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 The Political Round-Up

Mobile Democrats plan revival

By Chip Drago
Mobile Bay Times

Democrats will overtake the GOP in Mobile County within 10 to 15 years if the local party leadership does nothing, but could gain the upper hand as soon as 2020 with a sound, well-executed strategy, according to Mobile County Democratic Party Chairman Ben Harris.

“We want to go blue in two years,” said Harris, presiding over a recent gathering of Mobile area Democrats. “It’s a turnout thing and to some extent a registration thing.”

The group met Saturday morning at The Grind Small Business Development Center on Spring Hill Avenue with about 35 in attendance.

In the present lay of the land politically in Mobile County, the “real split” between the parties shows the GOP with an approximate 4,700 vote advantage in straight ticket voting, Harris said. The most up to date reading suggests a 50,004 to 45,331 split in favor of the GOP over Democrats among party stalwarts, Harris calculates.  

Harris pointed out that Democratic congressional nominee Robert Kennedy Jr. actually led in Mobile County for most of election night until GOP stronghold precincts reported, not that incumbent Republican Congressman Bradley Byrne was ever in jeopardy given the huge edge the GOP holds in Baldwin and other counties that comprise Alabama’s First Congressional District. Ultimately, Byrne defeated Kennedy in Mobile County alone by about 12,000 votes, 71,941, or 54.6 percent, to Kennedy's 59,853/45.4 percent.  

Where the 4,700 party split showed closer credence in a more fair context was in the contest for a vacant circuit judgeship between never-before-elected, non-incumbents, GOP nominee Brandy Hambright and Democratic contender Karlos Finley. Finley, too, led for most of the evening before finally falling to Hambright 67,741/52.0 percent to 62,474/48.0 percent. 

Granting special circumstances, it is within the realm of possibility for a Democrat to trounce a Republican in Mobile County, witness Doug Jones’ 56%/62,253 votes whipping of Roy Moore (42%/46,625 votes) in a December, 2017 special election for a U.S. Senate seat left vacant when Jeff Sessions joined Trump’s Cabinet as Attorney General. 

Nevertheless, probably the last time a Democrat won a contested Mobile County-wide elective office was in 2004 when incumbent Mobile County District Attorney John Tyson Jr. defeated Republican opponent Walter Honeycutt.

In normal times, the hurdle that Democrats must clear is voter turnout, said Harris. He cited the average Mobile County turnout as 44.5 percent. Mobile’s heavily Democratic precincts regularly show turnouts of 32 and 33 percent, he said.

“We can’t win if Republican districts are turning out at 55 percent (and Democrat precincts lag behind at rates nearly half of that),,” Harris said. “A pure turnout thing is all it is. Pure turnout.”

Harris pointed to deep blue precincts #26 Vigor High School with 2,731 registered voters and #27 Bishop State Community College with 2,872 registered voters where light turnout has hamstrung Democratic nominees. When strongholds such as these fail to deliver, turning out at around 30 percent, the Democrat is virtually doomed. 

Seeing the problem is not the same as solving the problem, especially one that has defied a variety of approaches over the years, party leaders acknowledged.

The party is purchasing Vote Builder, a software program designed to boost voter registration and should begin implementing the program this month, Harris said

“We have the people right now,” Harris said. “We just have to get them to the polls.”

 One of the problems for the Democratic Party in Mobile County in recent elections has been a campaign to enthuse voters that begins on Labor Day rather than months earlier.

Harris believes that dissatisfaction with President Donald Trump should serve as a brisk tailwind for Democratic turnout in 2020.

“Lord knows if they won’t turn out to get Trump out, I don’t know what we’ll do, “ he said.

While Democratic fortunes have flagged for 30 or more years in Mobile County, the party is much closer to being competitive than people realize, according to Harris. In fact, if the party could increase turnout just a few percentage points in certain precincts, not even up to the county average, losses would become wins, he said.

“If we could just get up to 44-48 percent here, we could go blue,” Harris said. “We don’t necessarily even have to get to the average turnout (to flip some elections.)”

Among the suggestions to improve Democratic performance locally were getting started sooner; a 5,000 or so distribution of Re-elect (U.S. Sen.) Doug Jones bumper stickers for immediate release to get the message out sooner; community clean-ups with hot dogs and soft drinks afterward; and door-to-door distribution of concise party talking points in targeted areas.

The local party can’t let opportunities pass by, said Kennedy, using as a current example the situation with City of Mobile public service workers who are disgruntled over pay and treatment. The party needs to forge a stronger, ongoing relationship with the community, he said. 

MCDEC is scheduled to meet Monday, Feb. 18 at 6 p.m. at the Grind Small Business Development Center, 3223 Springhill Avenue, near I-65.  

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