VOL. 127 | NO. 219 | Thursday, November 8, 2012
Election Follows Script in County
By Bill Dries
In Shelby County and Tennessee the presidential race stuck to the script both national campaigns expected.
President Barack Obama carried Shelby County and Republican challenger Mitt Romney took the state and its 11 electoral votes.
While that was expected because of what has happened in Tennessee since 2000 and the large Democratic majority within Memphis, there were some surprises.
Voter turnout in the most popular election cycle among Shelby County voters was 61.9 percent, about the same percentage as four years ago. But the 371,256 voters is fewer than 2008 when more than 400,000 Shelby County voters cast ballots. The percentage is about the same because there are fewer registered voters in Shelby County than there were four years ago after a long-delayed purge by election officials.
Obama’s 232,201 votes in Shelby County in the unofficial totals that are still to be certified by the Shelby County Election Commission compare to 255,680 votes four years ago.
And Romney’s 135,536 votes predominantly from the large Republican base outside Memphis compared to 145,248 votes for Republican nominee John McCain four years ago.
For most local partisans, the presidential race was about raising money for and making phone calls to voters in swing states.
The Republican nominee, for a second consecutive presidential election was someone other than the GOP contender who carried Shelby County in the presidential primaries. Rick Santorum carried Shelby County in the Republican presidential primary in March. In 2008, Mike Huckabee carried Shelby County in the primary.
Mitt Romney took Tennessee’s 11 electoral votes, but President Barack Obama won Shelby County with 232,201 votes compared to Romney’s 135,536.
Obama is two for two with Shelby County Democrats. But there was a disconnect between local Democrats and the state party leaders as Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Mark Clayton carried Shelby County over Republican incumbent Bob Corker. Corker, nevertheless, carried the state and won re-election to another six-year term of office.
Clayton was disowned by state Democratic Party officials, who stripped him of any official party support for his work with an anti-gay group considered a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center and party leaders. Clayton has also claimed that Google is working against him on behalf of the Chinese government.
The vote totals for Shelby County showed the Senate race drew 23,237 fewer voters than the presidential race.
The two tax hikes on the ballot – a countywide sales tax hike and a city gas tax hike – lost with the first belated early voting returns.
The defeat of the countywide sales tax hike means the sales tax hikes approved in the August elections by each of the six suburban towns and cities remain in place with those municipalities not splitting their revenue with the larger county including Memphis.
The suburban towns and cities took another tentative step toward forming municipal school districts funded by the sales tax hikes Tuesday when they elected school boards.
The boards are expected to take the oaths of office around the first of next month and immediately begin the processes of hiring superintendents by the end of the year.
The moves toward separate school districts all hinge on the ruling to come from Memphis federal court Judge Samuel “Hardy” Mays on whether the state laws setting up those school districts comply with or violate the Tennessee Constitution.
Meanwhile, the countywide sales tax hike may be back next year, which would mean a special election in what is otherwise an off-election year.
Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell opposed the timing of the tax hike ballot questions more than the tax hike. He wanted a referendum after the countywide school board set its budget for the first year of the merger of city and county schools starting in August.
The education reform group Stand For Children mounted and financed a campaign for the tax hike that was more visible for longer than any other campaign on the ballot and estimated second in financing to the effort of 9th District Congressional challenger George Flinn.
The organization’s loss on the ballot question comes after it backed several winning candidates heavily in the August races for countywide school board.
Flinn’s loss to Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen was decisive, but the 75 percent of the vote that Cohen took in unofficial returns was less than the nearly 90 percent total Cohen took in the August primary race against challenger Tomeka Hart.
The turnout in the primary was much smaller than that of the Tuesday elections.
Cohen, who faced his best-financed opponent yet in Flinn, campaigned for Obama while Flinn ignored Romney.