Now the question is whether political newcomer Vance McAllister can do it again, by defeating state Sen. Neil Riser in the runoff for the Congressional District 5 special election on Nov. 16. Chances are the same dynamics that led to his upset second-place showing in the general election will keep him out of the office.
McAllister won a runoff spot because in a general election field of 14, in an election that was standalone for many voters, he mobilized two constituencies large enough to get him over the 15 percent of the vote needed to capture it. One was the anti-politician crowd, especially incensed at the big spending that hallmarks the Pres. Barack Obama Administration that Congress (with too little Republican resistance to stop) continues to endorse, who looked for a credible non-politician to back. The other was people less reliably interested in politics but turned on by his affiliation with the family that stars in the reality television show Duck Dynasty, differentiating him from the other reliably conservative Republicans like Riser in the race. By apparently plowing hundreds of thousands of dollars of his own funds into the contest, much in the last week, he made himself visible enough to have those kinds of voters activated or aware he was out there.
But the lightning is unlikely to strike twice given the nature of the election will be different. He will have nearly triple his vote proportion, with a limited base on which to expand. Other Republicans in the race tried to position themselves as Washington outsiders, but they only got about 20 percent of the vote. Some may gravitate to McAllister, but others went with the other pair of candidates because they preferred more experience and their issue preferences. Many of them will sit it out or side with Riser. And it’s not likely that significantly more casual voters can be mobilized using the celebrity factor than were there for the general election.
That’s not so bad because turnout, just above 21 percent in that election, probably will dip below that for the runoff where there is nothing else on the ballot and some people disgruntled that their favored candidate didn’t make it who prefer neither Riser nor McAllister, Republicans who scarcely differ on issue preferences, will sit it out. That will be true especially among black Democrats, who appear to have comprised about 20 percent of the electorate and most of whom who voted for either of the two black candidates in the race. Not many of this group will feel like voting for either very conservative candidate.
That is bad for McAllister, because he’s the one behind by 14 points from the start. If you remove half of the other Republicans’ votes and half of the black vote (assuming those that do vote split them), the electorate has shrunk by a quarter, meaning that of the remaining 80,000 or so, Riser already has over 40 percent of them, and needs just 9,000 or so more to win, while McAllister would need 24,000. Splitting half of these votes gives Riser that margin. And this 17 percent turnout is an optimistic scenario: if it falls to 15, then Riser needs only about 3,000, so he could lose four of five of these votes and still pull it out. And Riser has the campaign resources to collect these figures.
So while it’s a fascinating story, chances are it ends here for McAllister, and what many suspected the contest would turn out to be, Riser’s coronation, looks quite likely.