After hearing from the four contenders in the Democratic primary for county mayor outline the boundaries of what could be a lively campaign for the right to challenge Mark Luttrell in the August general election, Democrats last week got another look at an intraparty discussion that still hasn’t been settled.
After the mayoral candidates spoke at the monthly meeting of the local Democratic party’s executive committee in Midtown last Thursday evening, other candidates in other races and other Democrats with advice on other races spoke to the group of 40.
Several believe Democrats lost every countywide race in 2010 to Republicans because of election fraud alleged in a Chancery Court lawsuit. One in a series of county election results since 2006 that some Democratic candidates have contested unsuccessfully in court.
“Do you know in 2006, I only lost to Tom Leatherwood by about 4 percent of the vote,” said Coleman Thompson, who ran in 2006 and 2010 as the Democratic nominee for Shelby County Register. “Well, the Shelby County Election Commission pulled one off. Actually I beat him. There were 8,000 votes that weren’t tallied that were potentially Democratic votes and he only beat me by 7,700 votes. What does that say? I probably beat him by 300 votes or 200 something votes.”
Still other Democrats said the culprit is Democrats backing Republicans.
Carol Chumney, the party’s nominee in 2012 for District Attorney General, repeated her complaints about Democrats crossing over that she originally made last month at the party’s largest annual fundraiser, the Kennedy Day Dinner.
Chumney referred to campaign literature in which Democrats were among those endorsing Republican incumbent Amy Weirich as “target pieces.” They didn’t mention Chumney. But they did mention that the Democrats were Democrats who were crossing over to support Weirich.
“The Democrats who are in office or who are party chairmen should stick together on the races or just be quiet. If you don’t want to support the nominee, don’t say anything,” Chumney said. “But don’t send a target piece to peel off votes from the Democratic nominee.”
Weirich, with less than two weeks to the Feb. 20 filing deadline for the primaries, has potential Democratic opposition from former Shelby County Criminal Court Judge Joe Brown who has a qualifying petition circulating.
Thompson, who is running again in the May primary for Register, said the results of primary elections, which have a lower turnout than the general election, are more binding than Chumney suggested on those who identify as Democrats.
“We marry all the way through to the general election,” Thompson said. “Get on board, man.”
Some party leaders in 2010 were more earthy in their advice, urging the party’s base to “hold their noses” and vote the ticket.
Thompson accused other Democrats of putting rivals in the primary contest this year specifically to keep him from winning the nomination again.
“You’re fixing to have a bloody primary,” he warned.
In many ways, local Democratic party leaders still believe the premise that prompted the local party to bind all of its nominees together in 2010 after the primaries and campaign as a ticket in that year’s general election. The premise is Democrats should win because there are more Democrats than Republicans in Shelby County.
That’s why mayoral contender Steve Mulroy is saying if he wins the primary, he will run a “red meat” campaign on “progressive” issues including a living wage and a prevailing wage.
“And part of that progressive campaign for Shelby County is we’ve got the numbers,” he continued. “All we’ve got to do is excite the base.”
That’s a big “if” based on the 2010 elections. And it is a persistent “if” that some party leaders have described as the ability of some Democratic contenders to repeatedly win low turnout primaries but not relatively higher turnout general elections in which much of the highly touted Democratic majority aren’t excited enough about the party’s slate to show up to vote for anyone.
“I used to think that politics was about turnout – a lie,” mayoral candidate Kenneth Whalum Jr. said after Mulroy spoke.
“I found that out after this last sales tax referendum,” Whalum added, talking about his role in helping defeat a citywide sales tax increase for a prekindergarten expansion. “Only 7 percent of the people voted. Yeah, but 60 percent of the 7 percent voted the right way. Elections are not about turnout. They are about percentage of turnout. So y’all have some decisions to make.”