The difference between winning and losing
The question: What is it that puts a winner over the top in a local election?
What I do know is that conventional wisdom didn't appear to be of much help in Tuesday's election.
I suspect that when the winners and losers go back to figure out what went right or wrong, they probably won't be any more enlightened than when they began their campaigns.
For example, can money buy a win?Not necessarily. Most local campaigns are financed by the candidate and close friends and supporters. However two groups were able to raise and spend substantially more money than their opponents.
In Lake Geneva, the Vote No On Mirbeau-Hummel Political Group spent heavily to defeat a referendum that would allow a large-scale residential development on the city's south side. The group placed full-page ads in the Lake Geneva Regional News and had advertised for a full month in The Week prior to the election.
They also waged a well-organized grass-roots effort in Lake Geneva. On Tuesday, the referendum was defeated 1,277-414.
On the other hand, the group People for Good Government, which registered as a political action committee in March, campaigned for candidates in the Walworth County Board races. (The group had to return a $5,000 contribution from an Illinois corporation. The donation violated state campaign finance laws.)
They endorsed candidates in each of the 11 county board races, but only five of their candidates were victorious.
How important is name recognition?
Both the contested mayors' races were relatively close, and both candidates were well known in their communities. In Lake Geneva, Bill Chesen defeated former mayor Spyro Condos. In Delavan, incumbent Mel Nieuwenhuis defeated alderwoman Ellen Reddy.
The race for Walworth County Board highlighted how important name recognition is. Of the six newcomers who have never been a member of the Walworth County Board, only one--Fredrick Mark Bromley--defeated an incumbent, long-time supervisor Ann Lohrmann.
Can negative campaigning sink an opponent?Granted this is unscientific, but based on the tone of letters to the editor in The Week and comments on theweekextra.com, the three most negative campaigns were the races for Delavan Town Board, Lake Geneva mayor and the District 3 Walworth County Board race between Bromley and Lohrmann.
In most cases, the venom tended to spew from supporters, rather than the candidates themselves. In all cases, once the first negative letters appeared in print, both sides piled on, so neither side gained any advantage.
Here's a suggestion for the next campaign: If no one starts the mudslinging, voters can be spared the sideshow.
How important is news coverage?
I'd like to think very important, and hopefully it is for many voters. Nearly every local paper, including The Week, covered developments in the races as well as publishing Q&As on the top issues.
Ultimately, it's still up to the voters to do the research and decide which candidate is best for them.
Politics is made up of two often-incompatible job descriptions. First comes the job of running for office. Next comes the job of being an elected official.
Tuesday's vote cleared up who is effective in the first part of their responsibility. The weeks ahead will tell us how effective they are at the second.