BASIN "SWAG": GOP PRIMARY, 8TH CIRCUIT JUDGE
Picking a winner in this three-way race over eight counties is quite an undertaking. The nominee will face Chris Scholz in the November general. This is a non-presidential, almost certainly low turnout primary. It is difficult to detect that any of the candidates have any particularly highly developed expertise in election day efforts. Making a SWAG (Scientific Wild Ass Guess) about this is doubly difficult because, to various degrees, everybody here is a valued colleague.
One of the difficulties in examining this race is making sense of the volume of turnout between the population center, Adams County, and the other seven counties. As nearly as I can determine, none of the three candidates has any particular base in Menard County, which can be expected to have the second largest GOP voter turnout. There is a noticeable lack of palpable excitement in the local GOP for any particular statewide candidate. When one of these statewide candidates comes to town, all the usual suspects seem to show up. Then there is the primary date. We have never had an off year, gubernatorial primary in February before. The spontaneous, nonregular primary voter is those more unpredictable. My assumption, based on not much, is that any clear winner in Adams County is likely to win circuit wide.
If all that were not ambiguous enough, we have the relatively low bar ratings for each of the candidates. My own view of the ratings for all three GOP candidates is that they were a little stingy. I cannot explain those ratings but from my own observations and experience. I can say, without doubt, that there was no democrat lawyer plot to downgrade any of these candidates. Finally, I have never had the vaguest idea how bar ratings impact the electorate. In other words, "do actual human beings really care what lawyers think about other lawyers?"
Adding the ultimate layer of confusion are the three very different and distinct campaign paths of these three men have taken. Downey has waged an aggressive television and yard sign campaign. It is probably the nature of his job that it has been difficult for him to get to a lot of events in the outlying counties. Television in a low turnout primary is usually a losing proposition. Moreover, Downey (a really nice, warm man) is not displayed to best advantage on television. His stiff and stern presentation likely scares small children. While I am always the last to know about direct mailings to GOP primary voters (there are none of those in my house) I suspect his resource allocation has kept him from doing a lot of direct mail. This is a mere guess on my part, based on the finite nature of campaign money. On the other hand, Ed is a competent lawyer and makes a very nice personal impression. He is a veteran politician, having run for judge in a Southern Illinois circuit a few years ago (an interesting trick for someone who was full-time employed by Adams County. He must have worn himself and his car competely out). Essential questions here are "what is the impact of television in a low turnout primary?" And "can a relatively poorly produced TV ad and only marginally camera -- friendly subject still move voters?"
Any discussion of Brenner has to begin with his undeniably appealing personality. He is just an awfully nice guy. He has a great many satisfied clients who are largely Republicans. His campaign has been a bit unconventional. I understand he is embracing a direct mail strategy. His campaign souvenir is a shotgun shell. This is true "to type" because he is a gun enthusiast but sort of presumes that all Republican primary voters are gun-huggers and that may or may not be true. By all accounts he has gotten around. His talking points are his family's deep roots in the community and the general nature of his practice. The second argument is fairly made. He is an able generalist. The second argument is a double-edged sword. Generally speaking, the tighter the regional candidate ties him or herself to Quincy, the more resentment or resistance the candidate runs into in the outlying counties and townships. Those votes count too. Brenner was also a little bit late to the party in having an Internet presence. Downey was there first and Brenner's timing sort of made his presence look like "me, too." Not knowing enough about Brenner's direct mail, I have to say his only winning scenario is to pile up big numbers among old-line, habitual Republicans in Quincy and hold on for dear life as the other counties come in.
Adrian's principal advantage is that he is a known commodity in Adams County politics. I have not noted any particular Internet advertising presence on his part. His yard sign presence has been good but not great. Of the three candidates he probably stands the best chance of mounting some kind of relatively effective primary election day effort. He has family connections in rural Adams and Brown County. Brown is a small county but winning it would certainly not be a bad thing. He has some recent publicity from a relatively high-profile case and has conducted himself admirably in that context. Even people who opposed him politically are unlikely to quibble about his ethics and values. He has run countywide in Adams County before (although that was in a presidential year, a relatively high turnout election) and knows the mechanics of getting to events and tightening direct mail lists. It is likely he has the most experienced political help. His approach is the opposite of Ed Downey's. He is pitching his campaign to known, presumably Republican primary voters, on the apparent assumption that not a lot of independents will be requesting GOP ballots (or maybe any ballots -- this election being pretty much a major snooze for non-insiders.). Adrian has a couple of other marginal advantages. As nearly as I can tell his wife is well-known and well-liked. His daughter is an athlete of some note. It is not a stretch to think that he has an advantage in name recognition, region-wide. On the other hand, it is fair to say that he has his detractors among GOP courthouse insiders.
In the meantime, we could have some more fun by your sharing your guess at the winner here and why.