District 72 All About Enthusiasm

Under The Hood


A contentious but ultimately lop-sided Democratic primary this week put in place the field for the District 72 special election for state House. But more important that picking a nominee, the election on Tuesday offered some insight into voter enthusiasm on the left, which is what the Democrats need if they want to turn this rare off-year election into a pickup opportunity.

The primary attracted 8,503 voters to polls, or 21.2 percent of voters eligible to participate. That’s actually pretty good, considering there was only one race on the ballot for a Christmas season election when no one is accustomed to casting votes. For comparison, a City of Venice race in November drew 32.86 percent of voters there, far greater turnout but during a regularly schedule election. As an interesting footnote, though, the major difference in turnout between these races appeared to be a low number of Election Day voters in the District 72 race. In Venice, just 47.6 percent of the electorate voted by mail or through early voting, while in the Democratic primary, nearly 71.1 percent did so. I suspect you’ll see similar patterns in the Feb. 13 election, making it extremely important for campaigns to be organized early if they hope to be successful.

If you want to look at the last partisan primary in the region, turnout in this district was 26.5 percent in the August 2016 primary, though that was for all voters, and there was no Democratic primary for this state House seat. Voters then came out to vote for a variety of races from School Board to state Legislature.

Democrat Margaret Good won 6,151 votes on Tuesday, which means that almost 15.4 percent of Democrats in the district have now voted for Good once and most can be relied upon to do again. She’ll need more than that to win the seat, of course, but it’s a healthy start. The question here is whether the 2,344 votes for eliminated candidate Ruta Jouniari get in line behind the Democratic nominee or if they stay home, or worse, vote for another candidate. As the more progressive candidate, I doubt many will flock to Republican candidate James Buchanan but some may float to Libertarian candidate Alison Foxall.

Unfortunately, there was no Republican primary on Tuesday, so we don’t have the same type of data to explore.  But what we do know is that Republicans outnumber Democrats in District 72—substantially. Roughly 42.3 percent of registered voters  here are Republicans, while about 32.3 percent are Democrats. Then there’s the 24.5 percent registered independent or third-party a group Foxall wants in her camp.

Could anything undo Buchanan in that district? The unpopularity of Republican President Donald Trump plays a role. In special elections held throughout the nation, districts have reliably swung more Democratic, even when Republicans still won. Not a single federal seat this year has changed party hands, but Ballotpedia tallies 14 state legislative seats that flipped from Republican to Democratic control in 2017 so far, compared to three that flipped the other way. Of course, Republicans also defended 38 seats in specials, which is what they are trying to do here with a seat vacated by Republican Alex Miller.

Then there’s money. As of Nov. 30, Buchanan had raised more than $227,000, and had only spent about $58,000. Good raised more than $120,000, but with a primary, spent more than $69,000. Foxall has more than $11,000 raised has only spent about $2,200.

Jacob Ogles is contirbuting senior editor of SRQ Media Group.

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