Today is my last day as a member of the Virginia Senate. I am not as disappointed as I thought I would be. I know it sounds cliché, but I am starting a new chapter in my life. And that has worked out well in the past. As most of you know, I’ve lost political office before and was better off for it. New opportunities to serve will present themselves and I am ready for the challenges ahead.
I’ve always said that I have learned more from my failures than my successes. This loss is no different. Someone said that never failing means you’re not taking enough risks to succeed and create positive change.
It’s probably unprecedented for an outgoing legislator to examine the details of his loss in such a public forum. But I am going to give it a shot—I kind of like being unconventional.
This assessment of my primary is based solely on numbers. It is not in anyway based on issues. I’ll keep those assessments to myself for now. For those that don’t know, 7,215 votes were cast in my June 2007 primary. I received 3,570 votes--76 votes short of winning. After receiving an updated voter file, we have compared the election data with our internal targets and identified supporters.
Here is a regional vote breakdown and turnout percentage.
Radford City: Bell - 134, Smith - 43, Turnout - 2.5%
Montgomery County: Bell - 350, Smith - 178, Turnout - 2.3%
Salem City: Bell - 570, Smith - 463, Turnout - 6.7%
Roanoke County: Bell - 1825, Smith - 1916, Turnout - 6.9%
Botetourt County: Bell - 691, Smith - 1045, Turnout - 8%
Total: Bell - 3570, Smith - 3645, Turnout - 5.9%
Our campaign identified voters by targeting past Republican primary voters and consistent general election voters with mail, phones and door-to-door canvassing. Our target universe was 30,367 voters. That’s roughly 1 in 4 voters in the entire Senate District. We excluded Democrat primary voters.
The total number of identified supporters that did not vote was 2,379. They were complacent for two reasons. The first is that many of my supporters did not take this race seriously and simply didn’t consider voting a high priority. Yes, they supported me, but they didn’t bother to vote. It was our fault for not instilling a greater sense of urgency in them.
Looking regionally, 1 in 2 of our identified supporters in Botetourt County voted. In Montgomery and Radford, it was 1 in 3. My opponent was from Botetourt and we both waged a “visible” campaign there. In contrast, my opponent hardly stepped foot in Radford or Montgomery and had no real campaign effort there. My supporters in Botetourt saw first hand the sense of urgency. Those in the lower part of the district did not, and turnout suffered as a result.
Of the 7,215 voters, we have estimated that 487 were core Democrats (outside of our Republican target and consistent voters). I would argue that my opponent and I split this vote. I heard from some Democrats who liked me personally and voted for me in the primary. I also heard about Democrats who voted for my opponent because of their desire to create an open seat and the opportunity for a pick up.
1,921 primary voters were outside of our target. Of those, 1,056 had only voted in the 2004 Presidential election (when considering the 2003, 2004 and 2005 election cycles) and had never voted in a Republican primary. We would never have targeted these voters in the primary and probably would not have even done so in the general. They had no pattern of voting in state or off year elections. In order to reach these voters, you would have to target every voter in the district--a task that would be immensely expensive. I don’t know any campaign that would have done so. And yet, this group made up nearly 15% of all the voters in the primary.
These voters received absolutely no contact from our campaign. Not one piece of mail. No phone calls. And no door-to-door contact. My opponent was able to tap into this pool of voters that we were not communicating with. It’s interesting to note that this number is greater than Smith’s general election victory margin and probably made the difference then as well.
I have drawn my own conclusions as to who these folks were. You are free to do the same.
Well, it’s time to get back to more important things like hearing my 2.5 year old daughter count to nurteen. If you don’t know, it comes right after twelve!