Look who’s the longshot now.
Jennifer Roberts had a little fun with the Observer after winning the Democratic runoff for mayor last night, noting in her victory speech how we (actually, it was me) said at one point that she was “a longshot.” Props to Roberts for noting that we/I said that “insiders” saw her that way – a distinction that didn’t make it into many emails to me from her passionate supporters.
Those supporters have lots to celebrate now, because Roberts is anything but a longshot any longer. In fact, it’s her opponent, Republican Edwin Peacock, who has a tall hill to climb, thanks to a city that has trended starkly blue in recent years.
Can a Republican even win in a city-wide race in Charlotte these days?
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Editorial page editor Taylor Batten happened to ask that same question just two years ago, when Peacock faced Democrat Patrick Cannon in the race for mayor. (Cannon, as you know, eventually won by a little more than six points.)
Many of the same dynamics work today. Then, as now, Democrats make up about 50 percent of Charlotte’s half-million voters, and Republicans make up 23 percent. That means, as Batten said two years ago, that Peacock starts in a deep hole.
“How deep?” he wrote. “Let's say all three groups turn out at equal rates. If Peacock wins all of the Republicans, 70 percent of the independents and 16 percent of the Democrats, he is at 49.9 percent of the vote and loses by a hair. If instead he wins 60 percent of the independents, he would need to win 21.6 percent of the Democratic vote.
“That's not easy – but it's not impossible either. And the numbers change as turnout changes. If Republicans and independents turn out at higher rates, Peacock needs fewer independents and Democrats. If Democrats turn out more, Peacock's road to victory becomes very steep.”
Race also is a factor. Blacks overwhelmingly tend to vote Democrat, and there’s little reason to think that’ll change despite there being no black in the race as there was two years ago. Given the racial breakdown of Charlotte voters, that means Roberts should have somewhere near 35 percent of the vote in hand (if voters of all races turn out in equal numbers).
So what’s Peacock’s (or any Republican’s) path to victory? Batten says it’s in Charlotte’s racially mixed precincts, and he looks back even further, to the very close 2009 Anthony Foxx-John Lassiter race, to explain:
“It was in the racially mixed precincts where Foxx won the election. In those 101 polling places, 59,000 votes were cast. Foxx won those precincts by more than 14,000 votes, overwhelming Lassiter about 62 percent to 38 percent.
“This is where the opportunity for Peacock lies. If he does as well (and as poorly) in heavily white and heavily black precincts as Lassiter did (and there's no reason to think he won't), he would need 40.5 percent of the vote in the “mixed” precincts, or just 2.5 percentage points more than Lassiter got there. Entirely possible.”
That’s true all over again for Peacock, except with one additional complicating factor: Roberts has done particularly well with female voters, and that’s sure to cross party lines at least some.
So yes, a Republican can win in Charlotte. It’s just getting harder each year, and it will be even more so this time around for Edwin Peacock.
But as Jennifer Roberts knows, it’s not always bad when the Observer calls you a longshot.
Peter St. Onge