on the ballot in November.  However, the committee spent its money on ads and mailers for Cantera.  The committee has been linked to Cantera, and it spent no real money after the primary.  (see the money link here http://www.freepress.net/blog/2012/11/06/following-political-ad-money-miami  ).

So in all, Cantera had nearly $500,000 to spend while Garcia just has his $112,000.   Cantera won the election, but by a narrow margin.

Miami Property Appraiser

Cantera won with 51.2% of the vote.  He got 105,950 votes compared to Garcia’s 100,971.  As the map shows, Cantera won big in traditionally Cuban areas and in the city of Miami.  Cantera and his committee had to spend over $4 a vote compared to Garcia’s 90 cents.  Cantera would have lost had he not outspent Garcia by such a large margin.  Cantera lost election day and early voting while racking up a large absentee ballot margin (in a county known for campaigns paying individuals good money to round up absentee ballots in a system that has a lot of scrutiny to it).

Turnout for the primaries was 20% while turnout for this election was 16%.  Voters interviewed in the press often admitted they didn’t know either candidate well and where there to vote for Mayor (a race that saw well over $1,000,000 spent).  Cantera effectively won 8% of Miami-Dade voters in an race that was not the main attraction to average voters.

Cantera’s knowledge of Miami-Dade politics could certainly benefit Scott (if he listens), and no doubt Cantera has been chosen to try and get back Republican support in Miami-Dade.  However, it will take more than appointing Cantera for Scott to have any hope at getting a decent share of the vote in the county (winning it is out of the question).  Lt Governors are never well known in Florida, and Cantera is unlikely to be well known by average voters in Miami-Dade (he has only been in the office for a year).  Cantera being Hispanic will hardly override Scott’s hard-line positions on immigration either. We will have to see how things play out over the next few months, but right now, Cantera’s choice is hardly a game changer.  While Scott may have a Miami-Dade politician in his pocket, Democrats have this map of Barack Obama’s 62% in the county on election night 2012.  All that blue is what made Rick Scott go for a Miami-Dade politician.  However, that selection is not enough.

2012 President

Party strength at the local level in Florida: What It means for Florida Democrats

When people focus on Florida’s politics, they tend to look at the county level votes for President, Governor, or Senate.  From that they develop a few key conclusions:  Democratic performance is largely concentrated in the urban counties, Republicans dominate rural county and west-coast suburban counties, the I-4 corridor is the key swing region of the state, and only a few Democrats like Bill Nelson can cross over into the rural counties for support.  However, this is only half of the political picture for Florida.  The state’s politics are much more complicated that what was just described.  Many rural counties in the state, especially in the northern panhandle are ancestrally Democratic and still vote that way in local elections.  Regions that statewide Democrats lose in are still casting ballots for Democratic local officials.  Democrats should look to these local officials as the start of a pathway back to prominence in rural Florida.

Last month I took a look at the partisan breakdown of the county commissions in Florida. The results showed Democratic strength in Florida’s panhandle and several rural farming counties; expanding from their usual base of support in the urban counties that allow them to win statewide elections.   To further this look at local politics, I examined the partisan breakdown of the constitutional officers in the counties.

The state of Florida allows for the election of up to six designated constitutional officers in each county. These officers are elected county-wide and are normally on a partisan ballot. Counties can designate for the appointment of these offices in lieu of election; meanwhile some counties have explored merging and/or eliminating some offices they no longer feel are needed.  The officers that can be elected are as follows.

Tax Collector — This individual leads the department that collects taxes and fees collected at the local level (like your car registration or a traffic ticket).  The office does not set tax rates, but rather it collects fees.

Property Appraiser — This office is responsible for assessing the value of properties for the purposes of assessing taxes on said properties.  The office is often used to assign exemptions (as outlined by law) to different property-related taxes.

Sheriff — This is the chief law enforcement officer of each county.  The sheriff hires and fires staff and officers, maintains county jails, and carries out Florida and county laws in coordination with state and local law departments.

Superintendent — This individual works with the school board to meet school needs in each county.  The office has a greet deal of administrative hiring and firing ability.  School policy is often relegated to the school board.  However, superintendent has a strong amount of unilateral authority of different issues.

Clerk of Court — This office is in essence the clerk of the county.  It works with the court system and the county government to process permits, legal briefs, marriage licenses, budget reviews, and much more.

Supervisor of Elections — This individual runs the office that manages elections in each county.  The SOE has final say on where precincts boundaries are, where polling locations end up, and how to manage voting procedure.  Supervisors are subject to state law, however they can refuse certain mandates by the state (such as voter purges).  A supervisor can be removed from office by the Governor if incompetence leads to major election issues.

In most instances, these elections are not high profile.  Incumbents often hold on to their jobs as long as no issues of incompetence arise.  Party affiliation can be less of a handicap in these elections if a specific candidate is considered more qualified.  However, there have been several instances of party affiliation either dooming or assuring the election of a candidate.  Perhaps the most recent and telling example was when Republican Sheriff Al Lamberti of Broward County lost to a Democratic challenger despite raising more money, receiving newspaper endorsements, and overall being considered a good sheriff.  Lamberti had held of Democratic Scott Israel in 2008, but finally fell in 2012 by a six percent margin.2012 Sheriff

 

Lamberti lost despite winning many suburban precincts that President Obama also won.  However, it was not enough to counter the unbelievably blue hue of the county.

Sheriff Analysis

The Broward Sheriff’s race is just one example (certainly the most high profile of 2012) of party ID being a burden on a qualified candidate or incumbent.  The results of this race should be remembered for those looking at the rest of the constitutional offices and the partisan future of them.

Overall, Republicans control a majority of these local offices.  As seen in the post on county commissions, democratic strength statewide resides in a handful of heavily-populated counties while Republicans dominated the low-populated but numerous rural counties.  The result is Republicans control most local offices that are designated to each county regardless of population size.  However, local Democratic officers are not limited just to the counties that President Obama won (13 counties in 2012); they have been able to hold ground in several rural counties that used to be a key base of national Democratic support decades earlier.  However, Democrats also find themselves losing offices in counties like Pinellas, Hillsborough, and Osceola; counties where they normally win in Presidential and Gubernatorial contests.

Look at the Presidential results in Florida below, and keep the results in mind as we go through the partisan control of the constitutional officers.

Pres

Only a few counties elect candidates on a non-partisan ballot (more on that later).  For anyone elected on a non-partisan ballot, I used their party registration.  Any official designated as NPA is either registered as an independent or ran on a partisan ballot as NPA.

Lets start looking at each office.   First up is Tax Collector.

TAX COLLECTOR

Tax Collector is the only one of these six offices that is majority held by Democrats.  Democrats control a large number of the rural counties in addition to their standard Democratic base.  These are especially prominent in the panhandle where Democrats are still majority in registration.  However, they still lose in the Tampa Bay area that President Obama won.  A note, the Pasco Tax collector was a Democrat but passed away and a Republican, Mike Fasano, was chosen to replace him.  At the beginning of 2013 Democrats control 37 of these offices.

CLERK OF COURT

Republicans just narrowly edge out Democrats for this office.  Democrats still dominate in the panhandle but control fewer rural counties in the central and southern part of the state.  In addition, Democrats fail to capture Pinellas or Orange county.

PROPERTY APPRAISER

Democrats continue to dominate in the panhandle but are weaker further south.  For property appraiser the also lose Miami-Dade in and Palm Beach counties in addition to other Obama counties.

SUPERVISOR OF ELECTIONS

Supervisor of Elections shows less of a pattern than other offices.  Democrats largely win in the Obama counties in addition to winning many rural counties in the central and southern part of the state despite being less dominant in the panhandle that with other offices.

SHERIFF

The office of Sheriff has more elected to it as NPA than any other.  Several of these candidates are/were Democrats who decided to avoid primaries.

SUPERINTENDENT

Democrats and Republicans nearly split the superintendent offices right down the middle  Most parts of the country do not elect superintendents, and indeed 26 counties in the state have chosen to have that position appointed by the school board rather than elected.  Most of the areas that elect superintends are rural counties.  Leon considered moving to appointment but rejected it in a local referendum several times over the last three and a half decades.

Looking at these six maps there are clear patterns.  Democrats do well in the panhandle region of the state (but get cut off further west) and enjoy support in the rural counties in the middle of the southern edge of the state.  These rural counties have been ancestrally Democratic for generations but rarely vote for the national or state-level party that they perceive as too liberal.  These local offices are all that remain of a once reliably Democratic base in the state.   Meanwhile Democrats do well in the metropolitan southeast counties (notably Miami-Dade elects very few of these officers) and in the Orlando area.  Democrats, however, do not control all the offices in counties that President Obama won in 2012 (and control none in Pinellas).  Republicans, meanwhile, do well in the suburban string of counties and other rural counties that make up their base of support.

The map below shows the overall balance of power between the two parties among the constitutional officers that they elect.

Constitutional Officers

Democratic control is heavily concentrated in the panhandle counties in the north and includes a mix of rural and urban counties moving down the state.  Calhoun county is notable for being split between Democrats and NPA’s who beat official Democratic candidates.  Republicans dominate in the western edge of the panhandle and dominate in the suburban counties of the upper-east coast and all of the west coast.  Overall, Democrats control 28 of the 67 counties, which is way more than the 13 President Obama (who only won two rural counties), carried.   Republicans, boosted by their strengths in the suburban and rural regions, control the a majority of officers in 34 counties.

Notice that some counties are indicated as not electing constitutional officers on partisan ballots.  In Columbia, none are, while the rest use a mix (some are and some are not).

Referencing back to my previous post on the county commissions, I want to examine one more thing.  First, you can see the map of county commission control below.

County Commissions

More details can be found in the article itself.  However, you can certainly see a pattern of Democratic support in the rural counties in the north and south/central parts of the state.  Democrats actually perform worse in some of their Obama-supporting counties (not controlling Orange, Osceola, Miami-Dade, and others) and in some rural counties.  With constitutional officers, Democrats have managed to hold onto rural counties that they lost the county commissions of and held onto top-down urban Democratic counties that they are still working to take control of at the county commission level.

Just by looking at the last two maps you can see a general correlation between party control for county commissions and constitutional officers.   I decided to look at that further.  I examined all the counties that elect their commissioners AT-LARGE (same as constitutional officers) and looked to see which parties controlled a majority of both institutions. The results are below.

COMMISSION AND CONSTITUTIONAL OFFICERS

Many of the Democratic panhandle counties have elections in single-member districts and hence were not examined,  Among the 40 counties that elect their commissions at-large, 31 have a majority of their county commissions and constitutional officers controlled by the same party.  Republican counties make up a majority of these counties.  There are 6 counties where Democrats control the constitutional officers but not the commissions (all except Osceola are rural counties where the commission loses have been in recent years).  The results from the 40 counties show a strong correlation between control of one institution and another.

So what can be concluded by this analysis?  Democrats win statewide thanks to support in large metropolitan counties.  However, the party still has a local base of support in the rural panhandle and farming counties in the south.   Democrats could try and use those local bases of support to push for greater party unity higher up on the ballot (especially by running these local officials for state legislative or congressional office).  The party must also be wearing of losing ground with these offices, similar to ground lose in rural county commissions in recent elections.  As local elections become nationalized it will be tougher for Democrats to hold these offices.  The future of these local officials will say a great deal about the direction of the party in those areas for decades to come.

Who Controls the County Commissions in Florida

As a side project I decided to look at the partisan breakdown of the 67 county commissions in Florida.  I also marked what method of election each county uses:  single-member districts, At-Large elections, or a mix of both.  I also marked which counties use a non-partisan ballot.  To calculate partisan control, I researched the party registration of each member in that county.

The results are below, more details after the image.

County Commissions

As the image shows, Republicans control a staggering 44 counties.  That may sound like a lopsided balance, but it is worth noting that Barack Obama won only 13 of Florida counties (15 in 2008), when he was re-elected in 2012.   Democrats win Florida by taking the large population hubs and losing the rural counties.

From this data there are a few key observations I have

1)  Democratic Reasons to be Happy
Democrats control 9 more county commissions than counties Obama won in 2012.   These are largely rural counties.  The south counties like Glades and Hendry are agriculture dominated where local Dems focus on wages and working conditions.  Democrats have managed to hold on to the panhandle counties of Congressional District 2 that are ancestrally Democratic but vote Republican higher on the ballot.  Wakulla fell to Republicans in 2012 and Gulf is trending away.  In these counties many Republicans run as NPA to combat these counties’ Democratic loyalty at the local level.  Democrats have also managed to hold Volusia County despite Obama losing it in 2012 after winning it in 2008.  In addition, the redistricting in Broward will likely cause the lone Republican commissioner to lose his seat in 2014.

2)  Republican Reasons to be Happy
Republicans maintain control of several Democratic counties.  Hillsborough, Pinellas, Orange, Osceola, Monroe, and Miami-Dade all remain in GOP control.  Hillsborough uses a mixed system to elect (at-large and single-member).  Democrats don’t control all the at-large seats in Hillsborough, and the single-member districts have a strong hint of gerrymandering.  In Pinellas the Democrats made 2 gains in 2012 but are still short.  They don’t control an at-large and only control the African-American single-member district.  Democrats are weak in Orange, only controlling one seat.  In Osceola, this 60% Obama county, which does all elections at-large, is not in Democratic hands.  In Miami-Dade, the single member districts look to be gerrymandered, but Democrats are still weaker than they should be considering Dem gains with Cuban voters.   There are several other counties were Democrats are completely shut out and should at least be able to control a few seats in most counties.

3)  NPAs in the Panhandle
Republicans are still working their way down-ballot in these ancestral Democratic counties.  In Washington, Calhoun, and Liberty, more and more challangers to Democratic commissioners are Republican-leaning NPAs.  This phenominon has resulted in Dixie County being controlled by 4 conservative NPA commissioners who beat Democrats over the last few years.  How long these conservatives will use the NPA label before running as Republicans remains to be seen.

4)  Non-Partisan Ballots show no uniformity.
No specific type of county uses a non-partisan ballot for county commission, and the practice is fairly rare.

5)  At-Large is most common election method
Forty counties use At-Large elections for the county commission.  While this is not used in the largest counties and largely used in rural areas, there are some rural counties that use single-member districts.

Conclusions

Democrats reliance on large counties to win statewide means that they were unlikely to control a majority of the 67 county commissions in the state.  However, Democrats are shut out in many of these rural counties, not even holding one seat.  In addition, several Democratic-leaning counties are in heavy or mild Republican control.  Democrats first priorities for local elections should be to put these county commissions in Democratic control.

Nightmare for Panhandle Democrats: The Southern Realignment comes to Florida

Summary

Democrats in Florida face a major problem in Florida’s panhandle.  While Democratic candidates improve upon past loses, they are faced with a dynamic that sees them gaining support in urban centers like Orange and Miami-Dade; but losing ground in the rural northern counties of the state.  Democrats used to rely on Florida’s panhandle as a source of votes, even in their worst elections.  Candidates like Bill McBride, who lost badly to Jeb Bush in 2002, still won the panhandle of Florida.  Eight years later, Alex Sink narrowly lost to Rick Scott, but her panhandle showing far under-paced McBride.  This case is similar for other statewide candidates for state and federal offices over the last twelve years.  Democrat gains in the state are in spite of a general weakening of support in Florida’s north.  This erosion of support is also beginning to effect down ballot races for state house and county commission offices.  Local positions, which Democrats in some of these counties have held for decades, are now beginning to shift toward Republicans.  If such trends continue, democrats risk losing the panhandle of Florida like the lost the American South.

Looming Problems

It is either Glory or Decline for the Democrats in North Florida….

Various posts on this website have centered around the issue of what is commonly referred to as “Southern Realignment;”  the phenominon were the American South began to trend Republican.  This was covered in detail in my post Southern Realignment Nears Completionwhich pointed out that down-ballot races that were still held by Democrats are beginning to shift Republican in the last few years.  Florida’s northern region, notably its panhandle, are very similar to the American South.   These counties are culturally conservative and while they were long Democratic, began to trend Republican back in the 90s.  I examined Barack Obama’s problems in these counties in a previous posting before the 2012 election: Florida’s Panhandle.   In that posting, I pointed out how Democrats for state officers still did much better than those for federal offices.

This entry, however, will focus on how the panhandle, regardless of the Democrat being a federal or state candidate, is trending further and further toward the Republican Party.  These trends are also effecting local elections; as long-held Democratic county offices are being lost.   If these trends continue, then this region of Florida could be lost to the Democrats for decades.

 

The Panhandle and the Second Congressional District

The panhandle of Florida generally refers to the northern counties of Florida that look like the handle of Florida.  There is no exact county listing, but it generally makes up the 1st and 2nd congressional districts.   Both of these districts are largely rural, minus urban centers like Pensacola and Tallahassee.

Untitled

Tthe second district is much more Democratic leaning than the 1st.  The second district is still largely Democratic registered, while the first district is Republican from the top down.

Panhandle Registration

The registration map shows that the area making up the second district, minus Bay County, is still Democratic at a registration level.  These voters are conservative but ancestrally Democratic.

The second district is made up of the following counties, shown in yellow below (with two being split).

counties

Of these counties, most are considered rural.  Bay county is more populated but very Republican.  Leon, Gadsden, Jefferson, and Madison all hold heavy African-American populations that keep those counties from trending too far away from Democrats.  Gadsden is majority African-American and safe Democratic, while Leon is home to Tallahassee and a urban democratic county.  Jefferson leans Democratic and is 36% African-American, while Madison leans Republican but is 39% African-American.  All these counties, thanks to their large African-American populations, have either trended Republican less than others, or trended Democratic.  These counties also tend to show Democrats overperforming their statewide percentage as the years go on.  This is due to Democrat’s continued gains with minority voters; which counters the continued gains Republicans have with rural whites.  This fact will be reinforced as this article continues.  The rest of the counties are rural and largely white.

Thanks to the Democratic registration advantage in the second district, while Democrats began to have problems in the panhandle at the federal level, they held their ground much better at the state candidate level.  Democrats running for Governor or Cabinet officers would win the counties of the second congressional district, or at least make a strong showing.  This began to change after 2002.

Florida Governor and Attorney General:  2002 to Present

I examined the Gubernatorial and Attorney General elections since 2002 to determine if/how state office Democratic candidates were facing the same panhandle troubles as the federal counterparts.

First, I looked at 2002 Governor’s race, which saw Democrat Bill McBride, a lawyer from Tampa, faced off against Incumbent Republican Jeb Bush.  McBride lost, only getting 43% of the vote.   However, the map below shows he dramatically overperformed his statewide margins in the panhandle; where he won many counties within congressional district 2.

5 2002 McBride Overperform

The map above shows the percents that McBride got higher or lower than his statewide percent.  It shows that McBride had strong overperformance along a large swath of northern counties.

That same day, the Attorney General Election took place.  Democrat Buddy Dyer did better than McBride, but still came up short.  However, similar to McBride, Dyer overperformed in many counties at the heart of CD2.

6 2002 Dyer AG Overperform

In 2006, Democrat Jim Davis got over 45% of the vote.  The map below shows David overperformed in the northern counties, but my lesser margins than McBride; and underperformed in others.

7 2006 Davis Overperform

Davis did over 2% better than McBride had, yet the map below shows that he lost ground to McBride in many rural counties, even the Democratic areas of Leon and Gadsden.

11 2006 Davis Gain McBride

For the 2006 Attorney General election, Democratic candidate Walter Campbell did better than Buddy Dyer, but still came up short.  Like Jim Davis, he overperformed in several rural counties, but not as many, or by as strong of margins, as Dyer had four years earlier.

8 2006 Campbell AG Overperform

Just like Davis, Campbell performed worse in the panhandle than his 2002 fellow Democrat.  Despite polling better than Dyer by 0.7%, he lost more than 5% compared to Dyer in multiple northern counties.

14 2006 Campbell over Dyer

Finally, onto 2010.  Alex Sink is often credited with having a strong showing in the panhandle.  However, her overperformance was the weakest yet.  She only overperformed in a few counties, much less than her previous Democratic nominees.

9 2010 Sink Overperform

Sink split the gains and losses with Davis.  In some rural counties, Sink made gains, while losing ground in others.  He strongest gains were still in Leon and Gadsden.

12 2010 Sink Gain Davis

Sink’s gains compared to her late husband, Bill McBride, though, still shows how much Democrats have fallen in that region.

13 2010 Sink Gain McBride

Despite gains across the southern part of the state, the counties across the 2nd district, minus Leon, trended away from the Democrats.  Sink’s 4.2% improvement compared to McBride still resulted in losses in the north.

The situation is very similar for Attorney General.  2010 nominee Dan Gelber only overperformed in the counties closest to the Democratic Party.

10 2010 Gelber AG Overperform

Dan Gelber got caught in a very bad Democratic year, and the parties problems hurt down-ballot candidates like himself.  His 41% was a big drop compared to Campbell back in 2006.  However, Gelber’s losses in the northern rural counties were much higher.

15 2012 Gelber over Campbell

Comparing Campbell to the performance of Buddy Dyer back in 2002, Gelber lost ground in rural northern counties at rates higher than 20% despite a modest 6% statewide drop.  Losses were exponentially higher in the panhandle compared to statewide.

16 2010 Gelber Gain from Dyer

These elections showed a clear trend in the panhandle counties that populate CD2.  These counties used to be a source of Democratic overperformance.  However, that overperformance has been weakening in the whiter counties.

For some further comparison, lets look at how federal Democrats have been holding up in recent years.

Presidential Elections: 2000 to 2012

I’m only going to quickly cover the Presidential elections since there is a degree of uniformity.   Look at the four maps that show Gore, Kerry, Obama 08, and Obama 12, overperformance compared to their statewide numbers.  The Presidential candidates as far back as 2000 already found themselves in the same position as current state-candidate Democrats find themselves now.

1 2000 Gore Overperform 2 2004 Kerry Overperform 3 2008 Obama Overperform

2012 Obama Overperform

Overperformance in all four years was limited to Leon, Gadsden, Jefferson:  and Madison for Gore and Kerry.  The numbers started off bad and got narrowly worse as time went on.  Gore had the best showing in the panhandle, followed by Kerry, then Obama.

Comparing just Obama 2012 to Gore in 2000, where Obama did 1.2% better; there were still significant losses in the panhandle.  Losses were minimized in Jefferson and Madison thanks to the African-American populations.

4 2012 Obama Over Gore

The collapse in the panhandle for federal candidates is not limited to President. Bill Nelson, the three term Democratic Senator of Florida, has felt the trends as well.  I compared Nelson’s 2000 victory to his 2012 re-election.  Nelson won in 2000 with 51% of the vote, was re-elected in 2006 with over 60% against a very flawed candidate, and re-elected again with 55.2% in 2012.  In 2012, Nelson benefited from incumbency, and underwhelming Republican challenger, and a unique appeal with rural Florida voters.  However, Nelson still lost a tremendous amount of ground compared to his 2000 win in the panhandle.

4.5 2012 Nelson Gain

Nelson’s losses show that the trends against Democrats in the region are rooted in party and not in candidate weaknesses.  The state-office Democrats, whom until now were able to overperform their federal counterparts, are quickly seeing the gap between federal and state narrow as Republicans make larger gains down ballot.

Visualizing the Trends

I took the average of the over or under performance for each year’s respective Gubernatorial and Attorney General candidate (there was often little difference between the two’s county performance compared to statewide) and plotted them out on a line graph.  This first graph shows all the counties CD2 counties except for Leon, Gadsden, Jefferson, and Leon.  Again, the percentages below show the percent the candidates over or under performed their statewide percent.

Line 1

As the graph shows, the performance trends are down.  Some counties always underperformed and simply got worse, while others went from overperform to underperform.

Below is the same criteria for Jefferson, Madison, Gadsden, and Leon.

Line3

Both Leon and Gadsden saw decline in 2006 but then rebounded in 2012.  Meanwhile, Jefferson and Madison are trending down as their white, rural voters continue to move to the Republicans.  However, the large black populations are making the trend a slow one.

Next, I graphed the trends of over or under performance for the Presidential elections.

Line2

There were minimal shifts for Obama in the panhandle between 2008 and 2012 in most of the rural counties.

Leon, Gadsden, Jefferson, and Madison saw some performance improvement with Kerry (even though he got less % in those counties than Gore).

Line4

Obama held ground during his re-election after suffering a overperformance drop from Kerry.  His overperformance improved in majority-black Gadsden.

Going back to the Gubernatorial and Attorney General averages, the graph below shows each county plotted and the performance averages for Governor and AG.  The lines represent the years.  Enlarge the graph to see the details.

Line5

These trends for the statewide candidates are beginning to have larger implications further down-ballot.  One of the most prominent issues is what it means for the congressional races in CD2.

Trends for Congressional District 2

Congressional District 2 had a Democratic Congressman for over 100 years until Republican Steve Southerland won against Allen Boyd in 2010.  Boyd’s loss was covered in my very first blog post, The Fall of Allen Boyd , so feel free to read that for more background.  Boyd went from being re-elected with 61% in 2008, to only getting 41% in 2010.  Boyd got caught in a massive red wave that nationalized his election.  Al Lawson would be the Democratic nominee in 2012, and improved to 47%.  However, the over or under performance maps highlight that the trends in 2012 were actually pretty bad.

Boyd was re-elected with 61% in 2008 and still managed to overperform in most rural white counties.  Only Bay and Gulf gave him less of the vote than he got district-wide.

2008 Boyd

When Boyd lost re-election, his map quickly looked like the Presidential overpeformance map.  Boyd only managed to perform better in the Democratic leaning counties.

2010 Boyd

While Lawson would improve on Boyd in 2012, he still only overperformed in the Democratic leaning counties (and Madison, which was added in redistricting).  Lawson improved by a few percentage points in most counties except Taylor, Liberty and Wakulla; largely because Boyd’s 41% was a very low bar.  Lawson only managed to get 1% better than Barack Obama did that same year.

2012 Lawson

The heart of Lawson’s gains were in Gadsden and Leon; his 6% improvement over Boyd district wide was higher than his gains in the rural counties.

Lawson only managed to get to a 1% improvement over the President.  If the Congressional candidates cannot outpace the Presidential candidates in the panhandle, they will not be able to take CD2.  Boyd managed to keep ahead of the Republican trends in his district until the disaster of the 2010 midterms.  With a fresh face, Democrats could not replicate what Boyd had done for so long.  Lawson was just a generic Democrat to the voters in 2012 and his performance was tied closely to the President.

Problems for Democrats do not stop at the congressional level, they are resonating even further down ballot.

State Legislative and Local Races:  Problems ahead

The problems in the panhandle have already claimed one Democratic-held legislative seat, House District 7.  Democrats held a district, HD10 before redistricting, that covered half of what is currently HD7.  Leonard Bembry was elected as a Democrat in HD10 (which covered an eastern portion of CD2) in 2008, despite the district only giving Obama 37% of the vote at the time.  In 2012, Democrats ran Robert Hill, the Democratic Clerk of Courts from Liberty, for the new (and open) seat and lost by 20 points.  I never did a major post-election analysis, but I did a detailed pre-election look right before voting began.  Read that here:  HD7: Last Stand of the Dixiecrats.  This district was the last stand for the southern Democrats, and they came up dramatically short.  Hill could not overcome the trends in the district and lost every county except his home of Liberty.

There were four intact counties that were in HD10 when Bembry won in 2008 and in HD7 when Hill ran in 2012.  Both ran as conservative Democrats in a Presidential election year for open seats.  Compare their results.

Franklin: Bembry 47.68% — Hill 40.86%
Jefferson: Bembry 65.34% — Hill 45.64%
Madison: Bembry 67.17% — Hill 48.01%
Taylor: Bembry 48.01% — Hill 31.74%

Hill did not come close to replicating Bembry’s performance in 2008.  Both were outspent by their Republican opponents (granted Hill by more).  These numbers do not represent a good trend.

In the same area, State Senate District 3 lies.  The district is more Democratic and has incumbent Democrat Bill Montford in the seat.  Montford had a very weak challenger in 2012, John Shaw, a young activists who ran his campaign on one issue: legalizing hemp.  Montford raised $300,000 while Shaw barely passed a few thousand.  Montford, a well-respected moderate Democrat, got 72% of the vote.  However, he barely got 51% in both Taylor and Gulf.

Montford 2012

While I am not concerned about the senate seat going Republican soon, the fact that Montford could barely beat Shaw in Taylor and Gulf, considering Shaw’s campaign, shows that some of these counties are on a fast track to Republican favoritism, moderation or not.

The trends have been getting more noticeable at the local level as well.  Most of the counties of CD2 had or still have largely Democratic county officers.  However, these norms have begun to change recently.

Wakulla
Wakulla County is the canary in the coal mine as far as I am concerned.  This longstanding Democratic County began to see Republicans elected to the county commission back in 2004.  However, it managed to fend off further gains for a few more years.  However, the Democrats lost all 3 county commission races in 2012, and following a party switch, found themselves with no Democrats on the five-person council.  The most striking example was Commissioner Alan Brock’s 2012 loss. Brock was a young Democrat who represents a new generation of rural Democrats that could win in areas that the President would lose.  Brock won in 2008, but the Republicans tied him to the President in 2012 and Brock lost by a large margin; one of the great losses for Florida Democrats that year.  Wakulla Democrats managed to hold all the constitutional officers (tax collector, superintendent, ext), and backed the election of the NPA Sheriff.  They also manged to ensure the passage of a school funding referendum earlier this year.  However, the loss of the county commission in Wakulla must serve as a wake-up call to the other Democratic county commissioners in the rural counties.  These seats are not safe.

Gulf
Gulf saw Democrats lose many previously-held constitutional officers.  The Superintendent, Sheriff, and Property Appraiser all went from Democrat to Republican.  The Supervisor of Elections was held by an NPA, but then went to a Republican in 2012.  Two of the five commission districts are held by Republicans.

Several other tidbits from other CD2 counties:  many of which had all Democratic local officials until very recently.  While one or two pickups may not seem like a big deal, it is when considering it has never happened before.

Jefferson
Democrats lost the Superintendent race, and had a very close call with their Tax Collector in 2012

Calhoun
Democrats lost the Supervisor of Elections office and their Clerk of Courts to NPA candidates.

Liberty
The Democrats lost their sheriff’s race to an NPA.

Madison
After the Democratic Supervisor of Elections was removed from office for election fraud, a Republican appointee was placed in.  Democrats failed to retake the seat with a fresh candidate.
Democrats still hold county commissions in most of the counties of CD2.  Wakulla saw the first Republican takeover and Gulf saw the loss of constitutional officers.  These losses largely occurred in 2012; when Obama won the state.  Democrats should be worried that their incumbents could find themselves at risk or that open seats could yield similar results to those of Wakulla and Gulf.  These results are all in line with growing Democratic problems at the upper ballot level.  Everything is starting to be tied together.

 

Conclusion

The Democratic Party used to be the dominant party in the southern United States.  The end of that norm began decades ago, but it continues to resonate further down the ballot in the new century.  Florida’s panhandle is no different, and Democratic strengths in the region are starting to diminish.  The more disturbing trend is in the local races.  The nationalization of county commission, Clerk of Courts, and Sheriff’s races; are a cause for alarm among Democrats.  The Democratic Party and its supports must fight back to reverse these trends.  Holding, and taking back, local officers, is step number one.  If a voter is unwilling to cast a Democratic ballot for county commission, why would they for President or Congress?  Democrats cannot get complacent with their strong margins in Miami-Dade, Broward, and other Democratic counties.  If the party continues to erode in the panhandle like it currently is, then Congressional District 2 will be lost forever and any hope for a Democratic revitalization in the south will be lost as well.   The Republican Party of Florida knows this as well as anyone. That is why the RPOF is injecting money into the local chapters of these counties.  Republicans hope to cement their dominance at the top of the ballot in these counties and to seize control of the local offices.  Without local Democrats in the rural counties, we will have no bench to build up for higher-level races in the region; while Republicans will have a list of candidates to chose from.  The statewide Democratic Party, and the local parties of Leon and Gadsden must get involved as well to help their neighbors.  Democrats must reclaim control of the lost local offices and work to reverse the trends for the top of the ballot.  For Democrats, it is either Glory or Decline. The Democrats of the panhandle must reclaim ground or face further erosion.   Fighting back must begin now!

 

Reformation Day 2013

Today marks the anniversary of Martin Luther nailing the Ninety-Five Theses to the door of Castle Church of Wittenberg in 1517.  This act would make the beginning of a series of events that would lead to one of, if not the largest split in Christendom’s history; rivaled by the East-West split centuries earlier.  Luther desired to see reform in the Catholic Church, but the church’s response would instead lead to war and a split in the church that remains to this day.  While Luther and his followers sought reform, the Catholic Church moved to excommunicate and silence the reformers.  Eventually, the reformers had no choice but to separate from the Church.  Followers of Luther, John Calvin, and other reformers, were routinely persecuted by the Church and burned as heretics.  Years later, when radical protestants took over governments, it was the Catholic populations that were made to suffer.

The reformation had a profound impact in the Christian world, but also resulted in major political reforms as well.  The turbulence of the Catholic/Protestant Wars that accompanied the Reformation; with Kings and Queens leading armies to fight in the name of God, caused many in the Enlightenment Movement to seek a separation between the Church and the Government.  The political and religious inter-webbing in the 1500s ensured that a spiritual divide quickly turned into a near continental war.  The Thirty Years War claimed 8,000,000 lives.  Such destruction lead to movement for the Church and the State to be separated; for the good of the state and the religious bodies.   Such ideals were adopted in the United States during its formation and took hold in European countries across the continent.  The spark of the reformation did eventually result in the Catholic Church initiating many reforms that Luther initially sought.

Luther was horrified by the results of the reformation, neither desiring war or separation.  He also did want the new protestant faith to be named after him.  Nevertheless, his followers did adopt the name Lutherans in his honor.   Today, Catholic/Protestant tensions in America and most of the western world are fairly mild or non-existent.  Pockets of problems still exist.  However, many continued conflicts, including those of Ireland, stem from history more than religious divide.  Catholics faced a long period of persecution in early America, but beyond hate groups, these persecutions of fallen away.  Protestantism grew into many denominations beyond just Lutheranism.

Religious data is not kept by the US Census, but different surveys have been done to keep tract of religious trends in our county.  Below is a county map showing which religious group is more prominent in a respective county; Catholics or Lutherans.

Reformation In America

Florida HD36: The Special Election to Replace Mike Fasano

Author’s Note:  The first part of this analysis is largely from a write-up I did for local Democrats in Pasco County when the special election for House District 36 began.  The election was triggered by Republican Representative Mike Fasano resigning his seat to take the appointed of Pasco Tax collector.  Fasano, a moderate, has come out to endorse Democratic candidate Amanda Murphy over Republican candidate Bill Gunter.  The district narrowly voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012 but voted for Rick Scott for Governor in 2010.  The district is a major swing seat and key to any Democratic take-over of the Florida House.  Large third party spending by conservative groups have come into play in the race in the last couple weeks.  Election day is on Tuesday, October 15th.

District Analysis

Florida House District 36 is a strong swing seat in the state.  The district is largely white, filled with middle to low income voters; with average income runs between $20,000 and $50,000.  The district is generally coastal, suburban; including the cities of New Port Ritchey and Port Ritchey.  The district is 37.3% Democratic, 34.3% Republican, and 28.4% NPA/third party.  Independent voters decide elections in this district; which can swing from overwhelmingly in favor of a Democratic candidate to overwhelmingly against.  Independent and third party voters make up no less than 25% of any precinct in the district; making almost every precinct in play for a well financed candidate.  In the 2012 cycle alone, Republican and Democratic candidates won all but one precinct in their elections.  Without urban African-American centers, Democrats have no safe precincts; while the lack of rural white precincts leave Republicans no safe precincts.  The district is overwhelmingly white, which caused it to shift away from President Obama in 2012 – in line with the shift of white voters away from the President between 2008 and 2012.

While Obama lost narrow ground, he still won 51.2% of the vote in the district. At the same time, Bill Nelson secured 59% of the vote in the district.

Federal Races 36

With these two federal races, the district performed between 5% and 6% more Democratic than Pasco County in total.  In two of Pasco’s countywide offices; there was dramatically more elasticity in Democratic performance.  Incumbent Tax Collector, Mike Olson, the lone countywide Democrat in Pasco, won 73.8% in the district (winning 68.4% countywide).  In the Sheriff’s race, Democratic challenger Kim Bogart only secured 38.7% in the district (winning 34.9% countywide).

County Races 36

The precinct maps show Olson winning all precincts while Bogart only won one precinct.  The elasticity of the vote shows that any race is winnable or losable in this district.

Turnout will likely be low for the special election.  In my original write-up, the estimated turnout was derived from the total vote in the August Primary of 2012.  Pasco County’s turnout was 18% in August (In line with the turnout for the special election in House District 2 earlier this year).  The turnout in the precincts of House District 36 comes to 15.7%.  With current registration numbers, this means the likely vote could be as low as 15,000.

Turnout 36

The precincts that are plurality Democratic are estimated to make up 56.6% of the ballots cast in the special election.

Party Reg

However, it is important to remember that independents will be key, as they make up between 23% and 33% in every precinct of the district.

Dynamics of the Race

Democrats landed a strong candidate with businesswoman Amanda Murphy.  The party establishment quickly rallied around her in an effort to ensure no messy primary.  The Republicans, meanwhile, were forced into a primary when three candidates qualified for the Republican nomination.  Bill Gunter, a conservative pastor, was the top choice of the Republican leadership; which used their influence to generate high fundraising totals for Gunter.  The Pasco County Republican Party Chairman, James Mathieu, as well as attorney Jeromy Harding, also filed for the seat.  Gunter spent over $60,000 in the primary, far outpacing his opponents, and won with over 60% in the vote.

Florida HD36 Republican Primary

Republican turnout was 10%, much lower than the 27% Republican turnout seen in the August 2012 primary where Mike Fasano, then a term-limited state senator, won the primary for the state house.

Since the primary, Gunter has raised an additional $80,000, bringing is total to $160,000.  Murphy, meanwhile, raised around $100,000; but had far more contributors than Gunter.  Gunter’s fundraising has been predominantly big-dollar donations from out of Pasco.  The graphic below highlights Gunter’s big-money fundraising.  Gunter largely collected $500 checks and several four and five figure checks from the Republican Party of Florida.

Bill Gunter's Money

Both parties have poured resources and money into the race, hoping to score a major off-cycle win.  In addition, third party groups, largely backing Gunter, have been spending big on TV and mailers in the race.  A third party group, Florida Jobs First, started by the millionaire owner of the Miami Dolphins, is spending over $70,000 in cable advertising for Gunter.

The wave of outside money and Gunter’s strong ties to the Republican leadership prompted a wave of criticism from Mike Fasano.  Fasano’s long history of moderation and constituency work have made him legend in Pasco County.  The lawmaker often clashed with the conservative Republican leadership and his appointment as Tax Collector was certainly seen as the leaderships desire to get him out of their hair.  Fasano was unhappy with Gunter’s lock-step with the leadership and announced he was voting for Murphy.  This was soon followed with a formal endorsement of Murphy in the race.  Fasano’s endorsement carries a great deal of weight in the district, with polls showing a Fasano endorsement would make them more likely to vote for that candidate.  Democrats, meanwhile, have poured money into the race and have a powerful ground game to offset the third-party spending.

The Pasco SOE has published voter turnout for absentee and early voting as of this weekend.  Currently 10,702 ballots have been cast, largely via absentee voting.  While Democrats have an edge in the district, they currently trail by 330 votes cast.  Republicans make up 43.4% of the ballots cast so far, Democrats make up 40.4%, and the rest goes to independents.  However, its unclear if this margin will hold once election-day ballots are cast.  Republicans generally vote more via absentee than Democrats and that is a large bulk of these numbers.  However, the numbers themselves are not terrible for Democrats, as moderate Republicans may vote for Murphy because of Fasano’s endorsement.

Turnout right now stands at 11.29%.  The precinct-level turnout shows that while some of the more Obama-friendly precincts are on the lower-end right now, their is not a huge drop-off in turnout in heavier Obama precincts.

Pasco Turnout

Precincts with turnout above 11.2% gave Obama 48.4% of the vote and those below gave him 54%.  If you swapped out the 2012 General election turnout percent with these current turnout figures (and thus altered the total votes given to Obama and Romney), Obama would still win the district with 50.5% of the vote.  So the slightly lower turnout in heavier Obama precincts is not fatal.   Again, how election day voting goes could shift these numbers.

Over the last few elections, the percent of the total cast ballots that take place on election day themselves has fluctuated.  In the 2012 General,  43% of the total vote were from election day; while it was as high as 53% of the votes cast in the 2012 primary.  During the primary last month, election day voting only accounted for 32% of ballots cast.  If the 32% figure were the case for the upcoming general then total turnout will hover around 15,000 votes, similar to the 2012 primary turnout.  However, at this point I would be inclined to believe that the heightened interest in the race will result in higher turnout.  If election day turnout accounts for 47% of total votes cast (split the difference between 2012 primary and general), then an additional 9,000 ballots could be cast on Election Day; bringing total turnout closer to 20%.  It is hard to predict, it could range from 5,000 to 10,000 additional votes.  If the election day voters skew more Democratic, then the Republican turnout edge will diminish.  Only election day will tell us for sure.

This race is an opportunity for both parties to show their muscle leading into the 2014 cycle.  The third party spending aids Gunter, but Fasano and a strong Democratic ground game boost Murphy.  Election day is just one day away.  This post will be updated after the results come in.