St. Louis Oracle

St. Louis-based political forecasting plus commentary on politics and events from a grassroots veteran with a mature, progressive anti-establishment perspective.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Slay may break dubious record in April election

Mayor Francis Slay will win re-election April 5 with a sizeable margin. (Stop the presses!) The only question is by how much. This column may only be of interest to numbers wonks, because it examines the question “how much.”

After Slay’s convincing primary win, many signs point to a general election win approaching unanimity:
● Slay's electoral history is good: Four years ago, on the heels of a divisive primary, he won 87.5% of the vote against Michael Chance, a very credible Republican.
● Slay won this year's primary by a solid margin. Not much opposition turned out to vote.
● Very little of what opposition did surface in the primary is likely to carry over to the general election. The biggest source of primary votes for Slay’s opponents was African American voters, who hardly ever vote against the Democratic Party nominee in a general election, regardless of circumstances.
● No Republican or Libertarian candidate filed. This year’s sole opponent is from the Green Party, whose best-ever citywide performance is 15.26%. And now, the party is bitterly split following a power struggle over a year ago.
● Slay’s general election opponent this year, Willie Marshall, is a very weak candidate. Last November, he became the first Green Party candidate ever running citywide one-on-one against a Democrat to get less than 10% of the vote. Last August, he lost re-election as his ward’s party committeeman running unopposed, because he got no votes, not even his own. (The Green Party Central Committee appointed him to fill his own vacancy this year after he filed for mayor.) He campaigns in this union town with non-union printed campaign literature. Last month Marshall made (and later retracted) a controversial proposal to require AIDS patients to wear identifying bracelets, a stand in direct conflict with Green Party principles. (Neither Marshall nor the local Green Party is affiliated with the Green Party of the United States.) Marshall also supports a controversial local proposal that could eliminate the right to vote in party primaries by allowing political parties to opt to nominate candidates by convention or caucus instead of a primary.
● The open-publication Newswire of the St. Louis Independent Media Center, a major communication link for those most likely to oppose Slay, has been down since January 22 and may remain down until after the election.
● “Bandwagon” voters who feel good about themselves if they vote for the winner have a sure bet in Slay.

With all of that, how could Slay not surpass his 2001 performance against Chance? Well, there are several other things working against Slay:

Protest votes: People who are unhappy with Slay, the Democratic Party or things in general may see Marshall’s candidacy as an avenue for a protest vote. Their perception that Marshall has no chance of winning actually helps get their votes, because voters can be confident that their protest vote won’t actually make Marshall the mayor.

No Republican stigma: Many city voters really despise anything Republican. Many even support unappealing Democrats over better independent or third-party candidates out of fear of “throwing the election” to a Republican. Marshall isn’t a Republican and doesn’t bear that stigma. With no Republican in the contest at all, anti-Republican “lesser evilist” voters will feel freer to choose someone more progressive than a conservative Democrat like Slay. Many consider Greens to be “industrial strength” Democrats.

No Democrat stigma: Though city Republican voters continue to dwindle in number, some of those remaining despise anything Democrat the same way some Democrats despise anything Republican. Marshall isn’t a Democrat. Some Republicans will vote for Marshall just because he isn’t the Democrat, perhaps not realizing that Marshall’s stands are diametrically opposed to their own. Some may even assume that Marshall is a Republican, since he’s the second choice in a two-candidate race.

School board election: Although first on the ballot, the mayoral contest is really just the opening act for the election that will draw most voters to the polls, the contest for three seats on the Board of Education. The focus of that contest is support or opposition to the current Slay-backed board majority (even though they’re not on the ballot), and voters backing opponents of the mayor’s slate may be tempted to vote against Slay while they are at it. Resentment to Slay’s involvement in school board politics didn’t hurt him as much as expected in the primary, but the dynamics may be different when school board candidates appear on the same ballot.

Inattention from Slay: While the Slay campaign will probably continue its expensive media blitz, personal campaigning by the mayor will be lacking. Two days after the primary, the Post Dispatch reported that Slay’s April election focus was on the school board contest, not his own.

Race: Marshall is African American, which may help his candidacy among voters who support African American candidacies whenever possible. This factor, though, is less important than it could be, because those voters need to know that there is an African American candidate in the contest, and Marshall's campaign lacks the financial resources necessary to make his candidacy (and his race) known to voters. Also, as noted earlier, African American voters are historically very resistant to supporting candidates who aren’t Democrats.

The leverage of small numbers: Marshall and the Greens will claim a moral victory and party-building momentum if Marshall merely tops the 12.5% that Republican Chance got four years ago. In such a battle against low expectations, every vote for Marshall effectively offsets seven votes for Slay. It wouldn’t take many protest votes to drag Slay to a new record low for a city Democrat running one-on-one against a Green. (The current low of 84.74% was set by License Collector Greg Daly in 2002, after bad publicity from Daly’s unsuccessful litigation to eliminate his Green opponent from the ballot.)

While most observers probably expect Slay to improve upon his 2001 performance and set a new city general election record for percentage of the vote in a contested election, the Oracle thinks he will more likely set a different, more dubious record. While Slay will still win comfortably (probably by about 4 to 1), he is more likely to break Daly’s record for the lowest Democratic percentage in a one-on-one citywide contest against a Green.


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October 17, 2005 at 1:20 PM  

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