Thursday, May 8, 2014

Breaking Down the DAs Race — How Nashville Got the Funk

Posted By on Thu, May 8, 2014 at 12:00 PM

Why will Glenn Funk be Nashville's next district attorney? Conversations with pundits, campaign staff and candidates — as well as a look at the Democratic precinct polling data Pith received — paint a picture of an election win driven by turnout in key areas as well as effectively timed advertising.

Low turnout elections like Tuesday's are fundamentally a math problem: How can a candidate get enough of their voters to the 161 precincts around the city? Here's what we learned:

* North Nashville turned the election for Funk and a number of African-American judicial candidates. Only one precinct in the city cast more than a thousand ballots in the election: Cathedral of Praise in Bordeaux, where a whopping 1,355 voters turned out. At that location and two other key North Nashville precincts, Bordeaux Library and Whites Creek Fire Hall, turnout was more than 25 percent compared to a county-wide average of 9 percent. From just those three boxes, Funk had a lead of more than 500 votes. From just council districts 1, 2 and 3 — all north of the river — the totals gave Funk a more than 1,100-vote lead over McGuire. In a race with only 35,000 ballots cast, that's game-changing.

(Also of note, in the election's closest races, those three precincts gave Allegra Walker the margin of victory over Vince Wyatt for General Sessions Division 4 judge and almost helped Joy Smith Kimbrough upset Steve Dozier for Criminal Court Division 1 judge.)

* The city's African-American vote is not monolithic, and census tract data bears that out. Bordeaux, where turnout was the highest, is a more working-class area. Other heavily African-American precincts in East Nashville and west of downtown had turnouts between 7 and 12 percent. Funk received the support of several pastors in North Nashville and there was a concerted effort to get out the vote in a number of congregations.

* By contrast, some of the biggest precincts in other parts of the city had average to below-average turnout. Glencliff High, with the largest number of registered voters, had only 6.2 percent vote. Charlotte Park, with 5,681 registered voters, got 6.8 percent turnout. Harpeth Valley School in Bellevue had a relatively robust 10.4 percent of its 5,374 voters participate. The result? Funk 199, McGuire 189, Lance 114.

* McGuire and Funk traded wins in various heavily white areas around the city. At Eakin School, McGuire won 221-87 over Funk while just down West End, Funk won at West End Middle School 226-189. Funk won at Andrew Jackson Middle School in Old Hickory 131-116 over McGuire, while McGuire won at Bellevue Middle with 163 votes to Funk's 143.

* Did Diane Lance play the role of spoiler for McGuire? She could only muster three very small precinct wins — not too surprising given her late entry and lack of a natural constituency — but she ran second in a number of areas. Funk, by contrast, finished third at only a handful of boxes and ran a strong second in many precincts he didn't win.

* This was, by all measures, a very positive campaign, and two big factors played into this. First, none of the three candidates had significant name ID at the start. Since Torry Johnson announced at such a relatively late date that he would not run for re-election, the candidates had to focus their resources on introducing themselves to an electorate that had never cast a vote for any of the three before. Second, internal polling from at least one campaign revealed that if either Funk or McGuire went negative, support would likely flow to Lance. The race was largely free of some of the negative ads and direct mail that cropped up in a few judicial races.

* McGuire may have gotten into the race first, but Funk got into it in the biggest way by writing himself a $100,000 check and getting ads onto the air a month before McGuire or Lance. His tagline — "I know the difference between a bad person and a good kid in trouble" — was smart. It could be read as a different way of approaching the job, something that sounded much better to African-Americans disproportionately on the receiving end of prosecutions nationwide. For a city that has seen relatively low crime for the past few years, McGuire's Law & Order themed ad might not have had the same resonance. And while Funk may have loaned himself money to start, his fundraising outstripped both McGuire and Lance (who loaned her campaign $150,000), which translated into a huge advantage on the airwaves.

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