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Chip Drago
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A post-election question: Whither
GOP, Dems in Mobile County?

By Chip Drago
Mobile Bay Times
Tuesday's elections results had Democrats chortling nationally, cheering at the state level and hopeful in Mobile County. The GOP was perforce gloomy, poker-faced and satisfied respectively.

What did the voters say about the future of the political parties here, especially in light of the losses of incumbent state Sen. Gary Tanner (D) in south Mobile, Chip Herrington (D) countywide in an energetic campaign for juvenile judge and north Mobile County's rejection of incumbent state Sen. Pat Lindsey who nevertheless used his strength outside of Mobile County to win re-election?

Here goes from either side of the aisle:

"Consider this:

Chip Herrington worked as hard or harder than any local candidate that I have ever seen. Also, Gary Tanner ran fantastic media and he actually defined the issues.

In addition, nationally, we, the Republicans, took a drubbing. This translated somewhat to the state and local level. Also, the Democratic consultants -- particularly Rick Heartsill, and Joe Perkins (Matrix
Group) -- consistently out-perform our Republican consultants.

Given these facts, (Ben) Brooks and (Edmond) Naman still won. I think this proves that it is and will continue to be difficult for Democrats to win county wide in Mobile.

If the Republicans had fielded a candidate in a certain circuit court race, I think we could have won that. Also, I don't think a Democrat can win in south or west Mobile county."
-- JDS, local Republican official

"I’m not sure how much I would read into the Dems’ losses in Mobile County, although it did seem to fly in the face of what happened elsewhere across the nation last night. Even though they are “non-partisan” races, no one could argue that either Sam Jones or Mike Dow were anything other than Democrats. Folks like Vivian Beckerle and Matt Tew pulled about 35% of the vote… the old “automatic 35%.” But the Tanner race was very close, and other Dems polled as high as 47% in Mobile County contested races last night (not to mention Vivian Figures’ 71%). When the Dems can turn out their base, they can do well in Mobile County… the lack of close races locally, other than Senate Dist. 35… seems to have left the Dems less than motivated to get out the vote."
-- DEL, local political consultant

"The Herrington situation, in my opinion, comes down to the fact that his candidacy was born of anti-(incumbent Juvenile Judge Pam) Millsaps sentiment and when that was gone, it hurt his campaign considerably.

I am not particularly surprised by Lindsey since his district is a minor part of Mobile County and it is an area closely connected to Baldwin County.

Tanner is somewhat more disturbing, but I think that both this race and the Herrington race were impacted by the boneheaded decision of the Democratic Committee to replace a black sheriff’s candidate with a white candidate (who has the personality of a used postage stamp) when a black candidate was available, thus removing a substantial motivation for many blacks to vote. If you look at the numbers, the blacks voted in those areas that were safe for black candidates, essentially did not vote in the predominately white areas and even in the black areas, voted in smaller numbers than they would have had there been an important county-wide race with a black candidate.

Democrats are going to have to work harder and smarter. We are going to have to realize -- and God knows why nobody has figured this out -- that union members are not the dyed-in-the-wool Democrats of the 1950’s and that holding meetings in the Union Hall only sends a message that we have not moved out of that time.

Additionally, despite the 'mouth noises,' the local committee does not, in large part, actually work for candidates. We, locally, are faced with a bunch of people who are essentially, not Democrats, but they are members of the 'we are not Republican party,' except when there is something in it for us.

I think of it in this way: Most local Democrats, like all Republicans, would not be a signer of the Declaration of Independence. They will not pledge 'their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor' to get candidates elected.

We need us a Huey Long! Long live the 'Kingfish.'"
-- MPF, longtime Democratic lawyer

"There are many important lessons to be learned in this round of elections, and the most important does not have to do with partisanship.  Statewide, the people clearly voted for candidates -- not parties -- and that falls in line with my two rules for winning statewide general elections. First you must tell the people what you have done and what you are going to do for them. You CANNOT run on party or simply philosophical rantings -- that will win you a primary, but not a general. Second, you must win your party primary handily. Forget the business about party leaders (and their donors) wanting to believe that one day Alabama will be solidly R or D...Alabama will always be the same state that elected Fob James as both a Democrat and a Republican, regardless of how we vote in presidential elections.

Going through each statewide race would be silly -- there will be a thousand different opinions and each will have a certain validity.  Regardless of opinions, I think these two rules are a must to have general success at that level.

On the local level, those same lessons apply, but you see more anomalies here than there.

On a purely professional, analytical level and with all compliments to those who ran hard and in some cases fierce races, here is an analysis of the races for what it is worth. Herrington ran a fine race, but never got to television. He spent far too much money on radio, and his choice of Dow as a spokesperson was a certain negative. As the Democratic nominee, he should have been running to the right - not solidifying the left. That leads to the second point, Herrington missed the opportunity to campaign during the primary. Most people hope to be uncontested in a primary (I'm sure Luther Strange would have preferred to be uncontested), but building a base comes early, not late. Finally, Herrington allowed his opponent too many 'unmatched' opportunities. The key to a successful campaign is to minimize your mistakes, meet your opponent step for step and lurch forward when they have exposed an opportunity.

Brooks on the other hand did this. While there was nothing specifically impressive about the Brooks campaign, and in general there are probably a list of 50 things that Ben Brooks himself will have to complain about, he got things done. The ads weren't the best, they weren't the most polished, but they responded in a timely fashion and on point. Football isn't always pretty, but we don't rate touchdowns on looks -- 6 points is 6 points. As I review the PBP (precinct by precinct) results, it is clear that the lower turn out hurt Tanner more than Brooks and ultimately cost him the race. In all but one of the precincts that Tanner carried in 2002, the decrease in voter turn out was greater than the average decrease of 12%. That is not to take away from (consultants Steve) Raby and (Rick) Heartsill.  They did a phenomenal job with message, but driving the ball down the field is only half the job -- scoring in the red zone is key to winning. Even though Tanner could not turn out the vote in the critical areas, I know that this was no surprise to them and it was their greatest concern. Most important note about this race is the shockingly similar -- almost identical -- numbers between the results of '06 and '02.  In this election, Brooks beat Tanner 50.9% to 49.1% and in 2002 Tanner beat (George) Callahan 50.9% to 49.1%. This is NOT a strong Republican district, nor a strong Democratic district, but probably the most balanced district in all of Alabama. A deflating reality for R's and a concern not many will notice, but again a point that general elections are NOT about partisanship, but rather candidates.

Lindsey followed the same rules. Pat's first ads were A+ in quality (they even made Pat look good), but later the quality fell as they were forced into a rapid response cycle. Lindsey did an excellent job of defining McMillan long before McMillan could define Pat. Considering the counties and demographics of the areas in that district, that race is a HUGE loss to the R's who figured it was a 'lock' to win, but again it just goes to prove the point that general elections are NOT about partisanship. McMillan was an outsider, and his attacks on Lindsey came across as defensive but only because Lindsey spent almost two full weeks defining McMillan, while McMillan laid silent on TV. This race only proved that the R's took too much for granted, and where that almost cost them the Senate 35 seat (but were saved by Brooks' work ethic) in this race it certainly created too much comfort and set out to war a little too late.

Add in the national issues going on and this becomes even more stark in reality ... life is less about partisanship this year and more about candidates and philosophies BUT beware, as soon as this is read, that will be changing and we will be back to the war of Elephants and Asses -- oops, I meant donkeys.
-- DBB, political consultant

"Well, the election results certainly don't bode well for future Democrats running in Baldwin, and North Mobile counties.

This year was an aberration, but two years from now, the combination of a return to normalcy, and two years of watching the fanatic left push its whacky Mini-Bolshevik agenda, will assure that just about any sane mammal running as a Republican will have a good chance of winning. 

They (Democrats) should enjoy the power while they have it and should be very concerned about an overwhelming reversal."
-- TRB, veteran GOP consultant

"These and other poor showings by Democrats in Mobile County do not bode well for the future of the Democratic Party in our area. While the Democrats swept nationally and were very competitive statewide, Lower Alabama appears to be somewhat insulated from these trends.  The result is that it will be all the more difficult for the Democrats to recruit competitive candidates for the next election cycle, compounding their problems. Short of it is, if you are a Democrat and want a political career, you need to head for 'bluer' pastures."
-- NPD, pollster

"I don't see those losses as any long term anti-Dem sentiment in Mobile County. I think it was just a repudiation of those three personalities. At the same time the Dems are in almost total disarray in the county. This does not hold true in the African-American strongholds though.
I believe the final county total vote for Tyson will manifest what a strong showing any Dem can make when running a countywide race as opposed to districts."
-- BPT, retired advertising exec

"I feel each race went on its own dynamics. Regarding Herrington, I felt that it was Naman who worked very hard and he had to do it to win the race. With his natural constituency of the Lebanese Catholics supporting him and with his Republican constituency supporting him, hard work was required to tap into all of them and make them feel that he needed them. I think he did it. And by the way, I never met a Zoghby that I did not like. Just that one family alone can do a world of good for you. And it seems that I was always around a Naman either in my home room or a class below or above. Herrington would have beaten almost anybody else that the Repubs put up. I am amazed that they made such a smart decision.

I feel Brooks ran against Tanner the same way that Tanner ran against Callahan and both succeeded in their time. In that district, if you did not do enough during your term to reach out to your constituency and if someone runs against you that is well funded and reaches into most of the district’s groups, then that person can win. I felt that both Tanner and Callahan did not do much during their terms in Montgomery. Each focused more on Montgomery and less on Tillman’s Corner etc.  Perhaps I am wrong but I compared them to (ex-state Sen. Steve) Windom who did a lot with his constituents. His ads reflected this fact.  Thus, Windom was re-elected in '90 and '94. Neither Tanner nor Callahan were re-elected. Brooks will have to have good constituent relations first and sponsor a few good bills or one great one (Windom had tort reform which culminated in '94) or he will be vulnerable in four years."
-- DFE, attorney/political analyst

"I think that Ken Melman said it best: "The Republicans left their core values."

Our county commission is a great example, revenues at an all time high, and got there in a hurry due to Katrina, yet no tax cut.

This gives the Democrats an opportunity."
-- OTH, GOP leader

"Given our "Glorious Victory" (which falls in the "be careful what you ask for" category) it's hard for me to hang much crepe. Especially since apart from the belly of the beast (or, at least, it's large intestine) Mobile --  the state races saw some amazing insight by the electorate. Sue Bell Cobb was the most important race in Alabama this year. Even hard core Democrats like me were tempted to break party discipline and vote for Riley and Cochran. Riley's tax stand showed guts at the beginning of his term and should be rewarded for that alone, much more so the fact that he is running a clean administration. I thought Baxley was rather hypocritical to attack him for that. Cochran -- along with Dow, Jones, Dodge, etc. -- has been at the top of my list of local politicians that showed Mobile has actually turned the corner.

What has been 'wrong'  with our party for years has been that the folks that want to run really only have one choice. It takes guts (or ire) for someone like Chip or John (Tyson, who because of his law enforcement role was at the same time busy alienating his base) to mount a campaign. Remember though, it used to be the same for the GOP. I can remember when the Republicans used to meet in Mobile and Baldwin County like secret cells of the Communist Party and just about anyone that wanted to could run on their ticket. The GOP started gaining real power when they were taken over by folks like Jack Edwards and Randy Butler, progressives who were appalled at the excesses and corruption of the Dems and wanted to change things for the better and sought to make their party a more inclusive movement. Hopefully the election will encourage more people like Herrington to run and will reinvigorate our base. That's why you get a "Naman" (speaking figuratively) dysfunctionally running as a Republican. Yet, look at who put him in there and tell me those aren't the folks who form our base everywhere else."
-- VLH, Democratic attorney

"I don't believe Tanner and Lindsey are instructive. Those areas are and have been marginally Republican parts of the county. Herrington's fate must be sobering for the Dems. His early start and solid campaign suggest that in any county contest between candidates of equal stature, sufficient fundraising and neutral coattails elsewhere, the Republican will win most of the time.

Tanner ran a great campaign. Interestingly, if he had won, it would have been George (Callahan)'s fault. During the last redistricting, he (Callahan) was completely disengaged and allowed the district to become 10% more Democratic. Had he fought, he could have kept the damage well below what occurred."
-- IDC, GOP developer

"The Democrats are dead. They have no leadership and no candidates.   But Herrington simply got steamrolled by the Naman family, friends, network. Herrington was probably going to defeat Pam Millsaps. Naman is the one of the very, very few who could have gotten into a race so late and won so decisively. Without the Naman name, it couldn't have been done. Nobody knew Herrington.

People just don't like Tanner. He's OK at the start, then there is just something about him.-- "Would you buy a used car from this man?"    People in Mobile County (except Citronelle) don't even know Lindsey represents some of the county. The McMillan's have been around a long time and active in Mobile County a long time."
-- FCE, onetime Mobile County candidate

"Starting with the last first, the defeat of Tanner is one more example of how bitter and evenly divided are the races in that Senate district and often in House 105. I cannot help but wonder about the extent to which the Baldwin County Republican strength has influenced Mobile County by attracting such strong interest on the part of  Republican state-wide candidates to vote-rich Baldwin and thus the entire SW Alabama area. I saw evidence of a great deal of straight Republican voting. That is the only explanation for the vote for the Vivian Figures' opponent in mixed wards.(See Murphy). Whether state or national, different people vote in November elections.

The turn out for Democrats is going to depend on Democratic office holders, party leadership and whether or not the national victories Tuesday bring Democratic voters out of hiding. The elections of Cobb, Folsom and Parker are interesting.

Enough. Who knows? Who knows what effect negative ads had on which races?
If I may quote a friend from years ago who two days after a bitter election said to me, "If you win, everything you did was right; if you lose, everything you did was wrong."
-- AWC, political adviser

"The answer is simple, presently there are more Republicans than Democrats in Mobile County. For the future the Dems will need to have more people in their party to win county seats. This has been the case for the past few elections on open county-wide races. This might be the case for judges in the Democratic party, but sitting judges don't get opposition for the most part, so it's not "tested" in those races. Take stock of the individuals who have won county-wide in the past and it shakes out. Sheriff, Probate Judge, now Circuit Court. Only recent Dem. was Marilyn Wood in Revenue but she was in the position at the time of race. Maybe if it had been open it would have been different. Open seats go Rep. lately on county-wide votes. Tyson won county wide yesterday. He was the only Democratic candidate I think to do so. (Probably because of being local) Has there been a Democratic candidate elected to an open position recently? They'll need to vacate a seat to allow for appointment,prior to elections if they want to hold on to the position in the future. ( Like what happened in the Revenue Department) Hope it doesn't shake out like that, but I'm sure for now they see the writing on the wall."
-- EIQ, former elected official

"This is going to offend some friends and other well-intentioned folks in the county (Democratic) party, but here goes:

I think it speaks most urgently to the need for a functioning county party apparatus. The current outfit is more of a hindrance than a help with constant squabbling and infighting, by a group largely more concerned with winning internal battles than winning elections (Joe and Jeanetta Mitchell are excluded from this criticism -- they work hard and do a good job for the ticket). 

The sad fact of the matter is that the MCDEC has been for some time and remains not much more than a qualifying mechanism for candidates, as opposed to a mechanism to organize Democrats to vote for Democrats in the general election -- a concept which seems to be an anathema to the current bunch (Joe and Jeanetta - excepted again).

Tanner, Lindsey, and Herrington were on their own and had to fend entirely for themselves during a cycle with a strong Repub. gov and very weak Dem candidate at the top of the ticket. The political organizing handbooks say an effective grassroots organization can get you 3-5% in a close election. This would include phones, door-to-door, precinct captains, etc. etc.  Mobile County Dems did none of that (they did however spend an hour debating whether the filling of committee vacancies should be the first order of business or not at the last committee meeting before the elections). 

I believe Democrats are still viable in Mobile. As challengers, Tyson, Folsom, Sue Bell all did just fine and I thought Chip made a fine showing for himself. Sam Cochran would have won by the same margin had he chosen to run as a Democrat, but why would he? Which county party had more to offer him? Which had the dollars and organization to make his job as a candidate easier? I'm pretty sure it wasn't team Beckerle - God bless 'em.

I think its probably time for a quasi-party apparatus (not unlike the Democratic Leadership Council) to step up to the plate and take responsibility for doing the things the county Dem party can't, or won't do -- like fundraising, voter contact, electoral targeting, and all the other things that (surprise, surprise) make candidate recruitment easier, and actually help elect Democrats on election day. 

While working for the state Democratic party during the '98 cycle, I traveled to and counseled with all 67 county Democratic executive committees and I've got to say that very few were as feckless, myopic, and ineffective as the bunch we have right here in Mobile. Its a shame and there are lots of good people on the committee, but as a committee and overall, Mobile Democrats need to do some soul searching (and) develop a functioning entity whose purpose and goals center on helping Democrats get elected. The Democrats I know don't like losing, and right now, the county Republican party is kicking our butts.

There, I feel better now."
-- PHS, Mobile Democrat.

"Two factors helped Democrats in Alabama this year, and yet their victories were sparse. One, there was a strong Democrat wave nationally. Two, this is a gubernatorial year when Democrats do much better in Alabama than in a Presidential year.

In Alabama, these two factors did not affect Bob Riley at all. Below that, they helped Jim Folsom over the top, along with Sue Bell Cobb, Jan Cook, and Susan Parker.

These factors also kept many of the appellate races close for the Democrats, as well as John Tyson close for AG.

In Mobile County, all county-wide Republicans won despite the two factors.

The future of politics in Mobile County favors white Republicans county-wide and in GOP districts and favors Black Democrats in Democrat districts."
-- APA, retired GOP activist.

"It is hard to run as a Democrat because the registered voters are 2 to 1 Repub in Mobile. I can promise you we will field better and more qualified candidates, or we (local Democrats) won't put a nominee in the race.

The (Chip) Herrington race (for juvenile judge) was very disappointing.  (The party leadership) hurt Herrington by fooling with DaVon Grey, thus having (incumbent GOP Juvenile Judge Pam) Millsaps disqualified. (Grey won the Democratic primary for sheriff but was disqualified in a paperwork snafu.)

(State Sen. Gary) Tanner ran a campaign on issues he should have already dealt with during his tenure in the Senate. He also placed his campaign into the hands of slackers."
-- PBR, local Democratic committeeman

"I will speak only about Tanner and Lindsey on this point. I think voters are more inclined to consider the level of engagement a candidate is willing to commit to the community once they take office. As I was campaigning for Ben Brooks throughout the county, the only references to his opponent were comments like "I don't really know him;" "I haven't seen him;" "He didn't attend our function." Lindsey's district is huge and he has been in office a long time. He has great relationships with many key people but I don't think he has had as close contact with the grassroots constituency in the past four years as he had in previous terms.

People want their representatives to be accessible and the best way to convince folks that you are accessible is to be present in the local community as often as possible.Otherwise, you won't be as aware of local concerns and interests as you should be."
-- OED, prospective candidate

"This town has, in my humble and rather politically naive opinion, become much more Republican in the past decade or more. And the Democratic party has not been nearly as well-organized as a Democratic candidate might prefer."
-- LJY, Mobile judge

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