I have nothing but ambiguity, confusion and darkness to offer you, Friends of Unfair Park, on the eve of tomorrow’s mayoral election. There are no certainties, only wild cards. Here are just a few:
Are people flocking to sign the Trinity River Petition?
If the answer is yes, Sam Coats is in the runoff, and the ruling members of the Dallas Citizens Council can relocate to Plano.
Are people adamantly oppossed to the Trinity Parkway petition, and do they want to elect someone who will keep the toll road running?
If the answer is yes, Tom Leppert and/or Ed Oakley are in the runoff, and Jim Schutze can just get it over with and open up a Dallas Observer bureau in Austin. Or Santa Fe.
Do people think about the Trinity River, like, ever?
If the answer is no, that’s bad news for the candidates who have staked out strong positions on both sides of the issue: Coats, Leppert, Oakley and, to a lesser extent, Don Hill and Darrell Jordan. That’s good news for Gary Griffith.
There are two North Dallas candidates, Leppert and Max Wells, who got the memo that South Dallas-Fair Park, Pleasant Grove and Oak Cliff are a part of Dallas. They’re trying to win Southern sector votes. Will they succeed? If the answer is yes, at least one of them is in the runoff.
Will the southern sector come through for Don Hill?
If the answer is yes, Hill can go to bed at around 9:00 tomorrow. Us too.
Will the Democrats who stampeded to the polls last November vote for the Democratic candidates in the field -- Oakley, Hill, Coats -- in what is, in theory, a non-partisan race?
If the answer is yes, Coats is in the runoff, with the other two somewhere in the top four.
Who the hell did Laura Miller, who voted early before she skipped the country, punch on her ballot?
Of the top seven candidates, Coats is the only one who hasn’t really insulted her on the campaign trail. But she can’t vote for him, since he has risen to prominence (relatively speaking) by coming out exuberantly in favor of Angela Hunt’s Trinity Vote campaign. So where does that leave Miller? She wrote in husband Steve Wolens.
The candidates who make the runoff tomorrow will find themselves on the right end on two or three of those wild cards. We do have a few facts to grasp here: Bruce Sherbert, Dallas County’s elections administrator, told Dallas Blog turnout is expected to be around 75,000 votes. That’s 21,000 votes fewer than the 2003 mayor’s race. This is an astonishing drop-off, and I think a really low turnout helps proven vote-getters like Hill, Wells, Oakley and Griffith. Sherbert also told Dallas Blog that Democratic voters were more likely to vote than Republican voters, which helps Coats, Hill and Oakley. Finally, Sherbert said turnout is the highest in Northwest Dallas council districts, which is the stronghold of the aginner vote and the anti-Citizens Council Republican vote -- and that favors both Coats and Jordan, which should please Sharon Boyd to no end.
So what candidate have I not mentioned so far? Tom Leppert. I think he’s run a strong campaign, but there is a chance this was just not the right race for him. In a very crowded field, Leppert may not have been able to connect with enough voters to make the runoff. Here’s the thing, though, and let me say this as carefully as I possibly can: I have no idea what’s going to happen tomorrow. No one does. This is such an unusual, unpredictable election -- which makes it thrilling, despite naysayers' insistence otherwise. Seven viable candidates scrambling for 70,000 or so votes -- it’s like randomly throwing seven darts against a swinging board.
But I’m going to try to figure this out, one last time. Here is my final round of hunches, which I will try to back up with a few alleged facts. As an added bonus to you, I am including my guess on their range of finish. You have to give me some credit here: I’m making it easy for you to give me all kinds of hell come Sunday morning. Just bring the coffee and bagels.
1. Don Hill: Hill has four current elected officials in the Southern sector endorsing him, including all three of his African-American colleagues on the council and State Senator Royce West. Dallas Blog’s Rufus Shaw told me that doesn’t mean a thing. Their support is empty -- they don’t bring money, consultants or organization, he says. I think he may be mostly right. But even if they just throw 8,000 or so votes his way -- a very tiny number -- Hill can pick up enough on his own to make the runoff, right? People, you can make the runoff with 12,000 votes. Tell me how Hill doesn’t get this.
Range of finish: 1-4
2. Sam Coats: I was telling a colleague that Coats has a lot of support at these forums. People applaud his comments on the toll road, and the Trinity Vote people regard him as a folk hero. This colleague responded that normal people don’t go to mayoral forums and don’t care about the Trinity, one way or another. My response is that normal people aren’t voting in this election. They don’t even know who the hell is running. Normal people have a life.
It’s the abnormal people we need to figure out. My guess is that the abnormal people who will show up to vote have been turned on by Coats. He’ll do well with the new generation of Democratic voters, and he’ll do well with the Trinity petition people. I think that’s enough for 12,000 votes.
Range of finish: 1-7 (Dude's an effin' wild card. Sorry. He just is.)
3. Ed Oakley: It’s not a coincidence that my top three candidates are Democrats. I know this is a non-partisan race, but when it was convenient, Leppert, Jordan, Wells and Griffith reminded people they were long-time Republicans. So I think even a loose party affiliation matters, and judging by the early voting stats, last November’s Democratic sweep was no fluke. Meanwhile, if people are charged about the Trinity Vote, one way or another, Oakley should be the beneficiary of the stay-the-course bloc.
Right now, Oakley can scrabble together a neat little coalition of the Oak Cliff neighborhood types, the Stemmons small-business owners, loyal Democrats and gay voters. Maybe he should be higher on this list, but I also think he’s taken some well-deserved hits on the obvious conflict of interest he has in owning land that could be affected by his votes on the Trinity River Project.
Range of finish: 1-4
4. Max Wells: I went to a pair of forums this week, and Wells was a no-show at both. Not a good sign. Is the old guy losing steam here? Regardless, Wells is a proven vote-getter and has a resevoir of support in Lake Highlands and Far North Dallas. He has an organization in Southern Dallas as well. Any candidate in this election who can do well among disparate groups will have a very good chance tomorrow. Wells is in this category. If nobody really cares about the Trinity River vote, one way or another, switch Coats and Wells
Range of finish: 2-6
5. Gary Griffith: Gary Griffith can easily make the runoff. Here’s the formula: Kick major ass in his voter-rich Lakewood district, which features a hotly contested council race. Do reasonably well in neighborhoods just outside his district: the M Streets, Historic East Dallas and Lake Highlands. Pick up Republican votes in North Dallas. Griffith hasn’t tried to pick up a single vote in the Southern sector, but he may be able to cobble together 15,000 votes just by following the formula above.
Range of Finish: 2-5
6. Tom Leppert: Yesterday I told a Tom Leppert supporter that of all the candidates, he was the only one I could guarantee to finish in the top four. That didn’t exactly hearten the Leppert supporter -- first, because it came from someone who probably doesn’t know what he is talking about, and second, because coming in third or fourth don’t do you no good. But I meant it as a compliment.
See, of all the candidates, Leppert's stock seemed to be the least turbulent. Well, after looking at the early voting numbers, I believe I may be wrong. You would think that Leppert, with all his cash and his Dallas Morning News endorsement, should be able to cobble together 12,000 votes. But this is a totally unusual race, and I think the possible dynamics of it -- heavily Democratic, ridiculously low turnout -- hurts him. I think Leppert’s campaign is like a Daughtry performance at South by Southwest: a popular band playing before the wrong kind of crowd. Leppert won’t get booed off the stage, but I don’t think he’s coming home as one of the most popular acts of the night.
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When I thought the turnout would be around 100,000, I would have almost guaranteed Leppert would make the runoff. But I think the drop-off to only 75,000 voters puts the proven vote-getters ahead of Leppert. I think the middle manager who works at tall office building and doesn’t really pay attention to local politics is the type of voter who won’t be showing up tomorrow. And that’s the type of voter Leppert needs. Let me make one definitive prediction: Leppert can only do well at the expense of Wells and vice versa.
Range of finish: 1-6 (Again, the guy could easily win. Or he's effed.)
7. Darrell Jordan: If Darrell Jordan can run well in Northwest Dallas, where voter turnout is inexplicably high, and pick up votes among lawyers in Lakewood and North Dallas, he can slip into the runoff. At every forum, Jordan seems to have a lot of crowd support. People like him, and he always does well in all of these online polls, which should mean something -- but I don’t know what. Like Leppert, though, I think he is hurt by a low turnout race.
Range of finish: Yes. --Matt Pulle