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VOL. 133 | NO. 113 | Wednesday, June 6, 2018

County General Election Campaigns Meet Summer Heat

By Bill Dries

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With their minds still in the numbers from the May county primary election, candidates on the Aug. 2 Shelby County ballot are on the summer campaign trail with early voting about six weeks away.

“Those were just crazy results,” Republican nominee for Shelby County sheriff Dale Lane said of the turnout as he campaigned Saturday, June 2, at the Memphis Italian Festival.

Republican contenders dominated countywide races in the August general elections in 2010 and 2014 despite a larger turnout from Democrats in the May primaries each of those years.

“We have an uphill battle,” Democratic nominee for Shelby County mayor Lee Harris told supporters at an East Memphis fundraiser last month. (Daily News/Bill Dries)

A larger Democratic turnout was again the case in this May’s primaries, but that’s no surprise given Shelby County has more Democrats than Republicans.

Those watching the vote totals – Democratic and Republican – are looking for any signs of a blue wave of Democrats for the general elections that may be related to opposition against President Donald Trump and a rebuilding of the local Democratic Party. They are also looking for indications that the red tide of Republican election dominance fueled by nominees getting Democratic crossover votes will continue.

Democratic contenders have been vocal since the primary in calling on the party’s new blood to stay active through the August elections, which will also feature state and federal primary elections.

That includes statewide primaries for governor and the U.S. Senate. Four major contenders in the Republican primary for governor are expected to generate a better Republican turnout in August locally than in the May primaries.

More than any other race in August, the Republican primary for governor reflects the influence of national politics.

And Democratic nominee for Shelby County mayor Lee Harris says he is worried about the local political discourse as a result of the national landscape.

Republican nominee for sheriff Dale Lane campaigns at the Memphis Italian Festival Saturday, June 2, one of multiple campaign stops for him that day. (Daily News/Bill Dries)

“Our ability to get along with each other is being tested every single day,” Harris told a group of several dozen supporters last month at an East Memphis fundraiser. “We are being divided based on race and religion. And we are being divided on whether we are too patriotic or not patriotic enough – whether we protest too loudly or whether we are too silent.”

Republican nominees for county offices in August have focused on local issues and had little, if anything, to say about national or state politics.

Shelby County Republican Party chairman Lee Mills, said at the outset of the campaigns this year the local races had nothing to do with Washington’s tumult.

Harris told supporters last month that the county general elections remain an “uphill battle” for Democrats. He also talked about building a base for future county, state and federal elections.

“Every day in our campaign we are building a coalition. The coalition we are building is multiracial, multigenerational and spans the entire county,” he said. “We know that no matter where you live, no matter what your background, no matter how you got here, no matter what happened before in the past we all want the same thing.

“That’s opportunity for our kids and that’s a community that thrives.”

The 30 to 40 supporters listening to Harris’ message is about the average for such events – Democratic and Republican.

Democratic nominee for sheriff Floyd Bonner campaigns at the Whitehaven Festival Saturday, June 2, one of five campaign stops he made to meet with citizens. (Daily News/Bill Dries)

The biggest and best organized groups covering outdoor events – political and non-political – are usually the campaigns for Shelby County sheriff.

For at least a generation, the sheriff’s department’s ranks have divided up around various candidates and mounted the most labor intensive ground campaigns locally. This year it’s

Republican Lane, a former SCSO deputy who is currently director of the Shelby County Office of Preparedness, and Democratic nominee Floyd Bonner, chief deputy of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office.

Both contenders in the Aug. 2 county general election made stops Saturday at the Memphis Italian Festival in Marquette Park in East Memphis and the Whitehaven Festival at the Koinonia Baptist Church Family Life Center.

Greeting newcomers in the crowd at the Whitehaven Festival was part of a five-stop schedule for Bonner on Saturday.

“I just keep working to get the word out,” Bonner said.

Lane, in East Memphis, compared this bid to the one he made in 2010, which ended when he lost in the Republican primary to Bill Oldham who went on to win that year’s general election and is the outgoing sheriff.

“That was a three month campaign – for me,” he said of his late entry in 2010 and the abrupt end with the loss of the primary.

“This has been two years, but the early start has paid off,” he said of running unopposed in the May Republican primary this time.

The first rule of the festival campaign on a 90-plus-degree day is a good supply of fresh polo shirts and a big supply of bottled water.

Beyond that, the campaigns have three or four people walking ahead of the candidate to steer people to the candidate a few yards behind. Some will even walk voters to the candidate, especially if they might be interested in a yard sign or donating to the cause.

At the Whitehaven Festival there were push cards – the campaign literature for just such encounters – as well as other nonpolitical items like sign up sheets for the American Cancer Society.

The light political banter at the Italian Festival contrasted with the hard stares of Bocce ball players comparing distances and then having them measured before crouching for the next roll.

Lane, Bonner and other winners from the primaries are still looking over their shoulders at the primary results for some kind of guide on political distance.

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