Politics » Politics Feature

In reading the May 1st election totals, it depends on what your eyes are letting you see.

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Quite innocently, but with a fair amount of confidence, I opined over the weekend in an online column at memphisflyer.com that turnout numbers in the just-concluded countywide primaries had, along with other factors, indicated that the much-discussed national "blue wave" favoring Democrats might be paying a visit in Shelby County in August when the county general election and state and federal primaries are held.

On the turnout score, there were 44,768 votes in the Democratic primary for Shelby County Mayor, and 30, 208 in the Republican primary. That's a difference of 14,000 in the marquee race, and — no offense meant to the gallant and underfunded warhorse Sidney Chism — he wasn't able to put up much of a fight against the well-supported ultimate Democratic nominee, state Senator Lee Harris.

Meanwhile, there had seemed to be a legitimate three-way race for much of the way in the hotly contested and well-financed GOP mayoral primary, involving Trustee David Lenoir, the eventual winner; County Commissioner Terry Roland; and Juvenile Court Clerk Joy Touliatos.

A non-race versus a battle royal, as it were. Yet 14,000 more voters turned out for the former than for the latter. A fact which suggested — but did not guarantee — a positive turn in Democratic fortunes for the next round, on August 2nd.

Yet a dissent to that idea was soon to come from several sources, including my good friends Steven Reid, a highly successful political consultant, and John Ryder, a bona fide GOP luminary, as well as from Ken Taylor, another consultant and a self-professed "kingmaker." All of them made much of the fact that the increase in primary voting over the turnout in the 2014 county primaries was larger for Republicans than it was for Democrats.

None of them pointed out the obvious: that four years ago there was a hot three-way race between Democratic mayoral contenders Deidre Malone, Steve Mulroy, and Kenneth Whalum (all "name" candidates), whereas, on the Republican side, incumbent Republican County Mayor Mark Luttrell was opposed by Ernest Lunati, a prototypical non-entity best known, if at all, for a prior pornography conviction. No contest on the GOP side, in other words. Nothing to stimulate turnout.

Honestly, the GOP primary-turnout figures of 2014 would have no direction to go but up in 2018. But in the general election of 2014, Mayor Luttrell unsurprisingly generated enough votes, including significant Democratic crossovers, to win out over Democratic nominee Malone. On that reversal of fortune from primary to general, do Messrs. Reid, Ryder, and Taylor stake their case — and never mind the other factors I mentioned in my wrap-up piece, including the far larger number of Democratic candidates on the August ballot — a possible clue as to relatively greater commitment this year among Democratic Party activists.

We'll see what we'll see in August, and certainly local Republicans have a shot at closing the voter gap revealed on May 1st. They'll have a vigorous GOP governor's race to generate turnout, for one thing. Their candidates are likely to have more money, for another, and it was disproportionately greater financing, for example, that may have allowed the primary victory of promising newcomer Brandon Morrison over incumbent District 13 Republican Commissioner Steve Basar — not necessarily the superior but unspecified "campaigning" attributed to her (and yes, Morrison, largely unknown previously, is a "her") by pundit Ryder.

It is hard to disregard the warning given his troops, at the very beginning of the current political season by Shelby County Republican chairman Lee Mills: "For years, we've been lucky. Since 2010, we've been lucky in Shelby County. Thanks to the leadership we've had in the past, we've had good organization, and we've had good candidates. The Democrats, on the other hand, have had just the opposite. They haven't had good candidates, and they haven't had good organization. But for the first time in a long time they have both of those things, okay? They have a good organization. They have a good leader. And they have decent candidates at the top that'll drive all the way down to the bottom. So we have got to turn our voters out. There's no getting around it."

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