Tune In, Turn On, Turn Out

With the electoral dust finally settling over the 11th Congressional District’s GOP primary, the picture is becoming clearer as to just how voter turnout — and the lack of it — affected the race.

The overall numbers were down from 2008, when 40,855 Republicans voted in a three-way primary featuring Carl Mumpower, Spence Campbell and John Armor. And though that was a hot year for politics all around — the November general election saw the highest participation in four decades — the relative lack of voter interest is not unusual for an off year with no presidential contest. In the May 4 primary, 34,815 Republicans voted in the 11th District, which includes Buncombe, Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Henderson, Jackson, Macon, Madison, McDowell, Polk, Rutherford, Swain, Transylvania and Yancey counties.

They’re not evenly spread out, of course. The lion’s share of the district’s Republicans live in Buncombe and Henderson counties, which claim 47,735 and 31,447 respectively. Typically, the key to winning a GOP primary in the 11th is to control one of those two counties and to split off enough votes in the other. But this was not a typical year.

First of all, the field was unusually crowded. Six candidates were seeking the nomination: Dan Eichenbaum, a Murphy ophthalmologist; Jake Howard, retired from the Broward County, Fla., Sheriff’s Office; Ed Krause, an attorney who lives in McDowell County; Jeff Miller, a Henderson County businessman; Greg Newman, an attorney and former mayor of Hendersonville; and Kenny West, a Macon County insurance salesman.

Miller prevailed, with just enough votes (14,032) to capture the nomination. In races with more than two candidates, one of them must achieve at least a 40 percent plurality to avoid a runoff and declare victory under North Carolina law. Miller narrowly managed this, garnering 40.3 percent of the vote. Unless a high number of irregularities are discovered (improbable) and the nearly 200 or so uncounted provisional ballots across the 11th district are 1) mostly Republican, 2) are not thrown out due to error, and 3) they trend virtually all against Miller (very improbable), it’s extremely unlikely that a runoff will be necessary or that the outcome will change. Eichenbaum finished second on May 4 with 11,893 votes (34.16 percent); Newman collected 4,084 votes (11.73 percent); West secured 2,767 (7.95 percent); Krause received 1,250 (3.59 percent); and Howard mustered just 789 votes (2.27 percent).

What’s particularly interesting is how and where local Republicans turned out to vote. Henderson County led the pack with 10,526 voters, or about 34 percent. Buncombe County, which boasts the district’s highest concentration of Republicans, managed a mere 13.8 percent turnout, edging only Jackson County, which was dead last with 12.4 percent.

Those dynamics had an enormous effect. A superior Republican Party organization in Henderson County, coupled with Miller’s favorite-son status, amplified the county’s impact on the outcome. In many ways, Miller put Henderson County on the map a few years back when he founded HonorAir, a program that flies aging World War II veterans to Washington. For his efforts, Miller was awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal — one of only about 100 people to receive the award in the last 40 years.

Buncombe County’s abysmal Republican turnout can be attributed to its relatively weak party organization and inability to raise money for get-out-the-vote efforts. And while Eichenbaum carried Buncombe and seven other counties to Miller’s six, the numbers simply weren’t high enough to make a difference. But if more Buncombe Republicans had voted, Eichenbaum, not Miller, might well be the nominee.

What support Eichenbaum did achieve in Buncombe County was directly attributable to the work of the local Tea Party group, which endorsed him early on and campaigned on his behalf. But in the end, they were outmaneuvered by Miller’s campaign, which spent money on a barrage of top-notch television commercials over the last few months and, most significantly, in the race’s final days. Eichenbaum did run one ad, but it came too late, was poorly done and he spent a mere $30,000 — not enough to ensure adequate airtime. If the campaign had devoted a larger proportion of its budget to well-placed television ads early on, the outcome might have been different.

The aftermath finds an 11th District Republican Party that, by many accounts, is bitterly divided. Miller will have his work cut out for him as he tries to unify the party and woo Tea Party supporters in his bid for Rep. Heath Shuler’s seat this fall. It won’t be easy: There are 172,277 registered Republicans in the 11th District, compared with 243,943 registered Democrats. And with $1.3 million in the bank, Shuler is the best-funded congressional candidate in the state.

Michael Muller can be reached at mmuller@mountainx.com or at 251-1333, ext. 154.

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41 thoughts on “Tune In, Turn On, Turn Out

  1. Michael Muller

    Tim, you won’t be supporting Jeff Miller in his efforts to oust Heath Shuler?

  2. Michael Muller

    A source confirms that the discrepancies between the original results and the corrected numbers released this morning by the State Board of Elections (down 1,1018 from last Tuesday) were due to the fact that McDowell County’s system spat the returns from several precincts in to the system twice (and 3 times in 1 precinct’s case).

  3. Michael Muller

    Tim,

    Do you believe that a significant number of Dr. Eichenbaum’s supporters feel the same way? What’s your sense of it?

  4. My sense is that there are others who feel the same way I do. Perhaps many.

    Their attraction to Dr. Dan is based primarily on their interest in sending to Congress as their representative a philosophically-grounded classical liberal dedicated to the founding principles of individualism and Constitutional governance.

    Miller is more of the same. Some will probably vote for him in the end, though. They will reason that Miller is somehow better than Shuler. There is no proof of that. There is no evidence that he believes in individual rights, limited government and free markets.

    Besides, I don’t vote “better.” I vote “right.” Dr. Dan was the right candidate and gained a great deal of strong support because of that fact.

    I expect there are others now who are beyond voting for “better” when we just had the best possible candidate turned away public service due to tribalistic partisan party machine manipulations and in-fighting and stubborn vote-splitting spoilers.

    I think “Political Granny” speaks for a lot of people at this point.

    http://is.gd/c34Dm
    ……………………………

  5. J

    Muller does a tremendous job of laying out the facts in a clear, and understandable manner. All the same, just for fun’s sake, I have to disagree with some of his analysis.

    Why would a party expend money on a get out of the vote operation in the primary? In my view, that’s really a role for the candidates. County parties have limited resources which are better allocated in November.

    Muller also takes a pot shot at the BCGOP (gee, wonder why?) for the low turnout. However, he notes that low turnout is common for off year elections. So, it’s the BCGOP’s fault that events were normal? It looks more and more like just a cheap shot. Plus, there was only a drop off of 6,000 voters from a year in which a presidential primary was held. I never would have believed such a small drop off in primary participation from a presidential year.

    It’s easy to be critical, but Muller also overlooked Miller’s airtime compared to Dr. Dan’s. Miller invested significant resources in airing well done television ads.

    While Muller may be right about the bitter division, voters do not have many choices come Nov. It’s pretty much either D or R (if you want to be effective). Having only two options frequently heals divides.

  6. Just to pile on here: I question the suggestion that if more Buncombe Republicans had voted, it would have turned toward Eichenbaum. That would only be true if more Buncombe Tea-folk had turned out. If most (or more) Buncombe Republicans are more moderate, a larger turnout could easily have delivered Miller a wider margin.

  7. shadmarsh

    I wonder if Tim will ever grow a pair and run? Be the change you want to see in the world!

  8. Piffy!

    What are “[b]tribalistic partisan party machine manipulations[/b]”?

  9. shadmarsh

    So when is Dr. Dan going to take down all those wonderful advertisements for personal liberty that are all over WNC? Or is that someone else’s mess to clean up?

  10. Voter turnout in the primaries is not the job of the party. That task belongs to the candidates as part of the primary process as a test of their GOTV ability. A sort of Free Market of Ideas, where the best campaign motivates voters to care enough to cast a ballot; not Voter Welfare, where voters are turned out for free on someone else’s dime (in this case, the party).

    Another of the metrics of the primary process can be observed by looking at the early voting numbers, where Miller’s campaign generated 4,392 votes to Eichenbaum’s 2,529 votes. That was a deficit he could not overcome.

    Most Republicans haven’t yet cottoned to the fact that with early voting, the entire structure of campaigning for votes has been changed. The campaigns must now focus their logistics, strategy and tactics on the entire early voting period with a sustained campaign effort instead of focusing their efforts in the last couple of weeks. From what I could see on the outside, the Miller Campaign understood that very well and the Eichenbaum Campaign, as well as the others in this race, did not.

  11. Michael Muller

    I received the following email from someone named Robert Danos, apparently the Chairman of the Henderson County Republican Party:

    Mr. Muller,

    In re: to your story “Tune In, Turn On, Turn Out”

    The line “A superior Republican Party organization in Henderson County… amplified the county’s impact on the outcome” and the line referring to what you describe as “Buncombe County’s… relatively weak party organization and inability to raise money for get-out-the-vote efforts” give the readers a false impression that I ask you to post in the Comments to clarify.

    Neither the HCGOP or the BCGOP are involved in get-out-the-vote efforts in the primary. This is not our job. Whatever GOTV funds we do raise are strictly for the Fall. In Henderson I can tell you (as our finance filings will reflect) we spent a whopping $70 or so on photocopies of our “Conservative Judges” fliers – nothing else. No mailers, no calls, zip. Every cent we raise for GOTV is 100% for the Fall.

    To the extent that Henderson’s turnout was higher than normal (only slightly more than the last mid-term Congressional primary) I personally attribute it to having two hometown guys in the race and have an extremely popular Sheriff up for re-election.

    Robert Danos
    Henderson County GOP

  12. R.Bernier opinions

    I am sure that Mr.Newmans & Mr.West’s votes would have went to Mr.Miller had they not ran. This would have turned this race into a 60-40% race for the most part.

    Im glad to see Michael Muller on Mnt.Express – he has insight into each party – can I tag along with you Michael when you cover the other party?

    RB

  13. Michael Muller

    Richard Bernier makes an excellent point. I’ve received enough information to convince me that had Howard, Krause, Newman, and West dropped out of the race before May 4, the majority of their votes would have gone to Miller. Additionally, had there been a runoff, each of those men would have endorsed Miller and not Eichenbaum.

    But that’s not what happened. When you run the numbers against the corrected counts from McDowell, an increased GOP turnout in Buncombe of just 2% would have thrown the race into a runoff, assuming that people voted in the same proportion as they originally had. Eichenbaum won Buncombe with nearly 50% of the vote to Miller’s 27%, Newman’s 14%, West’s 4.2%, Krause’s 3.35% and Howard’s 1.62%. If just another 500 or so people voted in Buncombe (again, in the same proportions), Miller would have received just under the 40% district-wide required for a runoff.

    One could argue (as Councilman Bothwell does) that had there been an increased turnout in Buncombe, the additional votes may have gone to candidates other than Eichenbaum, based on the idea that Eichenbaum’s supporters were more highly motivated and that he had necessarily peaked, or in Cecil’s theory, that the majority of Republicans are more moderate. I don’t buy it. Of all the candidates, Eichenbaum ran the best campaign in Buncombe. If he had spent his money a little more strategically (as I noted above) the results would be different. I predicted Eichenbaum would win the vote in Buncombe six months ago, and I was right.

    As to the idea that it’s “not the job” of the local parties to drum up interest in their own races, that’s utter nonsense. That’s precisely their role during a primary. And Henderson’s well-oiled party apparatus understands this well — they might not spend a lot of money to do it, but with all due respect, Danos runs the tightest Republican ship in the district. Henderson County Republicans are active, informed, motivated to vote…and they give out free donuts at the Opportunity House every month.

    Buncombe’s operation is not nearly as cohesive — it’s the usual suspects, all more preoccupied with petty bickering and in-fighting. Having had experience working with all the counties during the ’08 race, I can tell you that Buncombe stands out as the most dysfunctional. Macon, Transylvania, and McDowell are among the best (they all repeatedly fed me too, so perhaps I’m a little biased).

    I agree with Bobby Coggins about Early Voting. It’s something Republicans (and conservatives in general — witness Goforth’s drubbing) just fail to understand.

    J, I mentioned Miller’s brilliant use of television ads — it ended up winning him the race. Eichenbaum’s ad barely ran — and Newman’s commercials made him look more like a used car salesman or a Podunk weatherman than a congressional candidate. Green Screen Alert!

    What’s interesting to me at this point is jut how many of Eichenbaum’s supporters will campaign for Miller. Miller will need their support to defat Shuler come November.

    Of course, that begs the question…do the Tea Party folks really want Miller to win? Maybe their long-term ambitions are better served by Congressman Shuler retaining his seat this year.

    More to come.

    MM

  14. Robert Danos

    Ok, Muller, despite the flattery, now you are asking for it…

    “As to the idea that it’s “not the job” of the local parties to drum up interest in their own races, that’s utter nonsense. ”

    I can’t speak for other counties but in Henderson here is how it is. Henderson is a Republican lock for all county and Raleigh offices.

    Therefore, so the county party does not piss off candidates in Henderson vs. Henderson GOP contests, we DO NOT Get Out The Vote or “drum up interest” in our “own races” – period – in the primary – ever. Previous Chairmen here did get involved in that stuff (calls, mail, door knocks) in primaries which was a disaster; it can only end of being seen as bending the party’s “well-oiled party apparatus” towards one candidate or “faction” in Henderson.

    One reason we really don’t have “factions” here to weaken the party anymore is just this policy.

    Besides fliers on the judges, we email our 1,000 person email list with info on judges, issues, candidate appearances for any candidate that asks, sample ballots, early voting info, etc…

    So yes, we inform an already very active (and retiree) voting county but none of that is GOTV.

    The only thing I do that comes close each cycle is op-eds, letters etc… asking Independents to come vote in our primary on the idea that “drumming up” their interest in our candidates makes it more likely that they will vote for them in the fall.

    Ok, now you can be devil’s advocate. In a county like Henderson, which already has one of the highest bi-annual general election Republican turnout in the state, why would I want to spend time and/or money on GOTV in a primary?

  15. J

    Muller,

    I do see the recognition of Miller’s advertisements.

    Why is it the role of the county parties do drum up the GOTV for the primaries? What do they get out of it? Why is it worth spending resources that could be saved for the fall campaign? Why isn’t it the charge of the candidates? It seems that county GOTV efforts would only exacerbate the “home county” effect.

    Considering the libertarian vote in the November wouldn’t have tilted the outcome of any of the congressional races in the last ten years, I don’t see a revolt by some Eichenbaum supporters really having a huge effect. While there will certainly be some vocal members, it’s difficult to believe that all of them will just sit on their hands.

  16. JWTJr

    “A source confirms that the discrepancies between the original results and the corrected numbers released this morning by the State Board of Elections (down 1,1018 from last Tuesday) were due to the fact that McDowell County’s system spat the returns from several precincts in to the system twice (and 3 times in 1 precinct’s case).”

    Electronic voting is a giant mistake. Our desire for instant results is blinding us to how easy it will be for someone to cheat electronically. I’m not saying anyone did here. Someone will though … rest assured.

  17. otfwg

    Peck’s comments regarding not supporting Jeff Miller should be very telling. For those who have complained about Heath Shuler going along with the Democrats and Pelosi. Seems his message is that those who did not go along with his chosen candidate would mean that he will not support the candidate that won. But this is not news, is it? After all they always stated that Eichenbaum was the “only” candidate for the 11th district. That is not only completely false information but the type of offensive statements made by those who supposedly support freedom and personal choices.

  18. otfwg

    At least one expert says there’s a risk as tea party chapters evolve into directed political advocacy organizations: Exchanging some of the thrill and informality of protests for chores usually performed by political parties or special interest groups could deflate the passion that built the movement.

  19. Dionysis

    “I like the old formatting. This sucks.”

    I agree. Oddly, while the fonts seem bigger, it’s actually more difficult to read; things seem to run together, no paragraph breaks, etc. Also it seems puzzling that posters’ identities are sometimes at the top of the post, sometimes at the bottom.

    The previous formatting did seem more ‘reader friendly’ to me. Perhaps that was just a matter of being accustomed to it, but it was preferable to this new look.

  20. Michael Muller

    I agree about this formatting thing. I’ll look into it.

  21. Michael Muller

    Keep talking, Danos…because you’re making my point better than I ever could. Whatever you’re doing is making your folks get out to vote at rates twice that of Buncombe. Call it what you will, but in my book that’s Get Out To Vote.

    And J… local parties benefit greatly by amping up interest in races that feature their own candidates — it lays an important groundwork for the fall contests and gives a reason for donors to give money to the party early on for things like voter outreach and education. To the extent that local parties don’t fully take advantage of the excitement that a primary season affords them, it’s a missed opportunity in my opinion.

  22. Michael Muller

    J,

    There are 75,000 more Democrats in the 11th than there are Republicans. Jeff Miller will need every last vote to win — including the majority of unaffiliated voters, who in large margins tend to vote Democratic.

  23. Paul -V-

    Michael Muller is best political analyst in WNC. If local Republicans ever start listening to him, they’d start winning elections again.

  24. A year ago, you guys thought Muller was one of the worst (and dumbest) people in the world. Now that he’s on your side, of course he is now the smartest guy in the room, or in this case, western North Carolina, (funny how Lefties always describe themselves or their champions as the smartest guy or gal in the room).

    Some of us have memories (and lots of screen shots and mirrored blog posts) that cover more than just what happened yesterday or last week.

  25. shadmarsh

    Who is this “you guys” you refer to? Also, I don’t Mr. Muller is on anyones “side.”

  26. “J, including the majority of unaffiliated voters, who in large margins tend to vote Democratic.”

    Yeah, and we usually hold our nose while voting for the lesser of the two perceived evils. I do make it a point of voting split ticket tho.

  27. otfwg

    Muller: The UNA’s that tend to vote Democrat probably did in the 2010 election. Then followed with signs and Tea Parties protesting big government, big government spending. etc. If they vote Dem again, they may as well put down those signs and forget the Tea Parties.
    Oh yeah, TP is right with that post. Muller did work on getting Republicans elected…. and then went over to the Dems after they won.
    What happens when they lose because so many are getting fed up with the Dems in control and the increasing deficits and the “change” turns into an even bigger disaster? (Which is becoming apparent).

  28. @shad:

    “you guys” refers to the guys who threw hand grenades at him (as well as called him names) while he was working for Mumps and Duncan, then have proceeded to throw flowers (and heap praises upon him) at him since his move to their side of the aisle.

  29. otfwg

    Correction of typo: I meant they voted Democrat in the 2008 Presidential election, not 2010.
    And now CBO has stated that Obama’s Healthcare will cost over a trillion dollars. Their figures were wrong, they stated, due to the Democrats rushing the bill thru.

  30. Told you so...

    Any R campaign that ignores Henderson County does so at their own peril. While I understand that when one looks at the Buncombe numbers it’s intoxicating, the simple truth is Henderson voters turn out. These retirees have nothing but time. And they love churches, cops and health care.

    The Eichenbaum campaign put their eggs in one basket and they came up short. They were also told this. The response was Buncombe has more voters and Newman will split the vote. Wishful thinking really. While I commend the effort, they really needed to listen more.

  31. J

    I’m sure if Muller still follows this thread, he’ll show me the error of my ways. If one compares the 2006 GOP primaries to the 2010 primaries, more voters participated in 2010 GOP primaries. The senate race saw a 100% increase, and the congressional primaries got a bump of roughly 2,000 voters.

    I do understand Muller’s point about under performance, but the needle seems to be moving in the right direction.

  32. otfwg

    TO: Told you so:

    That is not the only problem that the Eichenbaum supporters had.
    Maybe not making unnecessary and rude comments about the other candidates would have proved to be a wise move on their part. That did not help their efforts.
    And maybe many voted for Miller because he has done some very good things and is well respected by citizens.

  33. Michael Muller

    J,

    Why on earth would there be any interest in the 2006 GOP 11th District Congressional Primaries? Two dudes were running and one of them didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of winning. Boring.

    And otfwg: lots of rude things are said by everyone about everyone else during an election. That’s why elections are so much fun! (And there’s a reason campaigns go negative: because it works.) And trust me, the other campaigns had plenty of rude things to say about Eichenbaum over the last few months.

  34. otfwg

    No one, (that I heard), said anything rude about Eichenbaum until statements were made about the other candidates. That was what triggered others to speak out and fight back. Many were absolutely not going to just listen to the unnecessary comments that were coming out of that camp. If they could dish it out, they should be able to take it as well.
    All is fair in love and war so I hear. :0)

  35. J

    Muller,

    I was just noting that turnout had practically doubled from the 2006 mid term primaries to these midterm primaries. While there was an incumbent Congressman in 2006, there was still a GOP primary for the state senate race; thus the primary was not totally irrelevant. The higher rate of participation suggests that enthusiasm may have ticked up on the GOP side of things. Or it could be driven solely by the congressional primaries, but interest is interest.

    A dime is twice as much as a nickel after all, but still only worth ten cents.

  36. Michael Muller

    otfwg: I heard and read plenty. Eichenbaum and his people were a direct threat to the status quo: by virtue of that fact alone he was not very well-liked by the Republican establishment. Some of that ill-will is still bandied around in emails and public comments, and it started earlier than you might know.

    J (I’d call you by your last name but I don’t know it): the 2006 congressional primary was pretty irrelevant, and that’s what we’re talking about. The fact that participation was down from 2008 is what interests me. Granted, folks in Buncombe didn’t have a horse in the race like they did with Carl Mumpower in ’08, but given the more helpful frame of President Obama’s victory, I sense a missed opportunity this year.

    Anyhoo, if things don’t pick up for the GOP in terms of activities and outreach across the entire district, it’ll be a very tough November. That’s the real lesson of the primary, I think.

    Thanks to everyone for your comments, by the way. The dialogue is great and very informative.

    MM

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