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Political Races Handicapped; Can Winners and Losers Be Predicted?

A Column by the Editor
web posted April 8, 2014

COLUMN Although Edgefield Daily does not endorse any local candidate for political office, that does not stop me as Editor from putting on my "bookie" hat and start looking at the odds on favorites given the current information. County elections are far more interesting and have a much greater impact on things in the county, and I have studied polls and outcomes for over fifteen years. This year things have seen a surprise in the make-up of candidates like never before.

One of the two top watched races for the June Democrat Primaries is that between 22-year-incumbent Dist 1 County Councilman Norman Dorn who is in a three-way race with former councilman Albert Talbert and political newcomer Joe W. Quarles. Dorn, when challenged, barely takes a 50% majority. This will be the first three-way race he has faced in a redrawn district.

Early odds on the race places Dorn and Talbert at just under 40% each with Quarles already showing a fair amount of support. He could easily have 20% of the vote locked up already. As the primary draws near, so will the support totals. Look for Quarles to gain support putting him well into the 30% range by mid to late May. Some of those voters will come as a drain from both Dorn and Talbert.

That makes things interesting. If the vote comes down to a three way split, all with roughly at 30%, only the top two vote takers advance, which could knock Dorn out of the race completely. If so, Talbert and Quarles would face off two weeks later in a run-off to claim the seat.

The next Democrat Primary that is attracting a lot of attention is that between 25-year incumbent Probate Judge Bobby Peeler and former School Board Chair Sallie Cooks. Cooks, who's closest relation to Probate law is having a family member die, is trying to unseat a very popular judge who has won landslide elections against challengers.

But don't count Cooks out just yet. This is an "off-year" election, meaning that Democrat voters do not turn out in large numbers. That means there will be a split between a much smaller number of Democrat voters, making the number it takes to win much smaller. Judge Peeler garners a lot of Republican support, but with so many challenges from US Senate , the Governorship on down in the Republican Party, just how many will jump across to vote in the Democrat primary remains to be seen.

In the 2010 mid-term elections, Republican voters outnumbered Democrat voters nearly 2 to 1 in voting.

I believe the race for Probate Judge could come down to as few as 300 votes, most of those coming from Republicans. Odds on to win? Peeler by +9 points. Within margin of error, Cooks still loses by 4 points.

Taking the race both ways as an outcome, either winner will face off against Libertarian Kevin Beck in November. This is a no brainer for a November election projection. If Peeler wins the June Democrat Primary, he holds a historically provable lead of 40 points going into November when voters can spit their ballot in the General Election. 

If Peeler loses in June, Cooks will lose to Beck by at least 27 points in November. And that is being kind to Cooks.

The next two races will not be decided until November and get a little easier to handicap based on voter records from SCVotes.org.

Dist 3 County Councilman and Chairman Dean Campbell (R-Johnston) will face off against Democrat Michael Key in the general election. Campbell won over Democrat Frank Nicholson by 78 votes in 2010. He did not have a challenger in 2012 after the district was redrawn. Odds on favorite? Dean Campbell by +15 points. Key could make a move to appeal to Republican voters and could cut that margin to within the margin of error (+/-5 points).

The easiest race to handicap is the Dist 5 County Council race between Vice-Chair Genia Blackwell (R-Merriwether) and Democrat political newcomer Mack Thomas.  I am not sure who his political advisor is, but they obviously have not done the most basic of their homework. If I had to bet, based on the IQ of that person, it would be Norman Dorn. District 5 is 98% Republican.

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