2019 Mayoral Race Part 1: Numbers, because “Three’s company, two. Or four? Maybe more.”


This is the first part. The next part is here: 

2019 Mayoral Race Part 2: Thinking about Dan Coffey’s independent bid for mayor.

This ON THE AVENUES column originally was published on May 1, 2014. I’m repeating it today in order to amplify a comment made by independent mayoral candidate Dan Coffey.

There are as many disenfranchised Republicans as there are Democrats. I’m not running to fulfill one person’s wishes. I’m running to take the politics out of government and giving the government back to the people. If you’re looking for a spoiler, look at one of the party candidates.

ON THE AVENUES: Where do we go from here?

As an addendum to the 2014 column, here are the 2015 mayoral election results.

2015: Democrat Jeff Gahan (3,527) defeats Republican Kevin Zurschmiede (2,695) and Independent Roger A. Baylor (462).
Total votes: 6,684
Percentage: 53 – 40 – 7

Total votes cast for mayor in 2015 fell to 44% compared with the election in 1971. Note New Albany’s population count during this 44-year period.

Population (1970): 38,402
Population (2010): 36,372
Population (2017 est): 36,461

All this having been said, let’s revisit the 2014 column.

ON THE AVENUES: Three’s company, two. Or four? Maybe more.

A weekly web column by Roger A. Baylor.

The 2014 primary election is next Tuesday. It features drab county races, but I’ve been thinking about the city’s mayoral election in 2015. It’s never too early to begin contemplating the many intriguing possibilities.

In 2011, Jeff Gahan plainly dominated the contest. Not since Bob Real’s second consecutive blowout win in 1975 has there been such a wicked beat-down. It looked like this:

Jeff Gahan (Democrat) … 4,506 votes
Dale “DM” Bagshaw (Republican) … 1,389
Jack Messer (Independent) … 1,024
Thomas Keister (Libertarian) … 88
Total votes: 7,007
Percentages: 64 – 20 – 15 – 1

On the face of it, Gahan looks unbeatable in 2015 – assuming he chooses to run for a second term. But my guess is that Gahan’s 2011 numbers won’t be repeated, because recent voting history does not support the likelihood of a second consecutive landslide.

For one thing, in 11 mayoral elections held since 1971 (see below), it generally has been the case that the higher the percentage of the vote in one’s first winning campaign, the greater chance of a precipitous drop-off the second time around.

Warren Nash went from 60% in 1971 to 34% in 1975. Regina Overton plunged from 57% in 1999 to 39% four years later. James Garner vanquished Overton with just shy of 60%, only to be defeated in the Democratic primary by Doug England in 2007.

Bob Real is the exception. In both 1975 and 1979, Real topped 60%, but fell to 49% in his third race in 1983 against Chas Hunter. Simply stated, the odds are that a second 60% share of the vote for Gahan will not be forthcoming in 2015.

Of course, much depends on the quality of the opposition, and apart from Overton’s 57% in 1999, a Republican mayoral candidate has not gotten better than 52% of the vote since 1979. Bagshaw’s paltry 20% in 2011 was the lowest GOP share since Kenny Keilman (21%) in 1991, although in both cases, the Republican vote was diluted by an independent insurgency (Phyllis Garmon in 1991 and Jack Messer in 2011).

Interestingly, given an ongoing Democratic advantage in raw numbers throughout the period 1971 – 2011, and conceding the meaningless of party affiliation in New Albany (quite a few Democrats liked Bob Real in the 1970s and Mitt Romney in 2012, didn’t they?), it remains that a credible independent candidacy has never threatened to affect the Democratic share of the vote in like fashion.

Still, Bagshaw’s and Messer’s combined vote total in 2011 is close to what a Republican candidate would expect to get in a down year. The GOP’s problem in the city is that there have been no “up” years in a while. The Democratic Party has managed to retain a measure of its “one-party municipality” election-winning swagger, even without a platform of discernable principle, abetted in no small measure by an urban GOP of such breathtaking ineptitude that it would have more success picking candidates by blind draw than whatever the current method is, if any.

Naturally, there are numerous other factors at play, and I’m hardly Nate Silver. One is the trend toward shrinking overall vote totals. Since 1971, the three poorest turnouts for a mayoral race have come since 1999. The 7,007 votes cast for mayor in 2011 were a sickly 48% of the total when Warren Nash defeated Garnett Inman in 1971. It might be that whatever is left at this late date is fixed and predictable.

Consequently, I’m aware that this analysis is simplistic, but nonetheless, here’s how I read it.

Gahan’s 64% runaway in 2011 remains impressive, and it is just as unlikely to be repeated in 2015. Even the unstoppable Real could not improve on his lopsided 1975 performance in being re-elected in 1979, and the only candidate for re-election since 1975 to do better the second time than the first was Doug England in 1995 – and this owed to it being a two-person race without the presence of Garmon, the 1991 spoiler. If Gahan stands for re-election in 2015, there’ll be both historical precedent and performance erosion, the latter to be expected once a sitting mayor possesses a record to run upon, and for his opponent(s) to run against.

What’s more, in 2011 Messer, although at the time nominally a Democrat (come to think of it, which ones aren’t nominal?) likely took votes away from Bagshaw, the relatively unknown Republican, and not Gahan. Looking over the past three decades, the typical Democratic percentage in a winning mayoral effort is 54%, and it is reasonable to guess that Gahan will drop closer to this level in his 2015 re-election campaign.

If there is but one Republican candidate (Bagshaw is rumored to be considering a second attempt), his or her percentage should at least come closer to the 48% tallied by Hubbard in 2007. In a 2015 two-party mayoral race, this suggests a gap of 10-12 points, not 28 – perhaps 55% for Gahan and 45% for the Republican challenger, and that’s still considerable.

But what if it isn’t a two-party race?

As we’ve seen, there have been two credible independent candidates since 1971, one of them (Garmon at 37%) much more credible than the other (Messer with 15%), but both serving to split the numerically inferior opposition to Democratic hegemony. What would happen if there were a strong third-party or independent candidacy capable of siphoning support from the numerically superior side, the Democrats — one to unite the opposition??

Say, 10% or so, or even Messer’s 15%?

That just might result in a genuine race; if not enough to win (Garmon came tantalizingly close), an independent might have enough to produce an unpredictable scrum, lowering Gahan’s vote total to a level where the GOP, for once, gets lucky.

The platform for such an independent candidacy would be the essence of simplicity: Be a real progressive, and not a Dixiecrat; if only the Democratic Party saw it this way, there’d be no need for this analysis.

Almost surely, there exists a local bloc of left-leaning voters grudgingly tending toward the Democratic candidate as the lesser of two evils – if they’re voting at all. Take them away from the Democratic Party candidate, add them to voters tired of both traditional “sides,” and mobilize some of the thousands of voters who’ve recently been absent. Disseminate the message through the more contemporary mediums whose surfaces have barely been scratched by graying Democratic grandees who (shall we say) obtain their votes in more traditional ways. Shoot out the lights of conventional thinking, and shake … don’t stir.

It could be vastly entertaining, don’t you think? Meanwhile, here are the mayoral tallies, 1971-2007, courtesy of an old cached Tribune article.

1971: Democratic challenger Warren Nash defeats Republican incumbent Garnett Inman, 9,097 to 6,180.
Total votes: 15,277
Percentage: 60 – 40

1975: Republican challenger Robert Real defeats Nash, 9,264 to 4,763.
Total votes: 14,027
Percentage: 66 – 34

1979: Real defeats Democratic challenger John Stein, 6,637 to 3,801.
Total votes: 10,438
Percentage: 64 -36

1983: Democratic challenger Charles Hunter defeats Real, 6,148 to 5,888.
Total votes: 12,036
Percentage: 51 – 49

1987: Real defeats Hunter, 6,005 to 5,467.
Total votes: 11,472
Percentage: 52 – 48

1991: Democrat Doug England (4,785) defeats independent Phyllis Garmon (4,154) and Republican Kenny Keilman (2,344).
Total votes: 11,283
Percentage: 42 – 37 – 21

1995: England defeats Real, 6,573 to 5,628.
Total votes: 12,201
Percentage: 54 – 46

1999: Republican challenger Regina Overton defeats England, 5,512 to 4,205.
Total votes: 9,717
Percentage: 57 – 43

2003: Democratic challenger James Garner defeats Overton, 5,971 to 3,893; 196 votes cast for Melanie Hughes (Libertarian).
Total votes: 10,600
Percentage: 59 – 39 – 2

2007: England defeats Randy Hubbard (R), 4,017 to 3,741.
Total votes: 7,758
Percentage: 52-48