Early-Voting Turnout Figures Have Democrats Worried and Republicans in a Groove



When David Upton, one of the legendary spinmeisters of the Democratic Party, both local and statewide, tells you that early voting is going in a dangerous direction for Democrats, you have to take it seriously.

And that was indeed Upton’s message Wednesday in a telephone call from Nashville, where news reports indicate that the same phenomenon is occurring as in Memphis — crossover voting.

Only there it’s apparently a case of Democrats voting in the Republican gubernatorial primary. Here it’s just the opposite: Republicans are voting in the Democratic primary, presumably to influence the outcome of the Cohen-Herenton 9th District congressional race, then finishing up, most likely, with party-line votes for the countywide races on the ballot.

Upton, who’s in the state Capitol to try to arrange some antidotes to the situation in Memphis — mayhap a drop-in by presumptive Democratic gubernatorial nominee Mike McWherter to fire up the troops? — is tumbling out figures as we talk.

“It looks like early voting in Shelby County right now is 54 percent Democratic primary and 46 percent Republican,” Upton says. He then calculates that at least 2 percent of the Democratic primary vote is the aforesaid Republicans crossing over (others might reckon the number a mite higher).

That would bring the county’s turnout down to 52 percent Democrats and 48 percent Republicans, and Upton, not only a longtime state Democratic committee member, but increasingly one of his party’s major strategists, declares that ratio “too close for comfort.”

He goes on: “If it stays that way, everybody on the ballot” — meaning, every Democrat on the county ballot — “is in danger of losing.” And for Democrats, who own a sizeable demographic edge in Shelby County, that would be truly dismaying. Upton estimates that a comfortable turnout level to end up with would be 60 percent, a proportion he says was achieved by county Democrats in the general elections of 2006 and 2008.

Meanwhile, Lang Wiseman, the Shelby County Republican chairman, is feeling his oats. At this point, he isn’t conceding any party losses at any point on the countywide ballot. He probably wouldn’t, anyhow, but he seems to mean it when he says, “Things are looking very good for us right now.”

Van Turner, the county Democratic chairman, professes to be glad his counterpart is feeling so sanguine.
“There is a finite number of Republicans in Shelby County, and they’re going to run out of them. We’re already beginning to experience an up-tick in our voters, and that’s going to continue. And on Election Day we’ll be getting everybody we can to the polls. We’re going to have a whole bunch of winners, more than ever before.”

Turner’s tone is exhortatory and optimistic, Upton’s is blunt and admonitory, but both Democrats are on the same mission — to motivate the party’s troops to start turning out in larger numbers.

Meanwhile, finite number or not, Republicans in Shelby County seem to be fired up already — either because of the governor’s race between Bill Haslam, Zach Wamp, and Ron Ramsey, which grows ever more heated, or because of the aforementioned wish of a sizeable number to vote in the Cohen-Herenton race, or because GOP cadres are reading and hearing these accounts of a higher-than-usual Republican turnout like everybody else (for the record Upton says the extent of it has been exaggerated). And that may be breeding more of the same.

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