Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Roundtree Victory Shouldn't Be a Huge Shock

Wednesday, August 22, 2012
Augusta, GA
By The Outsider

The results of last night's Democratic primary runoff for the Richmond County Sheriff's race left a lot of people shocked throughout the CSRA. Cpt. Scott Peebles appeared to be a shoe-in, coming within just 3.4% of winning the nomination outright on July 31st in a 4 man race. So it seemed that all Peebles had to do was get his supporters back to the polls yesterday and pick up just enough of Silas' supporters to put him over the top. And Sheriff Strength's long awaited endorsement was supposed to seal the deal and catapult Peebles to an easy victory. It seemed like a simple task with the huge money advantage for the Peebles campaign, but Roundtree came from behind and  stunned Peebles supporters and many political observers by winning the race  with a margin of just slightly more than 1%.

But perhaps this result should not be such a big shock after all. The key to winning a runoff is all about getting your supporters back to the polls and picking up just enough votes from the candidates who didn't make the cut from the the first round of voting. It appears that Roundtree was successful in doing both. In fact, Roundtree gained nearly 2000 votes in the runoff. It appears he got all of his supporters back to the polls and picked up all of John Ivey's supporters and even got a couple of hundred of Silas voters to turn out in his favor. On the other hand, Scott Peebles lost nearly 700 votes in the runoff from the general primary. The bottom line is that Roundtree simply did a better job getting his supporters to turn out yesterday at the polls.

The Peebles campaign fell into the trap that plagues many presumptive front-runners going into runoffs -- complacency. Not so much that the campaign itself was complacent, in fact Peebles held two well attended fundraisers in the last week of the campaign, but there seemed to be an air of inevitability among many of his supporters that he would win, and that may have kept enough of them home to hand the victory to Roundtree. In fact, exactly 674 of Peebles supporters decided not to go back to the polls or switched their vote yesterday. That cost him the election.

The delayed Strength endorsement may have cut both ways, adding to the sense of inevitability among Peebles supporters that he had the race in the bag. That may have made some voters decide not to trek to the polls yesterday thinking it would be an easy win. Strength's endorsement would have had a greater impact for Peebles before the July 31st general primary. It may have given him the extra push to win the primary outright with no runoff. Peebles was only 3.4% of the vote away from achieving that on July 31st. The delayed Strength endorsement may have fired up the Roundtree supporters and energized them to get to the polls yesterday while making Peebles supporters even more complacent that he was the inevitable winner.

Though probably not the deciding factor, the timing of the the GRU name controversy also did the Peebles campaign no favors. What was the hottest local political race of the decade had pretty much drifted off the radar of the local media once the GRU name controversy hit. If you opened up an Augusta Chronicle, turned on the local news, and listened to talk radio in the last week and a half, it has been nearly all GRU all the time. Though certainly an important issue, the naming controversy did divert public attention away from the sheriff's race at just the time the Peebles campaign needed people to be focused on it--the final week. The last week is the most critical period for a campaign in their get out the vote effort, but most people's minds were on the GRU controversy in the final days and not on the sheriff's race. That made it even more difficult for a campaign that had complacency already settling in with their supporters. We have previously written about how the GRU controversy had a similar impact on the 12th congressional GOP runoff.

There also seems to have been more preoccupation over the GRU controversy among likely Peebles supporters than those who would likely support Roundtree. GRU has dominated the pages of the Augusta Chronicle, which endorsed Peebles. GRU has also been a hot topic on conservative talk radio shows which would likely have a listening audience made up of more Peebles supporters than those for Roundtree. The university name controversy has had noticeably less coverage in the black oriented media. They have covered it, but not to the same degree. In fact, Ben Hasan, a leading figure in  Augusta's black-oriented media with his Urban Pro Weekly newspaper, came out in favor of the new name. The Metro Courier, another prominent black oriented weekly paper, also gave more coverage to the sheriff's race in the final week than the GRU controversy. Augusta's black community was more focused on the sheriff's race when it mattered most -- the final week -- when the rest of Augusta was consumed by the GRU controversy. Again, this may not have been the deciding factor in the outcome, but it was certainly a contributing factor.

If voting falls along racial lines in the November General Election like it seems to have for the Democratic Sheriff's runoff, then Roundtree should have little trouble waltzing into the Sheriff's office. He will, however be facing a fierce competitor in Republican Freddie Sanders, who might be able to at least keep it close. But today, the Peebles campaign has to be wondering what could have been --- if only they had fired up their supporters more in the last few days of the campaign --- if only the media was more focused  on the sheriff's race like it was for the July 31st primary instead of other issues. Now Peebles, who many observers considered the most qualified candidate in history for the job, will be watching this one from the sidelines. **


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