Today may feature a turning point election for the country. But there are also huge stakes here in the city of Richmond. It’s clear that this is a change election, after which we will have completely transformed the leadership of the city – a new Mayor, a largely new City Council and School Board, and a chance for Richmond to achieve the promise of an ascendent city.
What will decide the future of the city, especially in the mayoral race? Here are some key questions:
- Is Joe Morrissey really the front-runner? I’ve already raised the question of whether the few polls we’ve had in this race have overstated his numbers. Even if they have not, can either Jack Berry or Levar Stoney, or both, force him into a runoff election next month? The keys here are the central 5th district, which both his opponents have a shot at winning, and the south side’s 9th, where Michelle Mosby might draw enough potential Morrissey voters away to give Stoney a chance to take the district.
- Will there be a runoff? Again, one candidate must earn the most votes in five districts to win the race. Otherwise, the top two vote-getters citywide move to a December 20 runoff. Joe Morrissey hopes to win today since, for a variety of reasons, he won’t have much chance in that later election. Both he and Jack Berry probably have the best chance to win outright, although a late Stoney surge is not entirely impossible (just very unlikely).
- How much does the Democratic endorsement matter? I have argued before that low-information voters (which includes most people, unfortunately) look for cues to help them decide how to vote. These include candidate/voter demographics -- is the candidate like me? -- and party affiliation. Both of these help Stoney, who has won the official Democratic endorsement and will see his name under Hillary Clinton's on sample ballots across the city. (Although other campaigns may confuse the issue by printing up sample ballots of their own, and early reports suggest they might be all over the place.) Party endorsement may be a difference maker in Council campaigns, like Donald Moss' challenge to incumbent Ellen Robertson in the 6th and Kristen Larson in the 4th.
- How much does a "professional" campaign staff matter? Levar Stoney’s campaign has relied heavily on cash and expertise from outside the city, including a press secretary who helped run a national campaign in the Democratic primary. (A mostly quixotic campaign, sure, but a national one nonetheless.) Jack Berry has seemed to rely more on homegrown talent. Whatever you think is more "moral" (there's a "from here/come here" dynamic in this city still that drives some of us crazy), which is more effective? For example, Stoney's negative (and largely dishonest) mailers angered many in the city, but they might still have an effect on those same low information voters I mentioned above. At the beginning of this race, it looked like Stoney would outraise all the other candidates combined. Instead, Berry surpassed his record fundraising total by the end. But which candidate spent their money most efficiently?
- Who best blocks Joe? A number of voters across the city have joined the #NeverJoe movement, but there’s no obvious answer to who they should support to block Morrissey. (There’s even a Facebook group dedicated to organizing a strategic bloc vote.) The problem: poll numbers are sketchy, especially at the district level. There’s been so much news about the campaign in recent weeks it’s hard to know what to expect. More power to the people who are trying to coordinate votes, but your best bet might be to vote your conscience and hope for the best.
The bottom line: nobody knows anything until we count tonight. Get out and vote.