Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Outlook for Republican Fortunes In Congressional District 7; Could Carlos May Pull Off an Upset?

Last night, Carlos May, Republican candidate for the 7th District Congress, stopped by the monthly meeting of the Republican Liberty Caucus. It was my first chance to meet Mr. May. He's an impressive, energetic young man. As a former candidate myself, I always admire people who are willing to thrown their hat into the ring. Unless you have been a candidate, I don't think you can properly appreciate the amount of personal sacrifice involved in running for office, especially in a district that requires an enormous amount of work.

As a former candidate, someone who has worked on several campaigns and taught campaign strategy, here is my take on the district.

THE DISTRICT: Unlike many Republicans, I don't see the 7th District as unwinnable. Yes, it would take a good candidate, a lot of luck and an aligning of most of the planets, but it is winnable, especially in the upcoming mid-term election which history tells us will provide a backlash against the Democrats

Hopefully, Mr. May has done some homework studying the numbers in the district. A good campaign does not view the election as one big war, but rather a precinct by precinct battle. The goal (for a Republican candidate) is to move the numbers from the Democratic side of the equation to the Republican side. To understand the numbers in the district you compare apples to apples, oranges to oranges. Presidential election years have much higher turnout than other years. Turnout rates can make an enormous difference on outcome. 2008 gets compared to 2012. 2006 gets compared to 2010.

If Mr. May does this, he will find some encouraging news. The district is more Republican in off-year elections like 2010. In the last comparable election, 2006, the margin of victory for Julia Carson was 74,750 to 64,304. That is about 23 1/2 votes per precinct when you spread out the victory margin to the now 445 precincts that make up District 7. If Republican challenger Eric Dickerson could have flipped just 12 votes in each precinct his title would have been "Congressman." That is even before you consider that history says 2010, being the first mid-term election for an incumbent President, will be a great year for the out-party, the Republicans.

Here's some discouraging news, however. Julia Carson historically ran below the Democratic baseline. In other words there were Democrats who would vote straight ticket, except to scratch to vote against Julia Carson. There is little evidence Republicans, on the other hand, scratch for Julia Carson or even for Andre Carson. Andre though is showing signs of being a better candidate than his grandmother though. In 2006, Julia Carson received 53.7% of the vote, about the same total as Democrats running county-wide, which included several heavy Republican areas not in the 7th district. By 2008, Andre Carson was running several points ahead of those county wide candidates, winning 65% of the vote when compared to the Democratic county-wide baseline of 60%. Andre Carson won in 2008 by over 80,000 votes. He probably ran at about the 2008 baseline for District 7.

2008 could well turn out to be an aberration. Certainly 2006 is the appropriate yardstick since it is the last comparable election in terms of turnout. A wise candidate though would set the bar high enough that there is room for error. Mr. May should target changing the election results by 40 votes each precinct, which would require a flipping of 20 votes for each of the 590 precincts. That is a doable task.

REACHING OUT TO COUNTY ORGANIZATION REPUBLICANS: Outside of doing so to get by slating, Mr. May would be wise to not spend a great deal of time seeking the endorsement of county GOP leadership, who for lack of a better term, I will call "The Old Guard." While the Old Guard likes to have their rings kissed, they will offer him not one lick of help. Worse yet, they will become an obstacle. They will tell donors the 7th District is not winnable and to not contribute to a May candidacy. They have done that to other 7th District candidates and did it to mayoral candidate Greg Ballard in 2007. Before he stabbed them in their back almost immediately upon his election, Ballard's support came almost exclusively from the Republican Reform wing of county party. The Old Guard wanted nothing to do with him until the end when they saw the numbers switch. The Republic Reform wing of the local GOP has grown even larger, more outspoken and more organized, than it was in 2007.

THE NEW MEDIA: One good thing that is in favor of outsider, underfunded candidates like Mr. May is that the cost of candidates to reach out to supporters and potential voters has plummeted in the past decade with such advances as email and social networking sites. Further, even for paid media, there are now a number of cheap alternatives. In my 2000 House campaign, we were running cable TV spots for, literally, just a few dollars per spot. (I was fortunate in that my brother is a TV producer so it didn't cost me to produce the spots.) While the cost of cable advertising has risen, it is still much cheaper than the regular network advertising. While TV viewers have turned off network television, they have increasingly tuned into to cable television networks. Yet political candidates are still old school - buying incredibly expensive network TV spots that are seen by fewer and fewer voters. That's the only game they know.

CONCLUSION: I think Republicans have to be realistic about the difficulties in District 7. But realism does not include a conclusion the district is absolutely unwinnable and to simply write it off. The key is to write a winnable game plan and then to methodically execute it. And a little luck along the way wouldn't hurt.


varangianguard said...

Paul, you sound like a sports fan whose team still has a mathematical chance of getting into a playoffs. Not a likely chance, mind you, a mathematical one.

No matter how good the candidate, no matter how much money is injected into the campaign, no matter what is going on outside of Indiana, an incumbent has a tremendous inherent advantage over any challenger.

This race is Rep. Carson's to win, or lose. What anybody else does is incidental.

The same goes for the 4th and the 5th US Congressional districts.

Like the incumbents, or not, they get the advantages provided by the current exclusivity of the two party system and by districting gerrymandering by those very same parties.

M Theory said...

I've called and emailed Carlos May to talk with him almost a month ago. In my message to him I told him I would like to give him a copy of the Fair Tax book and ask him to co-sponsor the Fair Tax if he is elected.

The Fair Tax is popular.

I never heard a word back from Carlos or his handlers even though I left more than one message. I'd like to think that Carlos May is assessible.

As it stands from my perspective right now, Andre Carson is more assessible to me than the candidate Carlos May.

The candidate Carlos May leaves me unimpressed.

I don't need another unasssible politician representing me.

Paul K. Ogden said...

No, Varan, the 5th and 4th Disticts are unwinnable for Democrats. The 5th District (Burton) is one of the most lopsided congressional districts held by a Republican in the country. The 4th District is just marginally less Republican than the 5th.

If you study the numbers, the 4th and 5th districts are not even remotely in the same ballpark as the 7th District. The difference between the two sets of disticts? In a good Republican year, a Republican can come within striking distance in the 7th. In a good Democrat year, a Democrat will still not be in striking distance in the 4th or 5th.

There is a strong likelihood of a good Republican year in 2010. That would place May or another Republican candidate withing 10,000 or so votes even without lifting a finger. I certainly don't agree that this is simply a race for Andre Carson to lose. Even if he runs a decent campaign, hee could get swept up in a bad Democrat year and there be just enough votes to put a Republican over the top. Again, the district is much more Republican in non-presidential election years.

You're right about the advantages of being an incumbent.

Your sports analogy about mathematically still having a chance to get into the playoffs is a pretty good one. I make clear that you'd basically need an aligning of the planets for a Republican to win the 7th. That does occasionally happen.

AJ Feeney-Ruiz said...

I agree with your assessment. Precinct by precinct is how we'll win this. I was taught that strategy in D.C. and never understood why it was not executed here inthe 7th. I would love to discuss this more with you if/when you have free time.

Fair Tax,
I assure you that Carlos will be accessible to you. We have only last week moved from the organizational phase of our campaign to the messaging phase. You should have an email in your inbox elaborating a bit more, but in short we would also love to sit down with you as we begin developing our platform.

At the present, the new campaign phone patches through to me directly at 317-455-5MAY. You can also reach me by email at aj@ our web domain of www.carlosmayforcongress.com.

I look forward to the conversations ahead.
AJ Feeney-Ruiz
Campaign Manager
Carlos May for Congress

M Theory said...

Carlos Mays' campaign manager followed up with me today by phone and email (after reading my comments here) and was very apologetic.

Thanks for that. I feel better now :)

I'm looking forward to getting Carlos May the Fair Tax book to read. It's a fast read and well written. Hopefully he will read it sometime over Thanksgiving break. I read the entire book in one evening.

M Theory said...


Mike Pence and Dan Burton co-sponored the Fair Tax.

For a list of all the other Fair Tax co-sponsors in Congress, go to:


varangianguard said...

Is having Reps. Pence and Burton in favor of this supposed to make me feel better, M? It doesn't.