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Chapter Thirty-four: Results of the Primary Election


It usually takes several days or perhaps weeks for final election results to be determined. A month after the March 9th primary, the Louisiana secretary of state published the following vote totals and percentages for candidates in the Democratic presidential primary:

112,639 70% Kerry, John F.
26,074 16% Edwards, John
7,948 5% Dean, Howard
7,091 4% Clark, Wesley K.
3,161 2% McGaughey, “Bill”
2,411 1% Kucinich, Dennis J.
2,329 1% LaRouche, Jr., Lyndon H.

On the Republican side, the results were:

69,205 96% Bush, George W.
2,805 4% Wyatt, “Bill”

The published percentages exaggerate my margin of victory over the candidates who finished behind me. Carried out to three decimal points, I had 1.955% of the total votes, Dennis Kucinich had 1.491% of the votes, and Lyndon LaRouche had 1.441% of the votes. John Kerry’s percentage of the vote was 69.679% rather than 70%.

John Kerry obviously did quite well. But so did the three Democratic candidates who had dropped out of the presidential race before March 9th. Louisiana voters continued to support them although they had said they were no longer candidates for the presidential nomination. I had naively assumed that would not be the case.

And here is where I miscalculated the most in predicting that I would receive 5% to 10% of the primary vote. Had Louisiana voters not given the three withdrawn candidates any votes but instead voted for the remaining candidates other than Kerry (assuming these were votes protesting the lack of a real contest) in the same proportion as the votes they actually received, I would have received more than 12% of the primary vote instead of somewhat less than 2%. But that is fantasy. I take some pride, however, in the fact that the Republican challenger, Bill Wyatt, received fewer votes than I did while gaining twice as large a percentage of the total votes cast in his party’s race.

That is the “what” of the story. In this chapter, we will discuss mostly the “why”. Why did John Kerry win by such a margin? He was obviously a popular candidate but also a man generally acknowledged to be the Democratic nominee by the time of the Louisiana primary. That might have helped him with party regulars and have hurt everyone else. If Kerry had a lock on the nomination, it also affected voter turnout. What was the point of voting if the ultimate end, the Democratic nomination, was already determined?

With respect to Kucinich, LaRouche, and me, one cannot assume that John Edwards’ withdrawal from the race a week earlier favored one of us more than the others. Fewer people voted, but the proportion should not have been affected. Before the campaign, no one knew who I was. People did know LaRouche and Kucinich. I had more media exposure than they in the preceding five weeks because I was the only candidate actively campaigning in Louisiana. But, with one exception, I still cannot think how I was helped or hurt more than the other two by the fact that the media considered the race done after Edwards dropped out.

Where it might have made a difference was in the publicity given us during the last week. It seems clear that Marsha Shuler’s article in the Baton Rouge paper omitted any mention of me (or them) because Shuler thought there was no contest. Had there been a contest, she might have included some of that long-held information about my campaign in her article. For the New Orleans paper, I know that was the case. Keith O’Brien was also sitting on information about my campaign. In response to my subsequent inquiry, he emailed me: “I apologize for not being able to write about you and your campaign here in Louisiana. It just didn't work out this time. After Edwards conceded the election days before our primary, the campaign just wasn't much news here anymore.” I can’t complain about that decision. McAuliffe knew what he was doing when he made sure that I would not be a candidate in an active contest.

What interests me here is not what happened externally but my own efforts and how they might have affected the election results. For that analysis, we must look to the votes and percentages by parish. I did better in some parishes than in others. How do those results correlate with known campaign activities in each parish? If, for instance, the dominant newspaper in a parish published a glowing account about me right before the election, one would expect that I would receive an unusually high percentage of the total votes cast in that parish. If I lacked any publicity in the parish or received negative publicity, then one should expect me to do poorly there. Since I have seen few of the newspaper articles that were published about my campaign, I do not know in most cases whether the publicity was positive or negative or even if there was any. My information may be faulty but I will nevertheless try to look at the election results from that perspective.

From the standpoint of numbers of votes cast, it’s clear that parishes with more persons voting in the Democratic primary affect the total more than parishes with fewer voters. The votes I received would be a product of the total votes and my percentage of them. If I had a large percentage of a small number of total votes cast in the parish, the number of my votes would be small. Therefore, my publicity efforts in that parish might be effective, but it would not affect my statewide total or percentage of votes very much.

What happened in this election was that some of my lowest vote percentages were in parishes that cast the largest numbers of votes; and some of my highest vote percentages were in those parishes with the fewest votes cast. Orleans Parish, where New Orleans is located, is the prime example. There were 30,788 votes cast here in the Democratic primary, which was twice as many as the next largest parish, Jefferson. Unfortunately for me, I received my lowest percentage of votes here of any of Louisiana’s 64 parishes - 0.656% compared with 1.955% statewide. East Baton Rouge Parish, site of Baton Rouge, gave me my fourth lowest vote percentage - 1.351%. Rapides Parish, site of Alexandria, also gave me 1.351% of the total votes.

The election results showed, then, that I did poorly in most large cities. Why was this? Was the urban voter less receptive to my trade message? Had I unknowingly received bad publicity? In New Orleans and Baton Rouge, I had been a “no show” on a radio talk show in each city within 24 hours before the election. That could have had an impact. I had, however, participated in Jeff Crouere’s radio program in New Orleans during that same period. Christopher Tidmore, following up on an hour-long radio interview, had written a column about my campaign which appeared in the New Orleans publication, Louisiana Weekly, three weeks before the election. And, of course, I had given my opinion of gay marriage on his radio show in the wrong time slot.

Another reason for my relatively poor performance in New Orleans might be that the other candidates put forth a greater effort here than I did. They might have had active campaign organizations. They might have attracted greater publicity. I do know that John Kerry’s campaign appearance in New Orleans on the Friday before the primary was extensively covered by the media. In Orleans Parish, Kerry received 83.757% of the Democratic primary vote compared with 69.679% statewide. This explanation may have merit.

In Baton Rouge, I am assuming that I received no publicity at all due to Marsha Shuler’s decision first to hold back and then not publish information about my campaign. Also, Brittany Shay of Baton Rouge station WFMF-FM decided not to interview me after once expressing an interest. That left only my “no show” on Jim Engler’s program. In Alexandria, I was interviewed by Dave Graichen and Bob Madison on station KSYL and by William Taylor in the Daily Town Talk early in the campaign. Did I come across poorly in those interviews? Did the publicity come too early to leave an impression in voters’ minds on election day?

Something that appeared in the Daily Town Talk the day before the election might have had an impact. A story by Julia Robb reported: “When asked about (Bill) McGaughey, Rapides Parish Democratic Executive Committee Chairman Brian Cespiva said, ‘Bill who?’” The article later disclosed that I was a landlord and was interested in a shorter workweek and “ideas like the comparison between rhythm and form as philosophical concepts.” Also, my typical method of campaigning was to carry a sign.

Some of this personal information may have turned off voters. However, I believe that such publicity, even if negative, does not hurt small candidates like me so much. Most people, having never heard of me before, would not be inclined to give me their vote. Bad publicity would not change that. Good publicity, on the other hand, would give people a positive reason to vote for a relatively unknown candidate. Any publicity, good or bad, would create name recognition. It would create buzz.

With 3.044% of the vote, I did much better in Louisiana’s fourth largest city, Lafayette. That result must certainly be attributed to Lou Rom’s article about my campaign in the Daily Advertiser on Monday, March 8th, although there may have been lingering name recognition from the television coverage during Mardi Gras. In Lake Charles, Louisiana’s fifth largest city, I received 1.85% of the votes - slightly below the statewide average. On the other hand, in the state’s third largest city, Shreveport, my vote percentage was slightly higher than the statewide average: 2.121%. It was 1.98% - about average - in Monroe, the state’s eighth largest city Surprisingly, however, I received more votes in Monroe than in Shreveport because more people voted in the Democratic primary. The stronger result in these two northern cities may have reflected the television news coverage that I received on the day before the primary. When I report votes in “cities”, I really mean in the parishes where the cities are located. That distinction should be made clear.

A conclusion that can be drawn from my weak showing in Louisiana’s larger cities was that the one-inch block ads in the six big-city newspapers right before the election did my campaign little good. I had spent $2,000 on them, convinced that this might tip the scales in my favor. I had doubled the advertising budget in the last week in a sudden surge of confidence. How mistaken I was! Persons with greater marketing expertise than I will have to provide the explanation. Was it because I openly supported tariffs? Was it because I also plugged John Kerry in the ads? Was it because the ads had a poor visual appearance or, being one-inch ads, seemed cheap? Again, I have no answer. It does appear that the ads were counterproductive.

On a positive note, I did quite well in a number of parishes with smaller populations and voter turnouts, especially in the western and in the northeastern parts of the state. Concordia Parish, where Ferriday is located, tops the list at 3.974 percent of the vote. I did not stop at the newspaper office in Ferriday but do know that an article written by Rod Elrod of the Franklin Sun in Winnsboro also appeared in that city’s newspaper. Sabine Parish gave me the second highest percentage of votes. Its principal newspaper is the Sabine Index in Many. This is where the political reporter, Pam Russell, promised to run a story about my campaign on the front page of the newspaper and where I had other interesting discussions in the office. Union Parish, third on the list of highest percentages, is the parish where Farmerville is located. I visited this town’s newspaper after the deadline had passed. Why my campaign was relatively successful here I do not know. Winn Parish, fourth on the list, is where Bob Holeman, editor of the Winn Parish Enterprise, took me to lunch at the Rotary Club. Natchitoches Parish, including the city of Natchitoches, gave me the fifth highest percentage and also the fifth largest number of votes in absolute terms. It requires special discussion.

I spent two nights and a full day in Natchitoches attending the Governor’s Conference on Rural Economic Development on February 10th. That was probably not why my campaign was successful here. Most of the conference attendees were from other localities. I did not talk up my presidential campaign during the conference. I did visit the local newspaper, the Natchitoches Times, and, more importantly perhaps, had a 12-minute interview on radio station KNOC in Natchitoches on the morning of February 20th. It’s likely that these two bits of publicity did more to produce the 179 votes and 3.716% of the vote total that I received in Natchitoches.

Interestingly, my campaign received the largest number of votes in Jefferson Parish, which belongs to the New Orleans metropolitan area. The parish seat is Gretna, right across the river from downtown New Orleans, but the parish also includes Metairie and Kenner to the west. Jefferson Parish gave me 254 votes but only 1.838% of the total votes cast, slightly below my statewide average. Since New Orleans media also cover this area, I have no idea why my campaign did so much better here than in Orleans Parish.

The parish giving me the second largest number of votes, and also an above-average percentage, was Tangipahoa Parish, north of Lake Pontchartrain. My only interview in this parish was at the office of the Ponchatoula Times, but it was a good one. This is where Bryan McMahon and I reminisced about old Detroit. I also dropped off literature at Hammond in this parish and had a short interview at Amite. Orleans Parish gave me the third largest number of votes, thanks to the large number of votes cast in total. Then came Ouachita Parish (Monroe), Natchitoches Parish (Natchitoches), Lafayette Parish (Lafayette), Caddo Parish (Shreveport), and East Baton Rouge Parish (Baton Rouge) in that order.

It would have been good if I had had a full page of coverage in the state’s largest newspaper, as Bill Wyatt had, but my campaign strategy was more to drive around the state seeking coverage in small- and middle-sized newspapers. For an unknown candidate like me, this works well. The media people in these cities and towns are not so apt to have “presidential” candidates calling on them. They’re more willing to spend time in conversation. Their readers may also appreciate the effort made by candidates in visiting their community. In such places one feels that the voters, editors, reporters, and candidates are partners in that great enterprise which we call democracy.

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