David Warnock’s Race-Based, Big Money Strategy For Becoming Baltimore’s Next Mayor

Meet David Warnock.  That’s him on the left, the Black and White candidate for Mayor, figuratively speaking of course, whose commercials are everywhere.

Each of the 6 leading candidates for Mayor has her or his own strategy. These are serious people who sincerely believe they have a shot at winning.

Sheila Dixon, for example, needs no introduction. She has universal name recognition. Her strategy is simple. She’s hoping that voters forget or at least forgive the ethical/legal mess that resulted in her being thrown out of office the last time she was Mayor. She appears to have substantial core support and only needs a plurality of probably 30 to 35 percent of the vote to win. The last time she ran, before she was convicted of misdemeanor embezzlement and pled guilty to perjury, she won the Mayor’s office in 2007 with an impressive 63% of the vote.

Catherine Pugh, Carl Stokes and Nick Mosby have comprehensive platforms covering the city’s major problems and are doing their best, running more or less conventional campaigns to get as many votes as possible.

Elizabeth Embry is running a single issue campaign. It’s her point that she is uniquely well-qualified to reduce crime in the city. She’s right, but whether voter concerns about public safety are sufficient to give her a winning plurality is problematic.  We’ll see.

David WarnockAnd then there’s David Warnock, self-made millionaire venture capitalist who has lived in the city, as of this writing, for less than 15 months. Mr. Warnock’s platform is anemic. He’s a first time candidate with zero government or political experience – which, to be fair, he argues is an advantage. His commercials make the point that he’s not a politician. We beg to differ. Anyone running for Mayor is, by definition, a politician as of the day he or she files. The real question is whether or not he’s a good one.

Mr. Warnock has a significantly different strategy than any of his 5 leading opponents which is why we’re giving his campaign special attention. His strategy has 2 elements:  money and race.

Let’s talk about money first…  Mr. Warnock, as is his right, is going to spend a portion of his considerable, hard-earned fortune to buy name recognition and introduce himself to voters to the extent he needs to win. As you may have noticed, he’s been running network television commercials for weeks. Radio will also be involved. Without exaggeration, he will spend more on television and radio than the total of what any of his opponents, individually, will be able to raise.

It’s all legal, of course, but, like Donald Trump, self-funding qualifies Mr. Warnock as a poster boy for campaign finance reform. Some people would say that he’s trying to buy the Mayor’s office. That’s a bit harsh. It’s just marketing. He’s using his personal wealth to out-campaign his opponents. You wouldn’t criticize Coke for using its corporate wealth to seize market share for a new soft drink, would you? Same thing for Mr. Warnock, albeit on a somewhat smaller scale, financially speaking.

It’s the race-based element of his two-pronged strategy that’s more interesting.

When Democratic voters go to the polls for April’s primary, roughly two-thirds of them will be Black, one-third White. It used to be that Black registered voters turned out in significantly lower numbers than their White counterparts. If voters were prejudiced, a White candidate running against a field of multiple Black candidates might have an advantage. Not any more. Nowadays, Black and White voter turnout percentages are pretty much the same. Nowadays, voters are way more color-indifferent than they used to be.

So what? Mr. Warnock is, or was, betting on his being the only White candidate. Had that been the case – had Elizabeth Embry not entered the race, and if the Black vote was fractured, spread among 3 or more qualified candidates – he had a shot a winning.

“Come again?”

His assumption is that Black voters vote for Black candidates and, if there’s a strong White candidate running, White voters will vote for that guy. In a race with only one White candidate and three or more Black candidates splitting the Black vote, if the White guy can get all of the White vote – which is 33% of the total – and a few Black votes, he just may have a large enough plurality to win. It’s hardly a sure thing, but that’s what David Warnock was hoping would happen.

Unfortunately for Mr. Warnock, his strategy has the following problems:

  • For one thing, he’s not the only qualified White candidate running for Mayor.

“Ooops.” Yeah.

  • For another thing, as of the last poll released by Gonzales Research in January, voter support for the 4 Black candidates is not evenly distributed. Support for Ms. Dixon is pushing 30% with Senator Pugh gaining ground in second place. Councilmen Stokes and Mosby, on the other hand, have a way to go. Let’s see what the next poll tells us.
  • Most importantly, if history is any witness – and if you believe recent polls – Black people are perfectly willing to vote for White candidates and visa versa.

Sure, Black voters were understandably excited by the candidacy of Barack Obama, but that has nothing to do with the race to become the next Mayor of Baltimore.

How do we know that White people vote for Black candidates even when they have one or two White candidate options?

Well, we’ve looked at maps showing voter support for Sheila Dixon in 2007 and for Stephanie Rawlings-Blake in 2011 in all the city’s precincts. Ms. Dixon won with 63% of the vote. Mayor Rawlings-Blake won with 52%. And when you look at the maps, it’s abundantly clear that both candidates won citywide, winning predominantly White as well as predominantly Black precincts.

More to the point, in both January’s Gonzales poll and the Sun’s poll back in November, total support for David Warnock and Elizabeth Embry combined was only 10% of likely voters. Subject to its margin of error, the Gonzales poll found that 42% of White voters were, as of the date of the poll, supporting either Sheila Dixon, Catherine Pugh or Carl Stokes, the three leading Black candidates. 42%.

Mr. Warnock may have been betting on clear-cut voter preferences along racial lines when he decided to run for Mayor, so we’ve been told, but there’s no evidence that voters think that way. If all the money he’s spending on television and radio doesn’t give him a substantial bump in the next poll, maybe it’ll be time for him to cut his losses and let his 5 percent support go to other candidates, Black or White, who have a real shot at winning.  Wouldn’t that be the right thing to do for the city?

Good news? Yes. Maybe the days of viewing Baltimore politics through Black and White glasses are over.

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