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Matthew Isbell: Why Alvin Brown lost

The ashes of the Alvin Brown campaign are still cooling, but one of the most interesting analyses now is from Matthew Isbell, a left-leaning political consultant who has a number of salient theories as to the Brown loss.

Isbell’s theory: Brown needed to win over Bill Bishop supporters (which would have been tough, in my estimation, given polls had the Bishop backers from March leaning toward Lenny Curry) and that he needed to “dramatically increase” Democratic turnout. Obviously those conditions did not sufficiently prevail.

“With Bishop backers making a smaller share of the electorate in the runoff (because of increased turnout), Brown would either have needed to win Bishop backers by a larger margin or make the runoff electorate much more Democratic than the March primary electorate,” Isbell writes.

One factor: Between 2011 and 2015, Democratic raw turnout dropped by more than 7,000 votes. As Isbell observes, the Democrats were stronger during the early voting operation, helped along by U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown and an energetic Souls to the Polls push on Sunday. Yet they fell flat on Election Day, with a net decline of more than 18,000 votes.

The Curry campaign brain trust had told me and other reporters that the Brown campaign was cannibalizing its Election Day turnout to drive early voting numbers. Democratic operatives speculated that the universe of voters would widen. Obviously, the Curry side was correct.

Another issue Isbell brings up: the surge in no party affiliation registration in the past four years, from 14 percent to 22 percent of the electorate. Much of that gain came at the expense of the Democratic machine also, which dipped by almost 3 percent in registration.

“Democrats outperformed their registration share by 3.5 percent in 2011. In 2015, they outperformed by 3.8 percent, so actually higher than before,” Isbell writes. “As for the GOP, they were 37 percent of registration in 2011 and did 5 percent better (making up 42 percent of the vote). This year, they were 36 percent of the vote, and did 7 percent better (getting to 43 percent of the vote). So the GOP did even better than the the Democrats at increasing their share compared to registration shifts.”

Isbell describes Duval as a “moderate Republican” county, and in that context, Brown outperformed the statewide Democratic campaigns of Alex Sink and Charlie Crist. Despite that, he adds, “Brown’s campaign was not as strong as it was in 2011 (you won’t find many who don’t agree with that statement). Fault lies with the campaign itself; not the State Party or any other Democratic group. Plenty of blame can lie with the Brown campaign for not working harder to get Democratic turnout up and for allowing the coordination of its efforts with other groups/campaigns.”

One such turnout failure, Isbell points out, could be seen in the comparison of Tommy Hazouri to Alvin Brown. In many parts of town, Hazouri and Curry both carried precincts, and Hazouri was a strong HRO supporter.  “Hazouri won all the precinct Brown did and won several others as well.  Meanwhile, Brown didn’t win any precincts that Hazouri’s opponent, Geoff Youngblood, won,” Isbell writes.

What this means, ultimately, is that Brown left votes on the table because of his inability to present a coherent and compelling position on that issue. It also reopens the question of why Brown didn’t utilize Hazouri as a resource throughout the campaign, and, really, during his tenure as mayor.

Written By

A.G. Gancarski has been a working journalist for over two decades, with bylines in national and local publications alike on subjects ranging from pop music to national and global politics. Gancarski has been a correspondent for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014, and has held a column in Jacksonville, Florida's Folio Weekly for two decades. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." Gancarski is a frequent presence on Jacksonville television and radio, including fill-in slots on WJCT-FM's award-winning talk show "First Coast Connect." He can be reached at a.g.gancarski@gmail.com.

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