Older, Northwest Dallas Residents Power Early Vote for Mayor as Candidates Scramble to Make Runoff

The highly competitive race for Dallas mayor is a political game of chance, with candidates hustling to piece together coalitions that will advance them to the next round.Early voting totals for the Saturday election, however, offer clues on which candidates are best positioned to make a runoff that will decide who replaces the outgoing Mayor Mike Rawlings.With a robust showing in early voting, northwest Dallas residents could determine the course of Saturday's mayoral election. A candidate or two that does well in northern Dallas could earn a spot in the June runoff, particularly if the trend continues during Saturday's regular election day."If you did well in the north in early voting you will do as well as election day," said Dallas political consultant Clayton P. Henry. "That will put you in the runoff."In most of the northern districts, Dallas developer Mike Ablon is scrapping with education nonprofit CEO Lynn McBee for dominance, though several other strong candidates hope to draw votes from the area as well, including Dallas ISD trustee Miguel Solis, Dallas lawyer and homeless czar Regina Montoya and former state Rep. Eric Johnson.Since most of the mayoral election votes will be cast in the north, the winner of the battle between Ablon and McBee -- perhaps the leading contenders in the area -- has a strong chance to make the top two. And the loser of that battle, depending on how close that matchup is, could make or narrowly miss the runoff.The rest of the field is much more muddled, so Saturday's outcome remains unpredictable. Five candidates have a strong shot of making the next round."It's a crap shoot," said Dallas Park Board president Bobby Abtahi, who opted against a mayoral bid. "The goal and the mission has been to make the runoff. They've all played it so safe that no one has clearly risen to the top."While there are fewer voters in southern Dallas, where many of the candidates have political bases, there's a premium on the candidate with the best ground game."At this point everything is about the grassroots, about getting out the vote," said Kurt Watkins, a consultant who worked for the successful 2011 campaign of Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings. "In a race this close, it's going to come down to that last door knock, several voters that you drag to the polls.Higher-than-normal early votingTurnout on Saturday is expected to be slightly higher than normal, though still dismal.Historically, only a fraction of Dallas residents participate in municipal elections.Officials hoped this year would be different, with nine candidates contending for mayor and numerous contested council races on the ballot, including intriguing rematches between incumbents and former council members in southern Dallas.A tally by the Dallas County Elections department shows that 45,733 people voted early, far above the 26,000 people who cast early ballots in 2011, the last time the mayor's seat was open. Of this year's early voters, 28,848 were from council districts considered northern territory, while 16,885 were from southern Dallas.The votes included 43,226 in-person ballots and 2,507 via mail.But just because the early vote numbers are higher than eight years ago doesn't mean overall turnout will dramatically improve on Election Day. Early voting is more popular than eight years ago, signaling that the reason for the higher number is that more city voters are casting ballots early, as opposed to the election being flooded with new voters."Voter turnout could reach 10%, which is more than the usual 7-8% we get in local elections," said Dallas County Elections Administrator Toni Pippins-Poole. "Sadly, voter turnout in municipal elections is still dismal, not where we want it to be."On the positive side, early vote totals are the largest in Dallas since 2003, when Laura Miller ran for mayor against former mayor pro tem Mary Poss.So it's not surprising that leading the way were voters from northwest Dallas' District 13, where the star-powered race between Miller and incumbent Jennifer Staubach Gates has attracted over 8,000 voters, far more than any other council district.Mining for votesMany political analysts believe McBee and Ablon are the top contenders in District 13, along with former state Rep. Jason Villalba, who represented parts of northern Dallas, getting some votes.McBee and Ablon have pounded the areas with campaign mailers and have had television ad campaigns. But Solis has held meet-and-greets in the area, and Montoya has a campaign presence there as well.More than 17% of the overall Dallas early vote came from District 13 residents. Districts 10 and 11 had 8% of the overall vote respectively.In the east, Lakewood is a battleground for several candidates, including Johnson, Solis and Montoya.About 10% of the Dallas early vote was generated by District 9, where the reliable voting precincts of Lakewood and east Dallas could propel candidates.In North Oak Cliff, Dallas council member Scott Griggs has an advantage. But his District 1 had 7% of the overall vote. In Griggs' favor is District 14, an area represented by his council ally, Philip Kingston. That district, where Kingston's re-election is being challenged, had the second highest total of early voters, with just over 5,000 participants.In southern Dallas, businessman Albert Black Jr. started with a lead, but may be knocked off course by the emergence of Johnson.Johnson, the homegrown son of West Dallas, has represented District 100 in west, east and southern Dallas since 2010. He's a proven campaigner and has more cash on hand than most of his rivals. Johnson so far has opted against a major television campaign, instead focusing on mailer and grassroots work.What's remarkable about Johnson's effort is that he's spent most of the campaign season in Austin, where the Legislature is in session.Solis hopes a strong grassroots effort boosts his campaign, which focuses heavy on his field operations, though he's also been running television ads."Grassroots may be what get you ahead in the current field," said Watkins, the consultant.Party affiliation could also play a role.Hillary Clinton, the 2016 Democratic nominee for president, has backed Montoya.Of the early vote total, 57% of voters lean Democratic, while 35 percent tilt Republican.Among other statistics of note, 59% of early voters are white, while 22% are black and nearly 9% Hispanic.Women make up 55% of early voters. There are two women in the contest, McBee and Montoya.And older voters will have the strongest say in Saturday's election. Of those who have already cast ballots, 77% are over 50, with 47% over 65.Among young voters, only 1% came from residents from age 18 to 24. And voters aged 25 to 34 were only 6% of the early vote. Even adults from ages 35 to 49 were slow to the polls, making up just 16% of all early voters."Older voters have always influenced city politics," Henry said. "These numbers go beyond that."Analysts agree there's still a case for about five candidates to make the runoff."The person who's going to have the longest summer is the person who finished third, because they will lose by a razor-thin margin," Abtahi said.  Continue reading...

Copyright The Dallas Morning News
Contact Us