The Spectacular Self-Destruction of Steve Stewart

This is a cautionary tale for all those future or past candidates out there.  The subject, Mr. Steve Stewart, is centered around politics in Tallahassee, Florida.  However, the lessons learned can be applied across the country.  It is the tale of going from being a legitimate contender for office to a full-blown perennial candidate.

If you have been following Tallahassee politics for the last four years, Steve Stewart has been a constant fixture, having run for office in 2010, 2012, and 2014.  Tallahassee has no shortage of candidates making constant runs for office who always fall short.  However, Stewart did not start off his electoral career as a perennial candidate.  In fact, Stewart started off in 2010 as a major Republican threat in Tallahassee politics.

Tallahassee Politics Crash Course

Before going any further, I should do a quick summary of Tallahassee politics for those who don’t hail from the area.   Tallahassee is the home of three colleges:  Florida State University, Florida A&M, and Tallahasssee Community College.  As such, it has a large student population.  The city is over 30% African-American, largely concentrated in the southern end (known as the “southside”) of the city.  The white voters of the district are much more liberal than the rest of the state, many of whom are state employees or tied to the University system.  The city is known for liberal white suburbs like Indian-head Acres and Meyers Park.  In addition, heavily populated upper-class white suburbs like Betton Hills and Woodgate are moderately Democratic.  The city only has select pockets of Republican voters.  Republicans are concentrated in the northern suburbs North of I-10. These largely white voters often work further downtown and the communities make up your classic suburb/exurbs.  Notable communities in the North are Killearn, Ox Bottom, and Summerbrook.   In addition, a large Republican suburb exists in the southeast end of the city; Southwood.  These Republican communities are very large (Tallahassee is the fifth largest city by land size in Florida) and often feel like their own cities.

The Republican suburbs are drowned out by the students, liberal white neighborhoods, and African-American population.  Tallahassee is and remains a very Democratic city.  Democratic candidates often get percentages in the high 60s.

A look at the the party registration by precinct shows you where the Republican sectors are and just how outnumbered they are by the Democratic base.  Republicans are confined to the north and southeast.  The one region that is plurality NPA/third parties is a precinct that is largely FSU dorms.  While NPAs dominate at FSU, the campus itself is a reliable Democratic block in partisan elections.Party Reg Current

Registration by race shows African-Americans largely concentrated in the south and west while the suburbs are heavily white.  However, the white % of a precinct does not dictate its registration; as many heavily white areas are also very Democratic.

Party Reg Race Current

The general partisan dynamic for Tallahassee is that the north and Southwood vote for Republicans and everything else votes Democratic.  This holds true in most races.  However, big Democratic wins, like Bill Nelson, can result in the republican suburbs going blue, while big Republican wins can see more of the Democratic suburbs go red.  A key swing region exists along Thomasville Road, south of I-10.  It is a region non-Democrats must do well in to have any chance in the city/county.  The precincts in question are in yellow below.

Thomasville Areas

These yellow precincts comprise of several important middle and upper-middle class suburbs including: Betton Hills, Betton Woods, Woodgate, Eastgate, Waverly Hills, Lafayette Park.  These areas are largely white, Democratic, but more swingish than the rest of the city.  Republicans who have done well in the city/county pick up this region before any other.   These aren’t the only swing precincts, but they are a collective community that often gives an insight into the strength of candidates.

There is a great deal more than can be said about Tallahassee’s politics and neighborhoods.  For those interested I invite you to check out only articles I have written on the subject here and here.  Now back to Steve Stewart.

2010 Mayoral Election

Heading into 2010, a year known for upset Republican wins in a massive red wave that swept the nation, the Mayors Race for Tallahassee became much more competitive than many initially expected.  Mayor John Marks, an African-American Democrat, was running for a third term in office.  Marks was the second elected mayor of Tallahassee and his push for a third term was unprecedented.  Marks was subject to the backlash of a tough economy, budget cuts, and lingering ethics questions regarding conflicts of interest in certain votes being cast.  These ethics issues would blow up in 2011 and 2012, but the Mayor was cleared of any malicious intent.  Nevertheless, the election season was a good opportunity to oust a Democratic incumbent with some questionable issues.  Steve Stewart, a first time candidate, ran as a real Republican threat to the mayor.  Stewart was a local businessman, owning a printing shop, and fashioned himself a watchdog of the Tallahassee budget.  Stewart pushed an image as a conservative outsider.  He focused on ethics issues with the mayor and utility rates among the city-operated utility company.  The races for Tallahassee are officially non-partisan, but Stewart made his ties to the Republicans well known.  He got his photo taken with State Senator John Thrasher (a major Republican player in Florida) at a Republican fundraiser, and he openly flirted with the tea party.  In addition to the mayors race, two other city council seats (all elected city-wide) were up in 2010.  Commissioner Gil Ziffer, appointed to the position in 2009 and running for a full term, was being challenged by conservative Democrat Erwin Jackson, who argued the commission was corrupt and unfair to businessmen like himself.  Jackson, who made his money as a landlord to crummy student housing, put over $100,000 of his own money into the race.  The Ziffer/Jackson race was especially nasty, as Jackson got personal about Ziffer’s younger life, and Ziffer attacked the state of the student housing properties Jackson managed.  In addition, an open city council seat saw Democrat Nancy Miller, a businesswoman and member of many prominent planning commissions, such as BluePrint 2000, face off against Stephen Hogge, a former Republican who changed his affiliation to independent.  Hogge/Jackson/and Stewart all ran as outsiders who would change things in city hall, doing their best to ride the wave of anti-establishment sentiment across the nation.  Political observers wondered (and in my case worried) that all three would be swept into office in the August elections.  Stewart, especially, seemed like a major threat to taking the mayors race. Heading into election day many were unsure what the final outcome would be.

The results did not go Steve Stewart’s way, he managed 45% of the vote.  However, Marks got 51%, just avoiding a runoff, while a perennial candidate, Larry Hendricks, got 4%.

2010 Mayor Reprecinct

In addition, Erwin Jackson ended up being crushed by Gil Ziffer, who beat him 50% to 35%, and the last 15% going to a James Moran.  In the open seat, Nancy Miller, who had been outspent 2-1 by Hogge, got 47% to Hogge’s 42%.  This crushed Hogge’s momentum, and he lost 55%-45% in the November runoff.

Sewart wound up being the strongest of the three outsider candidates.  He dominated in the northern suburbs, racking up 60% in many of the precincts.  (A note, the precinct boundaries were different in 2010, but I reconfigured the numbers to match the current boundaries).  Stewart won all major Republican-friendly areas, south of I-10.  These included Southwood in the southeast and Buck Lake in central-eastern boarder of the city.  Stewart also won the swing neighborhoods along Thomasville road but got cut off around Lafayette Park.   Stewart even won a student-oriented precinct.  However, it should be noted the primary was the day after classes started, and turnout in the student areas hovered around 5%, making it a small sample.  Stewart fell short, despite all his wins, for a few reasons.  He was destroyed in the African-American southside and still lost many white, liberal suburbs by large margins.

Stewart fell short but came closer than any prominent Republican had since the early 2000s/late 90s.  Stewart was aided by a very favorable Republican wins already developing by the summer of 2010.  In addition, Stewart benefited from extraordinarily high Republican turnout in the August primary.  Republican turnout was 9 points higher than Democratic turnout in the August primary, a record gap in Tallahassee.

Stewart came up short, but also won in defeat.  Stewart’s close margin in such a blue city ensured he would be a rumored candidate for other offices in the future.  Speculation of a run for county commission and state house were floated for the near future.  For some time, Stewart remained mum on his plans.

2012 Run for City Commission

In mid 2011, City Commissioner Mark Mustian began dropping hints that he would not run for re-election in 2012.  This lead to a great deal of speculation over who would run for the open seat. Speculation turned to major political names like former Representatives Lorraine Ausely and Curtis Richardson.  Former Mayor Scott Maddox was also rumored to be interested in the seat.  At the time I was working for Daniel Parker, a planning commissioner, who announced his intentions to take the seat.  In late 2011 Steve Stewart decided to make a play for the seat as well.

Stewart’s decision to run in 2012 was not terribly surprising, but a risky venture.  Stewart had done well against an incumbent and perhaps thought an open seat was his for the taking.  However, Stewart failed to account for the fact that the city was still very liberal, and the anti-democratic sentiment of 2010 was passing.  Stewart, perhaps realizing his tea party favoritism did not help in 2010, began to take on a more moderate persona.  He still favored himself a watchdog of spending and utility rates, but took to speaking softer and less bombastic than he had in 2010.  When Scott Maddox decided to enter the race, it set up a titanic fight between the former Democratic mayor and the up and coming Republican.  The local paper fixated on the Maddox v Stewart dynamic, largely ignoring the four other candidates in the race (including mine… which yes was frustrating).  The race heading into August was heated but did not get nasty off the bat.  Candidates spent their time advocating their own issues.  Stewart did benefit from being the only Republican in the race, with all 5 of his opponents being Democrats.  There was a chance that Stewart could end up in first place in August, giving him momentum heading into a runoff.  In July, the Democratic Party of Leon county sent out a mailer attacking Stewart and comparing him to Rick Scott.

DEC-Mailer

Stewart cried foul over the attack.  However, the mailer was completely legal and the attention brought to it only reinforced the notion that Stewart was a Republican.  The attention toward the mailer certainly did not help Stewart, as local media continuously talked about it.

When the August election came, Stewart finished much poorer than expected.  He fell from 45% in 2010 down to 33% in 2012, finishing second behind Scott Maddox.

2012 City 1 Primary Reprecinct

Stewart should by all accounts have come in first in the August round; instead finishing 7 points behind Scott Maddox.  Stewart won the north and the Thomasville communities, but not by the margins he had in 2010.  Stewart did not clear 50% in any precincts south of I-10, meaning more than half the voters of those precincts wanted a Democratic candidate.  Stewart was unable to hold onto everyone that cast ballots for him in 2010, showing that many of them were more anti-Marks than pro-Stewart.

Stewart lost ground from 2010 in nearly ever precinct in the city.

Stewart Fall Reprecinct

Maddox got 40% by winning many white suburban areas in addition to getting over 50% in the African-American community, all the while running against two African-American candidates.  Daniel Parker, my candidate, won the liberal suburb of Indianhead Acres, moderate Lafayette Park, and had strong second and third place showings in the Thomasville road suburbs discussed before.  One student precinct voted for Delatrie Hollinger, a 18 year old civic activists making a run for the commission.

The results meant a runoff on the November ballot.  Stewart emerged from the primary very weak.  He was heavily outspent by Maddox, and he made a series of missteps in the race.  Stewart first big misstep was showing up to a Scott Maddox press conference.  Maddox was the subject of a third-party attack over the fraternity he had been a part of in college.  The mailer tried to tie Maddox to the fraternity practices at an Alabama School (for racist activity) even though Maddox went to school in Florida and was part of the Florida chapter that had no such policies.  Maddox was also a well-documented supporter of minority communities and was well-regarded in Tallahassee’s African-American community. The group responsible was delaying releasing its financial report and by all accounts trying to hide those responsible.  The attack was ridiculous and caused Maddox to hold a press conference to decry the attack and demand the donors be revealed.  Stewart showed up to the press conference, got in Maddox’s face, and demanded clarification that he wasn’t part of it.  The whole event was dramatic and did not make Stewart look like a polished professional.

The second mistake of Stewart’s was his obvious race-baiting during the runoff.  Stewart ran a mail piece attacking Maddox for the attacks he had leveled on an African-American FSU College Professor, Charles Billings, when the two were running against each other for Mayor in 1997.  Maddox won the race, and Billings won a city council seat in 1998.  Stewart sent the mailer into the African-American community, repeating attacks Maddox had leveled on Billings in response to editorials Billings had written.

stewart-mailer-back

Billings had passed away many years back and his widow decried Stewart for using her husband’s memory in such a political manner.  She affirmed her support for Maddox and reminded the press that Billings and Maddox had developed a friendship after the campaign.  The whole episode reflected very poorly on Stewart, who looked callous, manipulative, and like a race-baiter.

After a very nasty runoff, the results came in and Stewart was crushed.

2012 City 1 Gen Reprecinct

Stewart lost with only 38% of the vote.  At that point, the 23 point margin represented one of the biggest margins for a seriously contested city council race.  Stewart was rejected in nearly ever precinct south of I-10.  His only prominent wins were in the northern suburbs and the upper-income Live-Oak Plantation community just south of I-10.  Stewart failed to win in Southwood and his wins in the north were barely over 50%.

Stewart did 8 points better than Mitt Romney, but his share of the vote strongly correlated with the share of the vote Romney got that same night.

Stewart Romney

The areas were Stewart over-performed Romney best were in the African-American community.  This was not because of his Charles Billings mailer.  Rather, it was the common result of the non-partisan ballot in Tallahassee.  Without an “R” next to his name, Stewart was not dragged into the 5% range like Romney was in the African-American precincts.

Stewart’s 2012 run was a disaster for his image.  His strong showing in 2010 was exposed as a fluke aided by the national environment, a weak incumbent, and a Republican-surge in turnout.  Stewart’s 38% was just above Erwin Jackson’s embarrassing 35% in 2010.  While Maddox was a formidable challenger as a past mayor with strong fundraising, Maddox still had Republican detractors because of his time as the chair of the Florida Democratic Party.  Nevertheless, Maddox beat Stewart in Republican Southwood and kept Stewart close in the north.  Stewart even ran behind Romney in the northern suburbs.  Stewart was no longer seen as a major threat in city politics.  A run for state house district 9, much more swingish than the city, may have still be in the cards.  However, Stewart’s best course of action at that point would have been to take some political time off and regroup.  Stewart decided not to stay out of the spotlight for long.

2014 Run for City Commission

In the time following his 2012 run, Stewart maintained a general presence through his website, Tallahassee Reports, which focused on political stories and fancied itself a muckraker of Tallahassee politics.  Many articles tried to expose corruption of local officials, largely with little basis, and served mainly as an anti-democratic site.  Stewart would also speak on local conservative radio shows like Preston Scott.  Stewart faded from the memory of the average voters until he popped back up with little warning.  In the last week of qualifying to run for office in the 2014 cycle, Stewart filed to run for Tallahassee City Commission against Nancy Miller, who had beaten Stephen Hogge for the then-open seat in 2010.  Stewart said he had important issues to discuss about the state of the city, and pledged to run an aggressive campaign.

Everything about this run seemed strange.  Stewart had given no hints that he intended to run again so soon.  In addition, he was challenging a popular incumbent who sat on over $80,000 in campaign cash.   Stewart would have to raise money fast to not only make himself likable, but make Miller unlikable; all in the span of two months.

Stewart’s campaign was an unmitigated, absolute disaster.  In the two months, he only raised $20,000 while Miller peaked at $120,000.  Stewart focused his campaign on one signature issue; funding for police officers.  During the summer, Tallahassee experience an increase in shootings.  The most prominent was the shooting of an FSU Law School professor at his front door.  The investigation is ongoing, but the lack of a clear suspect kept neighbors wondering if the incident was a breaking gone wrong or a targeted killing.  The incident, which occurred in Betton Hills, a crime-free suburb, became a major news story as neighbors, unexposed to such violence, began to demand answers.  Stewart exploited the ongoing crime issue and argued that the commission was not doing enough to fight crime.  Stewart argued the city should have taken money dedicated to construction projects to pay for police officers.  However, Stewart stubbornly ignored the fact that money raised/collected for construction projects cannot always be legally transferred to general use.  Stewart ignored this fact, and insisted the funding of more police officers was easy and would solve the crime problem.  Stewart also ignored the fact that Tallahassee sits in a juridiction with FOUR law enforcement departments:  Tallahassee police, Leon Sheriff, Campus Police, and Capital Police.  Stewart lambasted construction projects in the areas just south of the FSU Campus, which turned a largely warehouse district into a vibrant college town with businesses and social events.  Stewart’s arguments were simplistic and mis-informed.  He counted on the notion that the public would accept his view that money legally dedicated to construction could fund police (it could not) or that turning warehouse districts, formerly crime-ridden, into safe college-friendly areas was a bad thing.  Overall, Stewart seemed to be taking advantage of the crime issue going on at the time.  This was no better exemplified than when his Facebook page posted the link to a shooting that had happened the day before, and to remind everyone to vote for him for safer streets.

Stewart facebook

Stewart’s simplistic arguments resulted in Nancy Miller receiving the endorsement of the Tallahassee Democrat (the local paper) and in it they rebuked Stewart’s campaign message harshly.

Stewart got himself in more hot water when he was again accused of race-baiting with a mailer.  Stewart ran a mailer attacking Miller and showing a photo of Al Lawson, a prominent African-American leader and former state senator.  The text over Lawson’s name said Stewart was not part of the tea party.  The mailer was designed to make voters think Lawson had endorsed Stewart.

Stewart attack

Lawson rejected the ad and blasted Stewart for trying to mislead voters.  The move didn’t work and only caused problems for Stewart’s already flailing campaign.

To make matters worse for Stewart, the Democratic Party of Leon County sent out a mailer attacking him just as they had in 2012.  Stewart tried to get the papers to write about the story. However, the papers apparently found that “local Democratic Party backs local Democratic candidate” was not a particularly interesting read.  Stewart was not helped by the Leon Republican Party largely due to their lack of money and organization.  Honestly, they barely exist as a group.

No serious person thought Miller would lose on election night.  However, the sheer magnitude of her win was shocking.

Nancy Miller 2014

For the first time in a decade, a major candidate (though his status as major may now be disputed) failed to win a single precinct in his/her bid for city council.  Incumbents normally win every precinct when facing perennial challengers, not well-known Republican candidates who nearly knocked off the mayor four years earlier.  Stewart lost across the board.  He got less than 40% in Southwood and Betton, got less than 30% in his home precinct, and lost the northern suburbs that always stood by him.  The 37 point margin was a massive humiliation for someone who once showed promise in the local political scene.

Comparing his loss to his 2010 run.  Stewart bled support in the suburbs that backed him over Marks.  His improvements were mostly concentrated in the African-American community, no doubt aided by the fact his 2014 opponent was not African-American.

Stewart Fall 2 Reprecinct

Stewart’s last minute bid for city council ended in an massive loss that he is unlikely to recover from.  Plans for future office are out the window.  Donors gave to Stewart in 2010, and stuck with him to some degree in 2012.  However, Stewart raised little in 2014.  For prominent donors of Stewart, many of them in real estate, they will be asking themselves, “how can I give to a guy who lose three times, each loss worse than the last?”

Lessons Learned

Stewart’s story is one many aspiring candidates can take to heart.  A strong showing in 2010 was exposed as a fluke by a 2012 run under a much different climate.  Stewart’s 2010 run was aided by the red wave.  However, that 45% showing could have been used to show he was a real candidate with potential.  It could have been used building a bigger donation base, support with the Republicans of Florida, and to lay the groundwork for a run for different office. Instead, Stewart played his hand to quickly.  His 2nd and 3rd runs exposed him as an amateur and erased any potential he had.  Stewart went from legit to perennial candidate in the course of four years.  On a national level, I cannot help but compare Stewart to Harold Stassen. Stassen was the Governor of Minnesota in the 1940s and resigned to serve in WWII.  Stassen seemed to have a bright political future.  However, he ruined it with a serious of runs for President, Senate, and Congress over decades; eventually becoming a national joke.

Stewart is unlikely to recover.  He now occupies the role of Erwin Jackson and Preston Scott; the rabble rousers of Tallahassee politics; complaining but never fully winning over the public.  For Stewart, it is too late to change his position at the bottom of the political ladder.  For future and current candidates, it is not to late.  Perhaps they will learn from the mistakes of Steve Stewart.

Nan Rich: Favorite Daughter of the Dixiecrats

On the evening before the 2014 Florida Primaries, I posted an article making the argument that Nan Rich, a south Florida lawmaker challenging Charlie Crist in the Democratic Primary for Governor, would do better in the conservative panhandle than in the urban liberal centers. I highly encourage you to read the article before continuing here.  Sure enough, as the results trickled in on primary night, this prediction came true.  While Charlie Crist won 75% of the statewide vote, his weakest performances were in the conservative counties of North Florida and the rural farmlands of the south.

2014 Crist

Following the results, there was a degree of surprise in the results by some, not as much by others.  The Florida Press quickly noted the 2010 Moore v Sink primary as a comparison (Nelson v Burkette got glossed over).  It served as a confirmation that Crist was seen as a true Democrat. In other words, Crist had little cross-over with conservatives despite is Republican years.

I decided to examine the results further; specifically in North Florida.  I gathered the precinct results in the counties that gave Nan Rich high shares of the vote.  Precinct results were not available in every county as of the Friday after the election, but a vast majority of the panhandle precincts were.  I decided focus in on the panhandle counties.  This included the rural counties that gave strong support to Rich and also included Democrat-friendly Leon, Gadsden, and Jefferson counties; which heavily backed Crist.

2014 Rich Crist Precincts North

The map shows large numbers of precincts backed Nan Rich in the rural areas outside Tallahassee.  However, urban Leon county, and African-American influenced Gadsden, Jefferson, and Madison, all backed Crist by strong margins.  Indeed areas where African-Americans make up a significant portion of the electorate voted much stronger for Crist. Examining the precincts mapped, Crist’s margin grew as African-American % of the voters grew.

Crist African-American

It must be noted these African-American %s are of the total voting population, not the those who cast a ballot in the democratic primary this year.  That data is not available yet.

Crist’s strength with the African-American community can be seen not just in the panhandle, but in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties as well.  Crist often performed strongest in African-American precincts in both the panhandle and southeast Florida.  Crist’s strength with the African-American community is a good sign, especially considering Crist was subject to third-party attacks that tried to weaken his standing with the community.

It was my belief looking at the county results that it was the southern democrats who gave Rich so much support.  With precinct results becoming available, the opportunity to confirm this belief presented itself. I decided to look at the results in the precincts that had a Democratic registration advantage in 2012, but voted for Mitt Romney.

2014 Rich Crist Precincts North Dixie

The shift in support is striking.  Rich lost with 25% statewide.  However, in these precincts she got 45%.  For these precincts to vote Romney, they would have to see democratic defections of some degree unless independents in the region broke heavily for Romney; especially considering most of these precincts were over 50% democratic in registration.  This meant the Democratic primary voters here were much more conservative than statewide.

I decided to narrow the results further to really find the true southern/dixiecrat areas.  I focused on precincts with a democratic registration advantage and where Obama got LESS than 30% of the vote.  Precincts where Democratic defections would have to be large.

2014 Rich Crist Precincts North Super Dixie

And what do you know, Nan Rich wins these true dixiecrat precincts with 51% of the vote. These precincts have Democrats who have long left the Democratic party except at the local level.  They will vote for Scott in November and their vote for Rich is entirely a protest.

I narrowed the search one step further.  I selected precincts that were over 50% Democratic in registration and gave Obama less than 20% of the vote.  These represent the ultimate dixiecrat precincts.  Over half the electorate is Democratic, but Obama gets less than 20%.  This would mean more than half the Democrats in these precincts would have backed Romney in 2012.

2014 Rich Crist Precincts North 3

Among these “uber” Dixiecrat precincts, Nan improved her standing to 52%.

Overall, among the panhandle precincts, Nan’s % increases showed a strong negative correlation with Obama’s 2012 %.  The stronger Nan did against Crist, the worse Obama performed in 2012.

Rich Obama Scatter

The data makes the irrefutable case; dixiecrats are what fueled Nan Rich’s wins in the panhandle.  Rich won in regions where the Democrats vote Republican on nearly their entire ballot. In fact, a good chunk of these democrats didn’t even bother to cast a ballot for the Gubernatorial primary, instead coming out to vote for local offices.  I looked at the under-vote (% of democrats who left the governors race blank when they voted) in 30 counties of Florida.  Under-vote data is not yet available in all counties.  In the available counties, as the under-vote grew, Nan Rich’s % of the vote increased.

Rich Undervote Scatter

Nan Rich ran a campaign to be the liberal alternative to Charlie Crist.  She touted her liberal views and years fighting for liberal causes.  However, the voters who would provide Rich with her biggest base of support were the very voters who wouldn’t ever vote for her in the general election.  Rich gave the dixiecrats of Florida an opportunity to lodge their protest vote.  The Nan Rich primary does serve an important purpose for the Crist campaign.  It tells the campaign exactly which pockets of North Florida Charlie Crist is strong and weak in.  Crist can still eak out wins in rural counties like Liberty, Franklin, Wakulla, or Jackson.  However,regions where Rich ran strong are not in play for the former Governor in the fall.

Nan Rich will do best in the Panhandle on Primary night (but not because they like her)

Note:  This post has been updated at the bottom to discuss the August 26th results

Background

August 26th marks the end of the Democratic Primary for Governor in Florida.  The race pitted Charlie Crist, the former Republican Governor and establishment favorite for the nomination, against Nan Rich, a liberal former state senator from Broward County.  Rich spent the majority of her campaign attacking Crist for his days as a Republican (a moderate Republican to be clear).  However, her campaign never gained traction. Contrary to claims of momentum, Rich has consistently stayed under 20% in the polls while Crist remained in the high 60s.  Rich suffered from a lack of money, lack of name recognition, and a lack of a firebrand style that could galvanize grassroots supports.  The race had potential to be competitive on paper, but the reality of the campaigns ensures Crist will win big on primary night.

The only real question comes down to the margin.  Most expect a significant, 30+ point margin or more.  Republicans are trying to mess with the narrative by insisting Crist should win 80-20 (which is unlikely).  To be sure, Crist will win big.  I personally expect him to come in around 70% to 75% of the vote.

It is entirely possible Crist will win every county in the state.  Rich is likely to do well in Broward County, the largest Democratic county in the state, due to her roots there.  However, a Broward  lose with around 45% is a likely outcome.  Outside of Broward or Palm Beach, there aren’t many apparent geographic bases of support for Rich.  However, I am willing to wager that there is one region this very liberal, Jewish State Senator from Southeast Florida will do well; the Florida panhandle.

The Panhandle’s Odd Voting History

The Panhandle of Florida, a bastion of conservative Democrats and deep red voting patterns, offers Rich a base of voters.  Don’t believe me?  Lets take a look at two recent primary elections to prove my point..

The first is the Democratic Primary for Governor in 2010.  Democrat Alex Sink, the CFO of Florida, easily beat Brian Moore in the primary.  Moore was unknown to most voters. However, he had a unique distinction, he was the Socialist Party’s candidate for President in 2008.  Moore was indeed a socialist, not that many knew it due to his invisible campaign.  However, his strongest support came from rural north Florida.

2010Moore2

In 2012, Senator Bill Nelson had a weak primary challenger from Glenn Burkett.  Burkett was a business owner, advocate of healthy eating and supplements, and was somewhat on the left of the spectrum (and also pretty crazy).  Burkett had no real campaign presence, similar to Moore.

2012 Burkett

You see similar patterns in the two maps.  These two largely-anonymous challengers to the establishment did best in conservative regions of the state despite being to the left of their opponents.

The two maps below show the 2012 Senate General Election and 2010 Governor General Election.  As the maps show, many of these counties stronger for Moore and Burkett voted Republican.

2012 Senate

2010 Gov

It is important to note that many of these red counties, the same one’s that gave Moore and Burkett strong showings, are also Democratic in terms of registration, often by large margins.  These are the lands of southern and rural democrats who vote blue locally but often vote red further up the ballot.  The map is from registration figures at the end of 2012.

Registration

The regions where Moore and Burkett did best were the same.  Their strongest counties were the conservative panhandle and regions of rural south-central Florida.  These counties largely vote Republican, often overwhelmingly so.

To examine these counties further, I selected the counties that gave both Moore and Burkett 30% of the vote or more in their respective primaries.

Over 30 Counties

Most of the counties were Democratic in registration, for further analysis, I focused only on those the Democratic counties (all of which had significantly higher percentages than Republicans).  These counties can ONLY vote Republican thanks to Democrats voting for Republican candidates.  The maps below show the registration figures for those counties (from 2012) and the Senate and Governor results.

Dem Counties Reg Dem Counties Nelson Dem Counties Sink

As the three maps show, the counties are strongly Democratic by registration but lean Republican or are heavily Republican.  Nelson kept margins closer in parts of the panhandle thanks to his stronger level of support with rural voters, however, he still lost most of those counties.

Why are Conservative Democrats voting for Liberals?

These counties may be ancestral Democratic, but they don’t always vote that way further up on the ballot.  So why did they vote for liberal candidates like Moore or Burkett?  There are a a few factors that come into play

First, these Democrats are coming out to vote for local primaries and are not as interested in their Senate or Governor primaries; especially if they are unsure they will back the nominee in November. Turnout in these counties is often higher than statewide average.  However, it is not the top of the ticket bringing these people out to vote, it’s their local primaries.   Sure enough, in these counties (those of which had closed local democratic primaries on the ballot at the same time), the local races had more votes cast than the Governor or Senate primaries.  The maps below show the turnout gap between the Senate/Gov primaries and a local democratic primary on the same ballot.

2012 Sen Gap

2012 Sen Gap2

In all counties examined, those with a closed democratic local primary saw higher turnout than the top of the ballot.  Now, one might excuse the turnout gap for the Governor primary.  After all, Alex Sink had just begun running TV and was still not well known by a 1/3 of Democrats by the time of the primary (according to PPP).  There simply may have been a lack of interest in the race at the time.  Indeed, bluer counties like Alachua and Gadsden saw similar instances were local primaries performed better than the gubernatorial primary.  However, this doesn’t explain the 2012 Senate Primary.  Nelson is much more well known in Florida, serving as Senator since 2000.  Yet in 2012, the turnout gap favoring local races remained.  Indeed, while Alachua (home of college town Gainesville) saw the 2010 Gov race underperform in turnout compared to a local primary, in 2012 the US Senate primary performed better.  In other blue counties across the state the US Senate primary was the top turnout race on the ballot, but not in the rural counties examined here.

This turnout issue feeds into the second factor for why the votes for Moore and Burkett was so high.  The second reason likely comes down to a protest vote.  Many of these ancestral Democratic counties have long since left their party with the exception of local elections.  These Democrats come out to vote for the local races in August and see a primary for a race they have a strong chance of voting Republican for in November.  In instances were they recognize the Democratic front-runner (Sink and Nelson) they voted against them to register their displeasure, not knowing the person they voted for was more liberal.  To many voters in those counties, Moore and Burkett didn’t represent liberal beliefs, they represented a chance to buck the establishment choices.  Their platforms of beliefs were unknown, they were simply names on a ballot, which allowed them to be used as protest votes.  In fact, the similarity between the Moore and Burkett results is pretty striking.  In more than half the counties, the difference between the two candidate’s percentages was less than 5%.  Moore and Burkett’s county results also showed strong correlation between each other, especially considering they were on ballots in different years for difference races.

Moore Burkett PRimary

For several of these counties, voting for Nan Rich over Charlie Crist will be a way to smack Charlie in the face.  Rich may have attention in the blogs and with activists, however, polling shows her with little name-recognition statewide.  Many of her liberal positions are unknown.  Too many voters, she will just be a name on a ballot, similar to Moore and Burkett.

It is a real possibility that the same factors that drove up support for Burkett and Moore will aid Rich.  Rich has a more visible campaign to be sure, but polls still show upwards of 70% of voters don’t know anything about her. This information gap can allow her to do well among rural Democrats who are coming out to vote for their local races.  Many of these rural Democrats voted for Crist in 2006 as a Republican. Crist could hold support with these voters thanks to his old ties, or his party switch could anger these conservative democrats.  Crist’s situation is a little unique.  However, I still expect many of these conservative Democrats to cast a ballot for Rich to register long-held displeasure with their political party.

Lets say Nan Rich does well in the panhandle.  Does this mean all those counties that do well for her are out of Crist’s reach in November?  That the Democrats have registered their displeasure with Crist?  The answer is… it depends on the county.

Primary Voting Compared to November?

Overall, the strength of these weak primary challengers does have a relationship to the strength of the establishment Democrat in November.  In both instances, the counties that were strongest for the primary challengers were weak for the nominee in the fall; while the counties strongest for the establishment candidate (often urban blue counties) were strongest for team blue in the fall.  The scatter-plots for each race show, as support for the primary challenger went down, the support for Dems in November got stronger.

Nelson Burkett Scatter Moore Sink Scatter

While their is a relationship between the primary performance and November General, their are important caveats.  The relationship exists but it is weak.  In addition, several counties that went strong for Burkett and Moore were narrow loses for the Democrats in the fall instead of complete blowouts.  In addition, Liberty and Franklin counties both voted for Sink and Nelson after giving strong margins to the primary challengers (with Hendry and Hamilton also voting for Nelson).  A weak primary showing against a no-name challenger is not a guaranteed predictor of trouble.  However, it does signal trouble.  A weak primary showing for Crist in any of these ancestral  Democratic counties would signify a fight for the general election.

Conclusions

Nan Rich’s fight for a more liberal Democratic nominee for Governor comes to an end on August 26th.  Unfortunately for her, the campaign just never got off the ground in the way it needed to be viable statewide.  While Rich fought for a liberal vision, it will be the conservative rural democrats that provide her with a significant block of votes outside the southeast   Crist’s time as a Republican could shake this theory up.  Perhaps some of these conservative Democrats will stick with him in the primary.  On the other hand, they could view Crist “just another Democrat” and cast a ballot for Rich to protest their party again.  While the unique nature of this race could lead to surprises, I expect to see a decent showing for Rich in the panhandle on primary night.

Election Night Update

Well the primary results are in, and Charlie Crist beat Nan Rich 74% to 26%.  Crist even won 75% of the vote in Broward County, Rich’s home base.  Crist dominated the urban Democratic areas, and as predicted, did worst in the rural conservative regions.  In fact, Crist lost two of these conservative counties; Holmes and Putnam.

2014 Crist

So lets compared Rich’s performance to that of Burkett and Moore.  The three maps below are each using the same color scheme.

2014Rich

2012 Burkett 2010Moore2

The three maps show that from 2010 to 2012, the issue of conservative counties bucking the establishment has grown.  Is this part of a larger trend?  Its hard to say for sure.  But there is a noticable increase in these counties giving over 30% to the no-name challenger despite statewide margins barely fluctuating.

Finally, looking at the relationship between Rich’s % in the primary and those of Burkett and Moore shows a significant correlation between all three candidates’ percentages.  Rich has the strongest correlation with Burkett.

allthreescatter

So the prediction that Rich would do best in the panhandle came true.  What does this mean for the general election of 2014?  Well, it shows Crist’s time as a Republican is not automatically giving him stronger support among the southern democrats of North Florida. They still voted for the no-name challenger to show their displeasure.  Crist can still do what Nelson and Sink did, winning counties that gave strong margins to their primary challengers.  However, the fight for North Florida and rural Democrats will not be an easy one.  However, Crist’s pathway for November is still clear.

Florida Congressional Redistricting: Potential Map in Light of Court Ruling

Several articles on my website have dealt with Florida’s redistricting process.  I have highlighted the new maps the legislature approved last year, and offered my own version of what a better congressional map would look like.  Florida, unlike many other states, was not able to get away with overtly gerrymandering their lines thanks to the Fair Districts Amerndments that were based in 2010.  These amendments, one for the state legislative boundaries and one for the congressional boundaries, mandated that district lines, while accounting for minority populations, be compact and have no political motivation.  The amendments passed overwhelmingly.

2010 Fair Districts

After the passage of the new districts, which were certainly more compact than previous lines, there were still many issues.  Ridiculously drawn districts that packed in minority voters remained, as did other questionable appendages to districts.  While the maps were much improved from the last decade, they still had issues.  Soon enough, a lawsuit was filed over the congressional boundaries.

districts

The details of the lawsuit are well document, so I will not re-hash them here.   The short and sweet is that the plaintiffs argued the Republican-legislature drew districts with clear partisan intend with the aid of political consultants.  Smoking guns included the deletion of emails between staff and consultants, and the fact that the congressional map was based off a map submitted by college student, who subsequently admitted at the trial that he had not drawn the map (and was therefor just a front person for the map).  Everything pointed to the notion that the legislature colluded with republican consultants to draw the maps, and went through channels to communicate.

The ruling followed a few weeks later, the legislature had violated the Fair District Amendments.  The judge berated the legislature, and specifically threw out two districts; 5 and 10.  The judge ordered these districts be redrawn.  The redrawing of these districts would also result in several neighboring districts being redrawn as well.

Lets look at each of these two districts.  First lets look at district 5.

District 5

District 5, or some variation of it, has been around since the early 1990s.  It was originally drawn by the courts to create a district that would elect an African-American.  It has subsequently been altered but kept by the Republican legislature, who saw a strong benefit in packing black voters from Jacksonville to Orlando.  The districts snakes down the state, hitting Jacksonville, Gainesville, and Orlando.  In addition, it grabs pockets of African-Americans in Putnam and Seminole counties.  The district is 52% African-American and heavily Democratic.  The district has always stood as a testament to racial gerrymandering.  In the guise of protecting minority voters, it packs them in and “bleaches” the other districts, making them more Republican.  The judge threw this district out.  In addition, during his opinion, the judge made a point to express that the VRA does not require a district that snakes from Jacksonville to Orlando.  The VRA mandates minority-majority districts when the minority community is compact, as the judge points out, and the Jacksonville to Orlando district is not recognized as compact.  How far this ruling will be taken regarding district 5 remains to be seen.  But I feel it means it cannot go down to Orlando.

The second district to get thrown out was District 10, seen below.

District 10This district is a fairly swingish one but leans Republican.  It gave Obama 45.7% of the vote, and had a very competitive congressional race in 2012 where Democrat Val Demings nearly knocked off Republican Incumbent Daniel Webster.  The district is fairly compact, but the judge threw the district out thanks to its appendage in the center-east of the district.  The hook into Orlando goes around the African-Americans currently in the 5th district, and avoids the Hispanics in the 9th.  The judge ruled this was about helping make Webster safer, not about keep all minority voters in districts 5 and 9.

The order to redraw both 5 and 9 has major implications for the congressional map.  District 5 touches so much of the state that any redraw of it effects every district in the area.  If the legislature is forced to redraw the districts, assuming an appeal fails, the map below shows which districts are likely to be effected.  I am assuming the legislature will try to contain the changes as much as possible.

Judge Decision

There are many variables, and infinite possibilities for what shifts could happen  The Republicans will try and protect their people, however they will have a microscope on them and will know their actions will be closely watched.  I drew up what an alternative map may look like.  However, I stress that there are many possibilities.  The map below shows the new districts for the region.  Any areas in grey are districts that were not changed.

Potential New Districts

Lets go through each district changed

District 5 (Yellow) — The district can no longer be African-American majority since it can no longer go down to Orlando.   I would prefer a district confined to Duval (my ideal map, posted on the site way back, has a district just in Duval), but one common talking point is a district that goes into Gainesville and gets as many African-Americans in the area it can.  The district takes in the African-American community in Jacksoville, Gainesville, parts of Putnam, and St Augustine.  It takes in additional suburban precincts to get enough population.  All of Gainesville is put in the district, taking votes away from district 3.  It is around 32% Voting Age Population African-American.  A democratic primary would be closer to 40% or 45% African-American, and the Democratic nominee would be favored in this 60% Obama district.  This district is perfectly capable of election an African-American democrat.  Representative Brown doesn’t want any changes to her district, so I doubt she will be happy.  The district still looks ridiculous, but no worth than district 20, which was upheld in South Florida.

District 4 (Green) — This district remains heavily Republican.  It loses some votes from Duval thanks to district 5, and makes up for it by going down into super-Republican St. Johns county.  Safe R.  Representative Crenshaw shouldn’t mind the shifts.

District 3 (Purple) — The heavily rural and Republican district loses the western half of Gainesville, but I make up the population by giving it more of Ocala in the south and some rural precincts.  The districts changes could give former Congressman Cliff Sterns an incentive to challenge Congressman Yoho in the primary in 2016 (he was from Ocala).  Either way the district stays Republican.

District 6 (blue) — This coastal district becomes more Democratic friendly thanks to two key changes.  It loses most of St Johns County to districts 5 and 4, taking heavily Republican turf out.  As a result, it must go down into Seminole county, which is Republican, but has Democratic pockets.  The district voted for Obama in 2008, but swung away to only 47% in 2012.  However, Nelson won the district with 54%, and it is much more swing-ish than under the current lines.  Congressman DeSantis won’t like these changes.

District 11 (red) — This conservative district loses parts of Ocala to district 3, so it needs new population.  I gave it rural areas that were connecting District 5 to central Florida, in addition to a top sliver of rural Lake County from district 10.  I try to take from the northern areas to avoid effecting districts further south.  Congressman Nugent would feel little effect of the changes.

District 7 (violet) — This Republican district, held by Congressman Mica, gets a makeover.  It has lost half of Seminole County to district 6.  I make up for it by giving it whiter areas that were in district 5 and the white areas that were in the appendage/hook that was part of district 10.  Like district 6, this was an Obama district in 2008, but fell to 47% Obama in 2012 thanks to shifts in the white suburbs.

District 10 (orange) — The final changed district.  Webster gets a short end of the stick here.  Someone was.  the major problem for the Republicans is what to do with the African-Americans in Orlando, who cant be part of district 5 anymore.  There would be no justification to add them to district 9 in the south, which is meant to be a Hispanic district.  Either Mica or Webster must absorb the African-Americans, either move making the district vulnerable.  Splitting the community between the two would scream of partisan design.  Someone must take them all.  In this case, I give it to Webster, which shoots his district up to 54% Obama.

The partisan makeup of these new districts is below.

Data

These African-Americans in Orlando have to go somewhere, and Mica or Webster are most likely to find them in their district.

Orlando Black

This image below shows my new districts with the old boundaries on top, to show where the shifts are.

Potential New Districts with Current Lines

The rest of the state would not be effected by these shifts.

Potential New Districts Statewide

What the legislature ends up doing is hard to say.  They will definitely appeal the decision, and any changes are not likely till 2016.  They can get creative with their changes.  However, the reality of the African-American block in Orlando will mean at least one Republican congressman gets a major headache.  In addition, two districts, 6 and 7, are much more in play for Democrats if a map similar to this is implemented.  No doubt the Republicans can come up with other changes to mitigate Democratic gains, but again, they will be under a microscope.  They can’t risk getting too ambitious.

Primary preview of Florida CD19 Republican Primary [Updated with Results]

Republicans will go to the polls on April 22nd (well, those who haven’t voted by mail yet) to cast a ballot for what has turned into a very contentious primary for Congressional District 19 in Florida.  The district, part of the the southwest suburbs of Florida, has a vacancy thanks to the resignation of Congressmen Trey Radel.  Radel resigned following his conviction for cocaine possession, the first incumbent congressman to be convicted for that charge.  The race has turned into an incredibly costly and bloody affair.  The district is composed of most of Lee county in its north and the coast of Collier County.

CD19

The race is largely between three individuals.  The perceived front-runner was State Senator Lizbeth Benacquisto.  Benacquisto has been in the state senate since 2010 and serves as Majority Leader in the chamber.  She is an ally of Don Gaetz, the powerful Senate President.  Benacquisto’s state senate seat covers a large portion of Lee County and she is familiar in the area.  Benacquisto’s initial main challenger was Paige Kreegel, a former state representative who came in third in the Republican primary in 2012 for the then-open seat.  Kreegel’s district only encompassed a few precincts in the northern end of the district, but his appearance on a Republican ballot for the district is a plus for him.  Businessman Curt Clawson, who made his fortune with Hayes Lemmerz, a company that made wheels and brakes for cars, also jumped into the race.  Clawson quickly grew his support by self-funding his campaign to the tune of over $2.6 million as of the latest finance reports.  Benacquisto, meanwhile, has raised $1 million, and Kreegel has raised over $200,000.  Clawson’s self-funding has made him a serious contender for winning the seat.

They campaign has devolved into a very negative affair.  Clawson has focused his messaging on building himself as an outsider, trying to latch onto the Tea Party movement that has swept many anti-establishment politicians into office.  Clawson has secured the endorsements of Michele Bachmann, Rand Paul, and other tea party leaders.  He has hammered Benacquisto and Kreegel as establishment politicians.  Meanwhile, Clawson has come under heavy fire for his business dealings..  Under Clawson’s days leading Hayes Lemmerz, the company laid off thousands, closed plants, and was subject to investigations for the death of a worker in a plant explosion.  In addition, Clawson has come under fire for his business ties to a man convicted of sexual assault on a minor.  A particularly interesting development in the campaign occurred when Clawson showed up at a press conference being held by his other opponents that they were using to attack his ties to the convicted man.  In the last few weeks Clawson has focused is attacks on all the attacks against him, decrying the negative campaign.  Clawson started running an ad with a beach background ocean noise with a text scroll saying he wanted to give voters a break from the negativity.  Benacquisto, meanwhile, has been trying to sure-up her support with social conservatives; getting the endorsements of Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin.  She has touted her pro-life position, opposing abortion even in cases of rape and incest.  The race is largely seen as coming down to a fight between Benacquisto and Clawson.  Clawson’s money has made him competitive, but if he wins, it may be on the back of the anti-establishment wave.

Another dynamic in the race has been heavy spending by third party groups.  The RPOF itself has gotten involved, funneling over $300,000 to Benacquisto through a string of PAC donations.  The implicity backing by the state party, which they deny, has caused outcry from Tea Party groups and former Representative Connie Mack IV, who has endorsed Clawson.  Heavy TV spending has been reported by third party groups. Roll Call has a detailed breakdown of the third-party spending.  Around $900,000 have been spent on TV by two pro-Kreegel PACS, $600,000 from a pro-Benacquisto PAC, and around $100,000 from a pro-Clawson PAC.

As the race enters its final stretch, it appears Clawson has the momentum. Two polls have showed him leading, one by 4% and another by double digits.  A Clawson win would no doubt be characterized as another outsider win in the GOP civil war between the establishment and tea party.  However, it should be noted Clawson’s self-funding has helped make him viable.  That said, it is still striking that Benacquisto could not only lose, but lose by alot.  

Benacquisto, beside being well financed with a great deal of institutional backing, has represented a large portion of the district in one way or another for the last several years.  Benacquisto started off as a city commissioner in Wellington, a city on the opposite coast of the state.  However, in 2010 she won a state senate seat, district 27, that stretched from Palm Beach to Cape Coral, one coast to another.  Incidentally these two main population centers are connected by Lake Okeechobee and rural farmland and is a great example of the horrendous gerrymandering in Florida.  In 2012, the districts were re-drawn and Benacquisto ran for a state senate district seat, district 30, that covers a good deal of Lee County.  In total, Benacquisto represented, through her old district or current one, over 70% of the voters that cast a ballot in the 2012 Republican primary for congressional district 19.  The map below shows the districts she has represented in the past overlaying the 19th congressional district.

Benacquisto Districts

The Senate district Benacquisto represents now (green) covers a good portion of CD19.  She did not face a Republican primary in 2012 when she won that seat in redistricting, but she did have a Republican primary in 2010 for the old Senate District 27.  She won a three-way primary with 39% of the vote.  However, she actually performed stronger in the western part of the district than the east, even though her city of Wellington was on the eastern half.  The map below shows the primary results for her 2010 primary in the precincts of SD27 that also fell within the current boundaries of CD19.

2010 SD27

Benacquisto bested Sharon Merchant and Mike Lameyer with 41% in the above precincts, two points better than her district-wide percents.  However, she clear was not the choice of a majority of the area.  As numbers come in for the election, how she does in the areas she represented in SD30 or SD27 should be watched carefully.

The precincts in Lee County make up 70% of the votes that were cast in the 2012 primary.  Benacquisto’s familiarity in Lee should help her.  However, the dynamics of the race and Clawson’s apparent surge could undermine that advantage.  There is a base of votes in Collier, but a candidate could lose it and still win a split primary.  In 2012, Radel came in third in Collier but still won the race.

2012 Republican Primary

Using the 2012 primary as a reference, the vote clusters will be in the Cape Coral region of the district in Lee county and the Naples region in North Collier county.

Voting Clusters

Looking at income levels in the district, many of the upper income neigborhoods (the mean income is $80,000 a year) are the same ones that will have a larger number of ballots cast.  Whether these wealthier individuals gravitate to Clawson for his business background, or move against him to his bad business dealings, remains to be seen.

Income

This suburban Republican district has seen a flurry of spending in this race, something that it is unlikely to see again in the near future.  The winner will be damaged, but the Republican nature of the district makes it a very unlikely pickup opportunity.  A suburban, upper income district like CD19 has little “elasticity;” — a willingness to cross party lines and vote in a bipartisan manner.  The last time the district voted Democrat was Bill Nelson against Katherine Harris in 2006, which was a statewide blowout for the Democrat.  You can read more about elasticity here..

So what will this race mean for the continued GOP civil war between the establishment and the tea party?  Its hard to say just yet.  If Clawson has a narrow win or loses to Benacquisto, then his support will be largely attributed to his self-funding abiliy.  However, if Clawson has a large win, coming close to 50%, then it can be assumed that even without self-funding he would be have been a contender thanks to his anti-establishment support.  Including all outside money, he appears to be the largest spender or tied with Benacquisto.  A narrow win would mean anti-establish sentiment wasn’t enough to propel him to victory and that it took his fortune to push him over the top.  We won’t know what this means for the GOP establishment until all the votes are counted Tuesday night.

Election Results Update

As expected, Curt Clawson beat out Senator Benacquisto in the Republican primary. Clawson got 38% of the vote to Benacquisto’s 25% and Kreegel’s 25%.  By all accounts, the “establishment” got just over 50% of the vote considering both Kreegel and Benacquisto spent time in the state legislature.  Clawson won a plurality while self-funding his election, not an overwhelming mandate.  Turnout-wise, Collier has slightly higher turnout than Lee. 37% to 33%.  Lee still dominated the votes cast, with over 70% coming from Lee and under 30% from Collier.

Benacquisto got very little support outside of Lee county.  She came in a distant third in Collier, only gathering 15%.  What most striking about this was that Kreegel did so much better in Collier despite his old house seat being in northern Lee county.  Benacquisto, meanwhile, also lost Lee by 5 points, and only won the region in her state senate district by 260 votes, 32% to 31.2%.  2014 Republican Primary

Clawson was much stronger in Collier and Southern Lee.  Benacquisto won Fort Meyers and split Cape Coral.  He representation in the Senate definitely helped her mitigate loses in northern Lee, but she was decimated outside areas she represented in the past. The results aren’t good for Benacquisto’s future in terms of a congressional run.  She is now doubt weaker and less popular than before this run, and someone like Kreegel could be a bigger threat absent a self-funder.  Benacquisto’s would do well to serve out her Senate tenure (which could go till 2020) and revisit a promotion then.

Joel Osteen Makes Millions off Prosperity Gospel: Does Little for the Poor

Joel Osteen has been on television stations and in bookstores for years as the “smiling preacher.”  Osteen has built and empire through a method of Gospel that does not focus on condemnation or hate; a direct contrast with Christian Right leaders such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson.  Osteen’s message has attacked huge audiences over the the last several years.  His Lakewood Church has over 43,000 seats filled each week and his Television program is broadcast nationwide.  Osteen has strong appeal to many religious Americans because of his happy attitude, less focus on culture war issues, and his promise that God takes care of those who believe.

However, Osteen’s image takes a huge downward trajectory when you begin to examine him in a more critical light.  Osteen has been attacked by conservative Christians for his lack of focus on social issues.  However, where Osteen’s real problems exist are his brand of preaching:  Prosperity Gospel.  This is a version of Christian thought, and a deluded one at that, that God rewards his followers with money, possessions, or other tangible items because of their faith.  This view, beside contradicting numerous passages of the Bible, has been preached for centuries by those who wish to gather followers.  After all, who doesn’t like the idea that God can be your personal ATM if you just pray hard enough.  Osteen claims that he does not preach Prosperity Gospel, but almost every sermon or book talks about people who made financial gain thanks to their “faith in God.”  During his sermons, Osteen will repeatedly use biblical quotes out of context to make it seem like the “rewards” or “blessings” of God are meant to be money, a house, children, or a new job.  Osteen never directly says it, but repeatedly implies that God will intervene to financially help those who believe.

Thanks to Osteen’s appeal with Christians who don’t bother to actually pick up a Bible and just want to hear some smiling guy tell them God loves them, the smiling preacher has accumulated a net worth close to $50 million.  In addition, Osteen’s Lakewood Church just finished $105 million in renovations.  Yes you read that correctly, a man who has a national television show that can be viewed on basic cable by anyone, spent $105 million to renovate a church so that 40,000 people could attend.  Again, let me stress this.  ANYONE can watch his sermons on TV, on the church website, or download the podcasts.  Those 40,000 could all watch/listen from home.  But no, they spent $105 million to renovate a ridiculously lavish building.  Guess how much money was spent on the Cross being used?  None.  Because there is no Cross outside the church.

Meanwhile, Joel Osteen, who loves to talk about how he doesn’t take a salary from the Church, makes his money from books, TV, and speaking tours.  Osteen and his wife recently purchased a mansion worth over $10 million dollars.  The Osteen’s live in the rich suburbs of Houston, not far from the Church.  In addition, they own another house worth $2 million.  Their lavish mansion has three elevators and six rooms.  Let me contrast this with another well-known preacher in America.  Rich Warren, who did the prayer for the 2008 Inauguration of President Obama, has the highest selling religious book, A Purpose Driven Life, in history.  Meanwhile, Warren, indeed a rich man, still lives in the same house they have had for 16 years, drives a 10 year old car, and buys watches at Walmart.  Warren and his wife, meanwhile, push charities and causes for AIDS, gun control, and in the wake of their son’s tragic suicide, mental illness awareness.  Warren and his wife are worth 10 million.  However, that is after they give up 90% of their money to charity.  Yes you read that correct, they give up 90% of their money to charity.  Warren has talked about this, saying it allows him to loosen his grasp on material things in this world.

What does Joel Osteen focus charity efforts on?  He and his wife focus on Feed the Children, a charity that aims to give food to starving children, especially in the third world.  However, the charity has received an F rating from charity watchdog groups. Much of the money goes toward staff, fundraisers, and administrative costs… little to food for children.

Look at where Osteen lives in Harris County.  The following maps show the income and poverty rates of the county.  Osteen and his Church are marked on the map.

Harris Income

Harris Poverty Harris Stamps

Despite being modestly close to downtown Houston, Osteen’s house and church are located away from the lower income, higher poverty areas of the county.  Osteen and his church are located in higher income areas of Houston.  Osteen’s home is in the River Oaks suburb, which is the wealthiest neighborhood in all of Texas (and in the top 10 nationwide).  Lower income area’s are close to the Osteen compound, but the Osteen family could get from their house to church without ever entering a low-income area.

Harris County is 40% Hispanic, and as such Lakewood offers a Spanish service to all who wish to attend.  This sounds nice.  However, look again at the Osteen church and house locations relative to Hispanic residents.

Harris Hispanic

For a county that is 40% Hispanic, the church with a Spanish service is located in the whitest area of the county.

Osteen has made millions off his warped biblical view.  And with that money, he pours little of it into the community around him.  He has also isolated himself off from those who are in the most need.  He lives in one of the most white, wealthy, Republican areas in the state.  His Church cost more than the budgets of most county governments.  It should be no surprise that Osteen has said that apologizing for wealth would be an insult to God.  Osteen can claim he does not preach prosperity gospel.  However, the smiling preacher makes no apologies for his wealth and regularly uses it for his own good.  Osteen does not believe there is anything wrong with being wealthy as long as you put God first.  However, from the way Osteen and his family utilize the money they have made, one cannot help but wonder what comes first for the smiling preacher.

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.