VOL. 129 | NO. 89 | Wednesday, May 07, 2014
August’s ‘Big Ballot’ Awaits County’s Voters
By Bill Dries
With the unofficial results in the Shelby County primary elections in, get ready for the “big ballot.”
The candidates who won the Democratic and Republican primaries in Tuesday’s elections advance to the August ballot where they will join a much larger group of candidates and races that once every eight years produce the largest ballot of any election cycle in Shelby County politics.
The big ballot earns its distinction from the once-every-eight-years judiciary and district attorney general races. Including those and the winners from the May county primaries and the intra-party races for positions on the state executive committees of the Democratic and Republican parties, there will be more than 250 candidates for more than 100 offices on the August ballot.
The Tuesday county primaries were just a formality in two countywide races expected to capture a lot of attention between now and the August election.
The first is the district attorney general’s race between Republican incumbent Amy Weirich and Democratic challenger Joe Brown, who each ran unopposed in their respective primaries.
That was also the case in the race for Shelby County sheriff between Republican incumbent Bill Oldham and Democratic challenger Bennie Cobb.
Oldham and Cobb have already tangled at a few forums and that is expected to intensify.
The August ballot also features the latest in a series of hard-fought Democratic primary contests in the 9th Congressional District.
Incumbent U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen won the seat in the 2006 elections emerging from a large field of contenders in the Democratic primary in the majority Democratic district.
By two years ago, the primary was a one-on-one race between Cohen and former Shelby County Schools board member Tomeka Hart with Cohen winning with more than 80 percent of the primary vote.
This time, Cohen faces attorney and Memphis Housing Authority board chairman Ricky E. Wilkins. And at this early stage both candidates are showing up at a lot of the same events and aggressively courting voters.
In the state legislative primaries, the primary challenge of Democratic state Sen. Ophelia Ford by Memphis City Council member Lee Harris is likely to be the most watched race in a set of elections where incumbents seldom lose.
A member of the Ford family had held the Senate seat since 1975.
While the county primary campaigns were underway, those in the August races yielded the political spotlight to those in the primaries. Some of that is a matter of political etiquette. It also conserves campaign cash for the run through the summer months.
For those running in the judicial races, especially incumbents, the 2014 campaign season began in the winter with fundraisers and campaign openings designed to stock their campaign war chests in the event of a challenge and to discourage challengers based on the turnout to those early events.
For instance, General Sessions Criminal Court Judge Louis Montesi held an early fundraiser and campaign opening January at the Rendezvous that drew a large crowd. It’s likely to be his last event of the campaign season since he is unopposed in his re-election bid.
For those in contested races – incumbents and challengers alike – a new round of fundraisers and campaign openings start this week.
Attorney Gerald Skahan opens his bid for General Sessions Criminal Court judge Thursday with an event at Alchemy in Cooper-Young.
Of the two statewide races to come in the August primaries, incumbent Republican Gov. Bill Haslam faces a crop of mostly unknown primary challengers and the state Democratic Party’s establishment has no candidate it is behind in the companion primary for governor.
It’s quite a contrast to four years ago in the same election cycle when Haslam, then-U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey campaigned heavily in Shelby County in advance of the Republican primary.
Incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander faces a tea party challenge from state Rep. Joe Carr of Lascassas in August. Former Shelby County Commissioner George Flinn is among the contenders in the GOP primary after making two bids for Congress – one in the 9th Congressional District in 2012 and another in the 8th Congressional District in 2010. Flinn has said he is running to build opposition to and call attention to problems he sees in the Affordable Care Act.
The Democratic Senate primary field includes Terry Adams and Gordon Ball of Knoxville, who have each made several excursions already into Memphis.
Early voting begins July 18.
And voters historically show more interest in the election cycle than the county primaries. Primaries of any kind, including the presidential primaries, when they are the only or dominant races on the ballot draw the lowest voter turnout of any election cycle.
The midterm federal primaries and state primaries as well as county general elections drew a 30 percent voter turnout in 2010 in Shelby County compared to an 11.1 percent turnout in the May primaries that year.