Wednesday, May 07, 2008

7th District Wrap-Up

The Democratic 7th District primary had promised much excitement with lots of fireworks. It turned out to be a real dud as U.S. Rep. Andre Carson waltzed past his opponents with 47% of the vote. Dr. Woody Myers, his closest competitor, finished 23 points behind him with only 24% of the vote after spending $1.6 million of his own funds on his campaign. State Rep. David Orentlicher did even worse with only 20% of the vote, not helped by a last-minute loan of $350,000 he made to his campaign from his own funds. State Rep. Carolene Mays, the only female candidate in the race mustered only 8% of the vote in an election where two other female candidates, Sen. Hillary Clinton and Jill Long Thompson, broke through the glass ceiling for women candidates in Indiana.

Turnout in the primary race, 37%, was comparable to the turnout one would expect in a general election in a non-presidential year. Carson's 66,533 votes nearly matched the 72,983 votes his grandmother, U.S. Rep. Julia Carson, received in her last election against Eric Dickerson in 2006, which represented 54% of the votes cast. Carson added almost 21,000 votes to the total number of votes he received in the March 11 special election against Republican Jon Elrod in which he garnered 54% of the vote compared to Elrod's 43% share. Libertarian Sean Shepard captured 3% of that vote.

In the special election race, Jon Elrod simply didn't have the financial resources to run a competitive race against Carson, who enjoyed $250,000 in help from the DCCC, plus lots of special interest money. Carson was able to outspend Elrod 3-1. Carson hit Elrod with negative attack after negative attack through television , radio and direct mail. Carson was able to define Elrod before he had a chance to define himself in the 60-day, compressed campaign of a special election. By contrast, both Orentlicher and Myers had enough funds to effectively challenge Carson, despite the hundreds of thousands of special interest dollars which flowed into his campaign coffers following his special election win in March.

So why did Myers and Orentlicher fail so miserably against Carson? Both men are highly-educated and highly-accomplished professionals in their own right. Their resumes made each of them imminently more qualified than Carson. Orentlicher had the added advantage of being a veteran of several hotly-contested House races, which boosted his name recognition in the 7th District and provided him a built-in organization to mount a successful challenge. Myers had deep pockets to offset his opponents' built-in advantage.

It was always my contention that any Democratic opponent's success in this primary race against Carson was dependent on Carson losing the special election. Attribute it to party loyalty or higher valor, both Orentlicher and Myers pretty much put their campaigns on hold while Carson faced off against Elrod in the special election, avoiding any appearance of mucking things up for Carson. That was a tactical mistake in my opinion. Carson's opponents were railroaded in the slating process by a deck that was stacked by party leaders in Carson's favor to ensure a winning hand for him. The Carson political machine always plays dirty with its opposition. If it required shooting arrows at him as he campaigned against Elrod, you do it. Once Carson won the special election, he would automatically have the aura of electability and advantage that any incumbent congressman has in an election. For Myers and Orentlicher to have a chance of winning the primary, they had to make Carson a loser in the special election. Their decision to keep their powder dry during the special election sealed their fate.

Assuming either man had any chance of beating Carson after he won the special election, they squandered every opportunity they had. Inexplicably, Orentlicher gave up an entire month of uncontested air time to Myers. Dr. Myers started his media buy the day after the special election and stayed on the air until the very end. Orentlicher waited until the last three weeks of the campaign to go on the air at a time when the airwaves were already crowded with presidential and gubernatorial ads. With so much attention focused on the close race between Obama and Clinton and the unprecedented national media attention on that race, the 7th District race got crowed out.

When Carson's opponents met for a televised debate with him, only Orentlicher directed any negative attacks against Carson. The soft-touched manner in which he went about it, however, left it without any real impact. Compounding the problem, Orentlicher saved his toughest attack for Myers, which resulted in a silly pissing match between Myers and Orentlicher in the closing weekend of the campaign. The negative attack on Carson was so soft it didn't even merit a response from Carson. The central contention of both Orentlicher and Myers was that they were more qualified than Carson. Neither of them brought that point home to voters by explaining in a very graphic, hard-hitting manner just how unqualified he is. By the time the Obama endorsement rolled around late in the campaign, the election had become a mere formality for Carson. Again, I go back to my point of how it was so important to these candidates that Carson lose that special election. Carson would have never been a superdelegate, and there would have been no Obama endorsement. This allowed Carson to stand on the stage with Obama on the eve of the primary election in front of 20,000 people.

Orentlicher's campaign could not have been run more incompetently. It looked like Orentlicher scored a big coup when he landed Chad Chitwood, U.S. Rep. Julia Carson's former press secretary. He should have known every weakness in the Carson armor. Instead, he offered little more than breaking the news to local media that Carson was pledging himself to Obama as a superdelegate. I still haven't figured out why he was so eager to leak that news. You have to give Myers credit for at least running a better campaign than Orentlicher. His commercials and his personal presentation were unmatched by any of the candidates. Joh Padgett did yeoman's work in promoting his candidacy on the Internet. In the end, however, it didn't matter because Myers failed to sell Democratic voters on the case for voting against Carson, the incumbent. That was a missed opportunity, given the large number of new voters and cross-over voters who had no affinity for continuing the Carson legacy. And so the Democrats are stuck with the Carson political machine and all that it implies for the foreseeable future.

Carson will have a re-match with Elrod in November. Elrod captured 85% of the Republican primary vote with two other candidates on the ballot. That compares favorably to Carson when you consider a majority of Democratic voters voted for someone else in the primary. One of his opponent's, Cat Ping, even managed to muster together enough funds to run a limited number of TV ads during the last week of the campaign. With 80% of primary voters choosing a Democratic ballot, however, Elrod's vote total was well below the 36,339 votes he received in the March 11 special election. In recent presidential elections, the Democratic candidate has carried Marion Co. with about 58% of the vote, boosting the vote total of the Democratic congressional candidate. Elrod's problem is complicated by the complete meltdown the GOP is suffering currently in congressional races. Republicans have lost two safe Republican seats in special elections this year already in Illinois and Louisiana and are very close to losing another one in Mississippi. The NRCC is completely broke, and Elrod will, like his special election race, be completely dependent on raising funds locally. He's a very bright and able candidate, but he's got an uphill climb in the current political environment.


artfuggins said...

You still cannot write that Andre relates to people and is liked by the voters. He was outspent outrageously and attacked but he still eased to a victory that was so large that it surprised even me. Now if he is able to represent his district and provide the quality of services to his constituents that his grandmother did, he will be unbeatable. Money can buy tv spots, unending mailings and pay hordes of election day workers but it cannot buy the true devotion and affection that treating people in a respectful manner can. Andre does that. His speech in front of 25,000 people on the eve of the election was his best ever. While not the world's best speaker, he is getting better.

FiniFinito said...

Joh Padgett did yeoman's work in promoting his candidacy on the Internet.

Thanks Gary, I tried to do my best and I was very happy with how well we did in the online world. From a technological perspective we did some groundbreaking things on the Internet and I plan to use this campaign as a case study to show future clients what I am capable of doing for them. I am very happy with the strategy I developed for the campaign and feel honored to have been part of it.

Anonymous said...

Good write up.

In 2004 in the last presidential general election Julia got almost 120,000 votes. Given a possible Obama candidate Democratic turn out could be even higher than that.

Are there even 120,000 Republicans in the 7th district ?

varangianguard said...

Beyond what "Wilsonart" had to say above, I believe that Congressman Carson won convincingly for four reasons:

A) GOTV. His team still knows how to work it.

B) His major opponents failed miserably to significantly differentiate themselves from the Congressman in the eyes of the general voter.

C) His major opponents could have recognized that divided they fall. For whatever reason, they didn't. So, they fell.

D) M.D. degrees, CEO credentials, or whatever, the Congressman's opposition just never came across as more qualified to me (as a disinterested party).

So, the only thing that surprised me were the final tallies. Congressman Carson did much better than even I thought he would. In doing so, I fully expect the Congressman to win handily in November as well.

Sir Hailstone said...

Dr. O's and Dr. Myers' strategy was "Bash Bush". They were not running against Bush (or any Republican) - That would be the equivalent of Mitt Romney running for Senate in Massachusetts with a GOP primary fight and Romney's only campaign theme was "Ted Kennedy is a drunk". Yes we know that but Ted Kennedy would not be your opponent.

Dr. O and Dr. Myers should have run their campaigns slamming Andre Carson from the beginning. Incumbency does have its privileges.But this is all hindsight being 20/20 and all. Monday morning quarterback, etc.

Unknown said...


While I recognized that Andre was outspent by all opponents combined, I would not think, If I were Andre, that I would be happy with my less than 50% result. I think if Andre wants to stay where he is he better work on his message and show some productivity, besides some cute sound bites, or his days are numbered. If less than 1/2 our own party will vote for you..there is something wrong.

Jon E. Easter said...

Except for failing to credit André and his grassroots campaign, you do a pretty good analysis here.

André Carson's campaign was out in the community while Woody was paying people $12 an hour to make phone calls, etc.

guy77money said...

Carson will win in November and we will be stuck with him for four more years. The 7th is democratic district and there is no way the Republicans can take him out. Might as well get used to it and go on. The only real way David or Woody could have won is for one of them to had dropped out and thrown their support to the other one. It would have been closer election. David, Woody and Caroline canceled each other out. Too many candidates and not enough votes.

artfuggins said...

Getting 46% of the vote in an eight candidate race is not shabby and doubling your nearest competitor is not shabby either. Andre will only get stronger.

Russ said...

4 more years of Andre??? Did somebody change the Constitution without asking?