The race for the Republican nomination for the 61st state house district was decided on Tuesday. The results, broken down by precinct, are available from Election Magic.
DETAILED results for State Representative 61st District
Here are the overall results.
Larry DeShazor: .. 4015 49%
Margaret O'Brien:. 3675 45%
David Yardley: ..... 502 . 6%
Margaret O'Brien won every precinct in Kalamazoo Township, Alamo Township, and Parchment. She also won Oshtemo 6 and 7, Texas 6, and six precincts in central Portage. Larry DeShazor won most of Portage, Texas, and Oshtemo, plus Prairie Ronde. DeShazor did best in home precinct of Portage 18, plus Portage 5 and 10, also in southern Portage. Yardley did slightly better in Texas, Prairie Ronde, and Oshtemo than elsewhere.
In 2006, DeShazor won only six precincts in Portage, and one in Kalamazoo Township.
DeShazor gained more than 100 votes relative to 2006 in Oshtemo 3 (188), Portage 10 and 12, Kalamazoo 9, Prarie Ronde, and Texas 4. Margaret's biggest relative gain was 20 votes in Alamo 1.
In 2008, there were 76,804 registered voters in the 61st district, and 12,221 voted, for a turnout rate of 15.9%. Of those who voted, 8192, or 67%, voted in the Republican primary, while 2675, or 21.9%, voted in the democrat primary for Julie Rogers. Apparently, 1354 voters, or 11.1%, did not vote in this race. Many of these were probably democrats who saw no need to vote in an uncontested primary. Thus 10.7% of registered voters voted in the Republican primary.
In 2006, there were 73,026 registered voters in the 61st district, and 14,498 voted, for a turnout rate of 19.9%. Of those who voted, 8882, or 61.3%, voted in the Republican primary, while 3623, or 25%, voted in the democrat primary for Rogers. There were 1993 voters, or 13.7%, who did not vote in this race. Thus 12.2% of registered voters voted in the Republican primary.
In 2008, turnout varied by precinct from 25% in Alamo 1 and Oshtemo 3 to 5% in Portage 2 and Oshtemo 5. There was no clear correlation between turnout and support for a candidate. Margaret won high turnout precincts in Alamo, Texas 6, and Portage 9, while Larry won high turnout precincts in Oshtemo 3, Texas 2 and 5, and Portage 12 and 17. Meanwhile, Margaret won low turnout precincts in Kalamazoo 2 and 5, and Portage 2, while Larry won low turnout precincts in Oshtemo 5 and 8, and Portage 21.
So what explains the difference between 2006 and 2008?
Was it democrat crossover votes? We can reasonable assume that there were some, most likely more than Larry's 340 vote margin of victory. But there were also democrat crossovers in 2006, when Jack won big. The number of Julie Rogers voters, along with the presumably democratic nonvoters, declined from 2006 from to 2008 by about 1000 and 600 respectively. But the number of voters on the Republican side declined by 700 voters, making it unlikely that much larger numbers of democrats crossed over this time.
Further, if democrat crossovers were to blame, you would expect the most democrat precincts to have relatively large turnouts, and for Larry to win those precincts. But the more democrat precincts of Kalamazoo 2 and 5, Oshtemo 5 and 8, and Portage 1, 2, and 7 all had low turnout. Meanwhile, Margaret swept Kalamazoo Township, the most democrat part of the district, and also won Portage 1, 2, and 7, while Larry won Oshtemo 5 and 8. Larry also won heavily Republican areas in Texas and Prairie Ronde. It is theoretically possible that there were democrat crossovers concentrated in more suburban Republican precincts, but this is not supported by the available data.
Was David Yardley a spoiler? Probably not. While his voters probably would have gone more to Margaret than to Larry, it is unlikely that they would have gone at the more than 5:1 ratio she would have needed.
Was it the dirty trick flyer and robocall? Probably not. Democrats didn't vote in unusual numbers, and the flyer and robocall would not likely help Larry amongst Republicans.
So what did change from 2006 to 2008?
One big change was that in 2006, Jack had the Right to Life endorsement, while in 2008, RTL did not make an endorsement. Right to Life can swing a lot of votes in a Republican primary.
Another factor was that in 2006, Jack got the Farm Bureau endorsement, while in 2008 Larry got the endorsement. This probably explains much of the 104 vote swing toward Larry in Prairie Ronde.
Another factor was that in 2006, Jack was the incumbent and had good name recognition across the district. In 2008, Margaret wasn't nearly as well known, while Larry likely had somewhat greater name recognition from his 2006 run.
What did Margaret so well? She rounded up a lot of endorsements from local organizations and officials (more than Jack had in 2006). She did very well in yard sign placements, winning narrowly in Portage and having overwhelmingly more in the rest of the district. She also had significantly more letters to the editor in the Gazette. She also worked very hard at knocking on doors and talking to voters.
What did Larry do well? He managed to position himself carefully enough on the hot button issues of abortion and taxes that voters who weren't paying close attention (most of them) couldn't distinguish the candidates' positions. Larry also worked hard and knocked on lots of doors.
What didn't Margaret do well? She didn't do enough to distinguish herself from Larry on the issues. Her literature, aside from specialty pro-life pieces, was mostly about her involvement and accomplishments. That's nice, of course, but Larry had lots of that too. She also didn't use the endorsements that she got effectively. Her general literature had only Mary Balkema listed as an endorser. Her website listed her endorsements and discussed issues, but few voters read campaign websites.
Further, in an election where only 10.7% of registered voters voted in the Republican primary, the better strategy would be to target likely voters, not spend time at every house. Also, a program to remind identified supporters to get out the vote (generally through phone calls) was needed.