Outside factors could influence mayor, council outcomes

Aug. 22, 2014 @ 08:26 PM

Voters will have plenty of issues — from the fate of The City Project to the level of property tax and electric rates — to determine this fall who represents them as mayor and council members.

But factors that don’t have anything directly to do with city politics might play a role in who leads High Point after voters go to the polls.
The turnout for the hotly contested U.S. Senate seat and the endorsements of High Point candidates by the two major political parties could influence who wins city races for mayor and eight seats on the City Council.  
High Point is among a half a dozen municipalities from more than 500 in North Carolina that hold elections in even-numbered years, a change that took effect last decade. The shift of election cycles occurred to increase turnout in city elections, which it has accomplished. But it’s also left High Point campaigns open to influence from other contests on the ticket.
A major outside factor on the High Point elections this fall could involve the expected heavy turnout for the race between Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan of Greensboro and Republican State House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, the GOP Senate nominee. The bid by Tillis to unseat Hagan is one of the highest-profile Senate races in the nation.
“It’s really competitive, which presumably will drive up turnout potentially on both sides,” said Matthew DeSantis, political science professor at Guilford Technical Community College.
Name recognition for High Point candidates could prove critical in encouraging voters mainly turning out for the Senate race to notice city office-seekers down the ballot, DeSantis told The High Point Enterprise.
Another outside factor that could affect High Point outcomes is any endorsements by the local Democratic and Republican parties, DeSantis said.
High Point municipal races are nonpartisan, meaning the party affiliations of the candidates don’t appear on the ballot. But that doesn’t mean city elections are divorced from partisan politics.
The local Democratic and Republican parties traditionally endorse candidates for High Point local office. As voters arrive at polling places, campaign volunteers give them a handout with a slate of candidates supported by one party or the other.
The endorsements of the parties provide some voters with guidance on which candidates to support, DeSantis said.
“You not only are getting an endorsement; you are presumably getting some support with voter mobilization. But that can be a big deal — in a local election, a couple of hundred votes could be the difference,” DeSantis said.
Two of the three candidates for mayor have strong ties to each of the major political parties.
State Rep. Marcus Brandon, D-Guilford, not only is a two-term state legislator, but has been active as an organizer in a variety of Democratic campaigns. Guilford County Commission Chairman Bill Bencini, a former councilman, leads the Republican majority of the Board of Commissioners.
Brandon, Bencini and first-time candidate Jimmy Scott are vying to succeed Mayor Bernita Sims, who isn’t seeking re-election. But Sims, a Democrat, is an example of how endorsements can help candidates. Two years ago, she was helped into office by the turnout of Democrats casting ballots to re-elect President Barack Obama.
Another example of the influence of outside factors on the fate of a High Point candidate involves former at-large Councilwoman Mary Lou Blakeney.
In 2008, when the president swept into office for his first term, Blakeney won an at-large seat as a challenger for the City Council. She was supported by local Democrats who turned out heavily in the election.
Two years later, when the Tea Party backlash to the president swept Republicans into office across the state and nation, Blakeney lost her council seat.
pjohnson@hpe.com | 888-3528


Key remaining election dates

• Oct. 10 - Last day to register to vote for general election
• Oct. 23 - First day of early voting
• Nov. 1 - Last day of early voting
• Nov. 4 - Election Day