For political consultants, election nights are like a cross between the Super Bowl and Christmas morning. We live for the adrenaline rush that comes as the clock approaches 7:00pm and the polls close. Our blank spreadsheets stare at us waiting for precinct by precinct vote totals to be filled in. It is Hunger Games, Survivor and Intervention all wrapped into one evening.
Tuesday night was a little different for me because, although I do not usually get involved in local elections and did not have a candidate in the Montgomery mayoral race, I watched the results roll in with the same interest and attention that I would have if I had been consulting for one of the candidates. I found myself jonesing for the next set of returns to come in and then analyzed them much like a sports fan does the day after the big game. The following is the politi-geek version of Monday morning quarterbacking the Montgomery Mayoral Election.
Despite a crowded field of 5 candidates and the inclusion of a former United States Congressman on the ballot, there had been little excitement in the race leading up to the last week. Crime rates and budget numbers were being thrown around and the usual cookie cutter commercials were airing but there was really nothing to write home about. Incumbent Mayor Todd Strange held a commanding lead and three of the candidates, Ella Bell, Dan Harris and Buena Browder, were never viewed as serious contenders. The only semi-credible threat to Strange’s third term was Davis but even his own people seemed to think that was a longshot, at best. The only question was whether Strange would win without a runoff or would Congressman Artur Davis find a way to force a second election. Well, that was the only question until last Thursday.
Last Thursday, Montgomery finally had something to talk about. The Ashley Madison list was making news and a little-known blogger printed an article alleging that Artur Davis may have once had an account on the clandestine website. The news spread like wildfire around the River Region and by Friday morning, Davis was declaring his innocence to every media outlet in the city. Some people believed him (I am in that camp). Some people didn’t. Most people just didn’t care (I am also in this camp). By Friday evening, even that little bit of excitement had faded away.
Tuesday night came and went and Strange won a convincing and overwhelming victory. Emerging from a field of 5 candidates without a runoff is an incredible feat and it should be recognized as such. However, as a politi-geek, I have to ask myself how that happened? A great deal of the credit goes to the Strange team but I think that even his closest staffers would concede that the other four campaigns gave Todd Strange a gift, the gift of incompetent or nonexistent campaigns.
As much as many in my profession like to go on and on about the science of persuasion and the psychology of messaging, the truth is that political campaigns are a science and that science is math. It is a simple game of math. How many voters are likely to vote in the election? How many of those voters do I need to win? Who are my supporters? Are there enough of them to reach the magic number? Can I get that number of voters to the polls? See, it is all math.
The Davis campaign didn’t seem to have mastered election arithmetic. They never seemed to know who their voters were. They never had a grasp on any specific segment of the population and they just seemed to drift from issue to issue and from neighborhood to neighborhood. I have no doubt that Congressman Davis understood the average Montgomery voter but I don’t believe that his campaign team ever got a real grasp on what they were trying to accomplish. Voter ID efforts seemed dismal at best and the efforts to drive voters to the polls through a persuasive message that hit them in their hearts and minds just never materialized. Davis is a great person who probably does want to build a better Montgomery. The problem is that he never knew who his supporters were or why they were supporting him. He didn’t know who to push to the polling place and who to skip. The strategy was loose and unfocused and, in the end, came off as sophomoric. That is not an indictment of the candidate, but of the campaign strategy and campaign strategy rarely has anything to do with the person whose name is on the ballot.
There is a place in Montgomery for Strange and Davis to work together to make the city great again. There are conversations about issues that are taking place now and will continue to take place for months to come because Artur Davis threw his hat in the ring. Education, economic development and poverty are all being discussed in depth for the first time in years and that is largely due to the Davis candidacy. Hopefully, politi-geeks from all over the State can look at the Montgomery mayoral race and learn a thing or two about the math of politics and if you need someone to teach you a River Region political math lesson, I encourage you to contact the Strange campaign team because they get an A+ in election math.
Angi Stalnaker is an Alabama native who, as a political consultant, has worked on numerous statewide, legislative and constitutional amendment races for conservative causes and candidates. For more information about her visit Virtus Solutions.