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ANALYSIS: Foregone Conclusions; Foreseeable Concerns

- March 6, 2024

by Martin Davis
EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

Tuesday night’s presidential primary was as predictable as would be fan enthusiasm were the Kansas City Chiefs to come to our region to play perennial powerhouse King George High School. Crowds would turn out from everywhere to see the decked-in-red Chiefs. As for the decked-in-blue Foxes? They’d have their supporters, but let’s get real.

Trump’s supporters showed out Tuesday. Biden’s? He had his supporters, but they were washed over by a sea of red. And this may be the most concerning matter of all for the Democrats lining up to run for the 7th District Congressional seat.

To understand why, let’s turn to the numbers.

Gaining Perspective

To understand why Democrats seeking the 7th District seat should be worried, it helps to begin by turning the clock back to 2020.

That year, Joe Biden had struggled early in the primary season, got a boost by winning South Carolina, and then sailed on Super Tuesday. Still, competition was fierce that Super Tuesday and Democrats were motivated to turn out. And turn out they did.

In total, more than 47,000 people went to the polls to cast a ballot.

Compare that to what happened yesterday.

Just over 12,000 voters cast a ballot.

How bad is that number?

  • It’s nearly a 75% decrease from 2020.
  • Donald Trump won just over 10,000 votes in Stafford County alone on Tuesday.
  • Trump won nearly 10,000 votes in Spotsylvania.
  • Between Caroline, Fredericksburg, King George, Spotsylvania, and Stafford, Trump won about 25,000 votes. That’s more than twice the total number of votes cast in the Democratic primary.

It’s hard to know why the turnout was so poor on Tuesday, but there are a number of possible reasons:

  1. Biden was going to win – Facing no significant challenger this year, Biden has been on campaign cruise control this primary season. With his nomination all but assured, many voters may have well wondered, Why bother turning out?
  2. Lesser of two evils – To say that voters are disappointed in the showdown we’re now all but sure to get in November between an octogenarian and a soon-to-be octogenarian is to soft-sell the obvious. While voters are unhappy across the board, Biden and the Democrats face a serious enthusiasm gap. Primaries are rarely big turn-out days, but the lack of Democratic voters is obvious.
  3. Youth don’t care this time around – Biden got a big boost from young voters in 2020; this time around, they’re souring on him for a range of reasons. They feel he hasn’t done enough to address student loan debts, and they’re angry about his response to the tragedy going on in Gaza. And one can’t discount the possibility that Biden simply isn’t connecting with them.

Whatever the reason, such a dramatic drop in voter turnout should worry Democratic Congressional candidates this year.

Margaret Franklin, a Democrat seeking Spanberger’s seat, put it bluntly. Speaking with the Advance via text, she said: “We certainly have a lot of work to do to energize our voter base, and that means better engaging with our Democratic voters.”

Running Uphill

When Abigail Spanberger won her seat for a third time in 2022, she did so by significantly closing the margins by which she lost in both Spotsylvania County and Stafford County in 2018.

In both those counties on Tuesday, however, voter turnout for Biden was down by over half from 2020.

Traditional wisdom states that the top of the ticket is what drives turnout – especially in a presidential election year.

Should these poor turnout showings prove to be prophetic, and not an aberration, whichever Democrat survives the primary in June to be on the ballot for the General Election in November will be running uphill. The gap that Spanberger closed in 2022 all but gone.

One group is betting that’s exactly what will happen, and they’re trying to reverse the energy flow in this year’s election by getting people excited about down-ticket races. Should that happen, they believe the momentum these races creates will drive turnout that ultimately affects the presidential election.

“We know people aren’t super excited. We know people have frustrations with certain things coming out of the administration, and definitely are frustrated that we’re having to vote between Donald Trump and Biden again,” Shaniqua McClendon, Crooked’s vice president of political strategy, told Politico. “But in the face of that, we are really honing in on reminding people of the stakes.”

By getting people motivated to keep the Senate in Democratic hands, and to try and regain the House, this group believes it can build energy at the bottom of the ticket and flow that power up-ballot.

The Nikki Haley Effect

November, of course, is a very long time away. One thing that people will be watching is what happens to those people supporting Nikki Haley.

On Tuesday, Haley took a little more than 9,700 votes. (Trump took just over 24,400 votes.) The question becomes, what becomes of Haley’s voters in November? Do they side with Trump? Vote for Biden? Or simply stay home?

If they side with Trump, it could spell a bloodbath for the Democrat running in the 7th District. Should they vote for Biden, they may also pull the lever for the Democrat seeking Spanberger’s seat. And if they stay home? That could prove bad for the Republicans.

It’s worth remembering, however, that last year’s primaries for the state senate seat also showed poor Democratic turnout relative to Republican turnout, and Democratic candidate Joel Griffin nearly pulled it out. But the optimism gap then is overshadowed by the enthusiasm gap evident on Tuesday.

The clock is ticking – November will be here quicker than many realize.

The concerns are clear to see. The conclusions, however, are not foregone.

That’s up to the voters, if candidates can get them to the polls.

- Published posts: 238

by Martin Davis EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

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