Thursday, November 16, 2006

Breaking down the local election results in Orange County and Chapel Hill

As printed in the Chapel Hill Herald on Saturday, November 11th:

Despite being a "blue moon" election year with no major statewide races in North Carolina, Tuesday night's election has some interesting implications for Orange and Chatham counties.

One lesson learned is that we have the most popular senator in the state. With 74 percent of the vote, Ellie Kinnaird received a higher percentage of votes than anyone else in a contested seat throughout North Carolina. While some people like to peg her as a liberal kook from Carrboro, the fact that she won all but one precinct in Orange County points to her wide appeal.

Another lesson confirmed is that a ballot initiative without an organized opposition will always pass. I predicted a month ago on that since no organization had formed to fight district representation, the referendum would likely pass with 60 to 65 percent of the vote. It actually received 68 percent of the vote. If folks see a proposal on the ballot and have not heard any arguments against it, they'll generally assume it is fine and vote yes. I don't know if the results really reflect a great concern for representation of Orange County's rural minority or not, but at this point it doesn't really matter.

One of the big winners Tuesday night was former Carrboro mayor Mike Nelson, who successfully sought a seat as an Orange County commissioner. In the closing weeks of the campaign, a small group of residents made an effort to cut into his support by falsely painting him as a merger supporter. The efforts were ineffective, as Nelson received nearly two and a half times as many votes as Republican Jamie Daniel.

Nelson will likely take particular pleasure from receiving the votes of 60 percent of the folks at the new Hogan Farms precinct, where the residents of Carrboro's recently annexed Northern Transition Area vote. Although the folks angry about the annexation certainly make a lot of noise about it, Nelson's success shows that their political capital might be pretty limited.

This could have implications for next year's election. Some of the noisemakers in the annexed areas have promised to boot out the incumbents on the Carrboro Board of Aldermen. Their inability to do so to Nelson certainly calls into question their ability to do so to Mark Chilton, Joal Broun, Dan Coleman and Alex Zaffron. If I was one of those folks I'd be breathing a little easier today.

The Superior Court race, in which I managed candidate Adam Stein's campaign, is still unsettled as the count of the provisional votes and a likely recount looms. Whatever the final result is, Allen Baddour has provided a model for how to run an effective campaign in a local judicial race.

In the primary, dominated by Democratic voters in Orange and Chatham counties, Stein took a thousand-vote lead. It is clear from the precinct-by-precinct data that in the general election, with many more Republicans voting, Baddour made large strides in northern Orange County precincts that went for Bush in 2004.

Baddour is certainly no Republican, nor were any of the other three candidates in the race. But it looks like Republican votes swung the race in his favor, and he must have had the strongest strategy of the three candidates fighting for the second seat behind Carl Fox for reaching out to them. In a closely contested race with four outstanding choices, it appears that may have made the biggest difference.

Of course in such a close race, just about anything could have made the difference. One person even told me they cast a ballot for Baddour because it looked like his father was on the cusp of bringing in former Miami coach Butch Davis to resurrect the football program! I doubt that affected too many votes, though.

It was another outstanding election cycle for the Orange County Democratic Party, whose volunteers ran as effective and efficient an operation this year as it did in 2004, even in the absence of a prominent campaign. They did a good job of turning out the vote and an even better job of ensuring everyone going to vote who wanted a sample ballot showing who the statewide Democratic choices in judicial races were got one.

No doubt state Supreme Court Judge-elect Robin Hudson, whose 11,000 vote victory in Orange County accounted for more than half of her statewide winning margin of 20,000 votes, is appreciative of the efforts made by local volunteers.

This election reflected positively on the level of civic engagement in Orange and Chatham counties, and showed that for the most part we're pleased with our current elected officials. I'm sure many local residents are happy above all else that the robo calls and expensive mailers will stop coming.

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