In the case of District 1, it is possible that the top three contenders might be too close to call and the final two that go on to the runoff might be determined on election night. As for the incumbents it is likely they will be reelected for another term even though there was some serious anxiety among them when city council was unable to delay the firefighter referendum until November.
This is what I have dubbed the “F” factor in this election.
The “F” factor are the firefighters, more specifically their insurance/pay referendums. Two of the incumbents, Cortney Niland and Michiel Noe have contracted the Forma Group as their political consultants. They were the most vulnerable in this election cycle and apparently, they weren’t taking any chances. Claudia Ordaz had recently overwhelmingly won her seat and her opponent didn’t really do anything to get his message out. When it became clear to Ordaz that her opponent wasn’t getting any traction, she just sat back and let her incumbency speak to her agenda. Staying out of controversy was her best bet and she was able to accomplish that. Noe’s district has been turbulent and thus it is likely he felt vulnerable. Niland, on the other hand was vulnerable because of the numerous instances of controversies surrounding her tenure. That is why they both contracted with the Forma Group.
The last time the Forma Group consulted a citywide election, their client, Steve Ortega got his ass handed to him and wrapped in a ribbon to boot. The recent Veronica Escobar emails, released by Ali Razavi, proved that Ortega wasn’t willing to go negative and thus he was shown the door by the voters. Political pundits knew this and the Forma Group learned from that experience.
They have overwhelmingly gone negative against the Noe and Niland opponents.
Some have argued that they have been overly negative. Unfortunately, the heightened negativity is a result of the “F” factor – the firefighter’s referendum. Let me explain.
In my June 10, 2014, blog post titled; “My Conversation with a Politician” I explained to you what I believe the voter makeup of El Paso is like. As you might remember, I broke the voters down to the core group, the retiree’s and the rest that depend on the city’s largest job market – those that work in the government sector. That is the voting groups in El Paso, with those depending on government jobs being the greatest constituency.
I wrote it was a trickle down vote. In my example, I showed you how a police officer engages his family to the ballot box voting against the politicians that were arguing for reducing benefits and employee paychecks. Instead of the police officer example, you are witnessing my original thesis in the mobilization of the firefighter constituency. It is a strong sleeping constituency that significantly makes its presence felt when the government labor is threatened.
City council tried its best to force the firefighters to hold their referendum in November, instead of during this election cycle. The incumbents knew that the firefighters would mobilize their constituency.
This is exactly what happened.
Normally this is good for the entrenched bureaucracy, except now the entrenched bureaucracy is faced with the unpleasant reality that the city’s wallet is empty and the bills are coming due sooner than later. The incumbents couldn’t give the firefighters what they wanted and thus they were forced to have an antagonist relationship that they knew would hurt them at the ballot box.
Many in the firefighter mobilized voting block are specifically voting for the firefighters’ referendums. The incumbents and the challengers are nothing more than other boxes to mark. Some of you may think that the anti-constituency mentality is at play because of the antagonism between the firefighters and the city but the reality is that firefighters aren’t interested in pushing anything but their own referendum to their constituency. Therefore, you have voters that aren’t really paying attention to the rest of the ballot. They normally wouldn’t be voting and thus it is just part of the exercise of supporting their firefighter family.
This does not mean that the incumbents are not going to get their vote; some will cast the anti-incumbency vote but not enough to create a serious problem for the incumbents. However, the Forma Group wasn’t going to take any chances. They came out strong in molding the message by going negative on the opponents.
The mail outs sent to voters by the Forma Group were designed to leave a negative impression of the opponent’s name on the firefighter voter and thus ensure another vote for the incumbent. They are a hedge to increase votes for the incumbents.
The bottom line is that the Forma Group clearly understood what needed to be done and they did so, effectively. They were faced with the “F” factor and they strategically reacted to it.
If you still don’t believe me then look at how the Forma Group has handled Al Weisenberger’s campaign. They know that the outcome will most likely be a runoff. Their strategy is to get Weisenberger into the runoff. For now they are focusing on the incumbents and will refocus on Weisenberger should he make it into the runoff.