“Since the election, I’ve had so many arrows and back stabbings that I feel like I’ve been to bad acupuncture,” said Lee Mills to the Lunch Hour Republican Club this afternoon. “Everyone knows I took the loss hard, very hard.”
The chairman of the Shelby GOP was talking about the August 2nd election and providing an explanation to the question of what happened so many of us have asked since the election loss.
He addressed a crowd of about 25 at Owens Brennan’s restaurant, after an introduction by Chris Tudor, who told us we were at “Ground Zero. The beginning of a rebuilding.”
Mills began by giving us a rundown of the situation. “We have 556,000 registered voters in Shelby County. The split is 60% Democrats/40% Republicans. Scott Golden of the state GOP told me that the Democrats are energized. They don’t like Trump.” Mills added, “Republicans are satisfied. The past 8 years here our Republicans in office have done an outstanding job. There was no real issue for city voters.
“We hoped the governor’s race would be a boon to us; a trickle down vote. But when early voting started we realized quickly that we weren’t getting our people out. The vote bore out the 60/40 split: 48,777 Democrats early voted and 32,945 Republicans. 150,000 voted overall which is a 27% turnout. We didn’t get crossover votes,” Mills said.
Mills was defensive. “I’ve been told we didn’t do enough. I would say we did more than we’ve ever done.” He went on to explain that we had a $160,000 war chest – bigger than the state party. “We spent $100,000 to get out the vote. We sent 125,000 ballots to Republicans and lean Republican. We re-sent 70,000 more to those who hadn’t early voted.
“We bought billboards for the first time ever. We did GO caching in districts (referring to using people’s phones to locate them and sending them a message pertinent to their area). We spent $30,000 in radio.” Mills explained that they worked with a company that had done outreach to people in the Ted Cruz campaign in 2016. “We were advised not to do much on WREC because their listeners are already Republican. We found out that WRVR leads in Republican listeners, particularly women.”
Mills blamed a lot on Republican apathy. “We had fewer than 100 people actively work. 50 were very active and 30 of them have full time jobs.” He described how his wife, Amber, took their kids and spent 6-8 hours a day managing the headquarters. Mills added that there are only 200 $25 paying members of the Shelby GOP.
So why didn’t Republican voters turn out?
Mills listed his perceived reasons.
First, he reiterated, “Republicans are satisfied. What issue did they have to vote for?
“Then there was the election date. Many of us are on vacation or at the beach. Many were confused about the date. I heard many times someone say ‘I just voted for David Lenoir. Why am I voting again?'”
Next, the Trump effect. According to Mills, Trump is not popular in Shelby County, even among Republicans. He read the bios of many of the Democrat candidates and they all were motivated against Trump.
Mills then said “we don’t have a Joe Brown candidate. The Democrats were organized and well funded. Lee Harris told me that they began recruiting candidates way before the election.” Tudor agreed, adding they were the best opponents in a long time. They stayed on message.”
Mills also credited the big online voter registration the Democrats launched. “They were averaging 4,000-5,000 a month.
Finally there was the fiasco of the early voting poll decision. Mills said there were 27 early voting polls and only 7 are in Republican areas. “21 were in the city of Memphis. The election Commission chairman Linda Phillips – who is data driven and very fair – had said the closest, most centered place to put one that was 50/50 was the Agricenter. But the Democrats went berserk about it and criticized the closing of the Downtown poll. It became a rallying cry. They called a press conference about it.
“The issue went before Shelby County Chancellor JoeDae Jenkins. He’s a rabid Democrat. He ruled that we would have to open 3 more Democrat polling places and one in a Republican district. In the first four days of early voting, we got smoked.”
Mills says that although he took the election loss hard, he had been shown the date about voting in Shelby County in years when a Republican is president vs. the years when a Democrat occupies the White House.
He relied on data for his case:
In 2006, 27% turnout, 42,000 Republicans voted and 91,000 Democrats.
In 2010, 29% turnout, 77,478 Republicans vs. 77,536 Dems.
In 2014, 27% turnout, 64,803 Republicans vs. 62,000 Dems.
“In the May 1st primary only 13.8% turnout voted in the primary. Only 30,000 were Republicans,” Mills said.
Another factor that hurt was the lack of fellow Republican support for candidates. “Sheriff Oldham supported Democrat Floyd Bonner and Judge Turner went against Price’s court seat.”
So what’s next? Mills indicated he would not be running again for Shelby GOP Chairman. He did not really have any plans for the Shelby GOP future.
He hoped more people would be active in the November election.