More on Jerry McNerney’s Big Win
For all his strength as a fundraiser ($2.6 million as of Oct. 17; $5.6 million with outside money added in) and his admirable qualities as a candidate, Ricky Gill did slightly worse than either of Jerry McNerney’s other recent challengers. In 2008, Dean Andal received 45% of the vote. In 2010, David Harmer received 47% of the vote. Ricky Gill got just 44% of the vote.
Why did Ricky Gill do so poorly, especially since he was a much better candidate than either Andal or Harmer? While Gill is ideologically out of step with the district (far more conservative), I don’t think that’s the explanation. Gill and his campaign did a good job dissembling on that fact and emphasizing those dimensions and issues that cast Gill in a positive light.
I think the story is Gill’s strategic choice to cast himself as the “San Joaquin” candidate. Boiled down to its essence, Gill’s campaign message was, “I am from San Joaquin; my opponent is not.” Gill emphasized his ties to Lodi and the local agriculture community. There are two (three) problems with this message as far as CD-9 is concerned:
First, while agriculture is an important part of the San Joaquin economy, it’s not the whole of the economy. There are a lot of other economic interests–especially the Port of Stockton–that are important. Gill essentially wrote those off in his campaign.
Second, and relatedly, a lot of the district is outside San Joaquin County. About 30 percent of the district lives in Contra Costa County–outside the valley that Gill so emphasized in his campaign–and Contra Costa went heavily for McNerney (59-41). Contra Costa supplied over 70 percent of McNerney’s margin of victory over Gill. Again, Gill wrote off a large portion of the electorate with his primary campaign message.
Update 2: Given McNerney’s advantage in Contra Costa County, and assuming the same level of turnout in San Joaquin, Gill needed to win at least 54.5% of the San Joaquin vote. He didn’t come close to that.
The third problem for Gill–not related to the strategic choice his campaign made–was that he is a Republican running in a Democratic district at a time when party labels are very important to voters. San Joaquin County voted 53-44 for President Obama. It voted 52-48 for McNerney. In that regard, Gill did well. Ultimately, when combined with the strategic miscalculation, though, it proved fatal.
Edit/Update 1: In the background is also the fact that Jerry McNerney ran a very effective, low-key, and workman-like campaign that did all the things it was supposed to do. It registered voters. It targeted its appeals well. It used valence issues (Gill is too young and inexperienced) effectively. These are important contributors to this election’s outcome. I think the main story given Gill’s strengths, however, is that Gill made a major strategic mistake and it cost him important votes.
Update 3: See here for some more thoughts.
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