Jeff Yarbro won the Davidson County Democratic Straw Poll last night by almost twice as many votes over incumbent Douglas Henry. It has been interesting to watch the young candidate in the last few months. He has word of mouth, he has raised a great deal of money online and the cool kids like him.
The most compelling part of his race is that I have a feeling it’s perplexing folks who are ingrained in the political infrastructure in our state capital. Of course I could be wrong, but let’s take a look at this. Young candidate, politically and community active who has raised some jack to run against a 10-term senator and saying things that disgruntled Democrats like and agree with. There is a freshness to his race, and as my cohort Steve Ross has noted many times in the past, the median age for a democrat in office in the state of Tennessee is much older than most republicans.
Let me restate that for clarity, Tennessee Republicans are much younger these days in the house and senate than Democrats.
Straw polls are an odd curious thing but winning one is great. It is crucial for getting a media response out to people outside the political bubble that is Nashville. People who are passionate about the political process attend straw polls to get out the word on their favorite candidates and the DCDP did a great job of apparently having people lined up to have a shot at voting for the candidate du jour. Straw Polls are good to a degree in the early stages, but elections are still a lifetime away.
Which brings me to that poll is it has given Yarbro some momentum but the real challenge is going to be getting those constituents who don’t keep up with campaigns this early in the game to not just hit in the polling booth the name they know, which is Sen. Douglas Henry. That is the challenge. You hear in politics a lot the term “we have to get boots on the ground” and it applies in this race for Yarbro and other candidates. Political bloggers are paying attention every time a candidate sneezes, but the bottom line is that politics is still being buried under the fold and buried on A-6 of the newspaper so the average voter isn’t going to make up their minds until later in the race. (Today’s Tennessean did not have the Straw Poll on the front page according to the PDF at 24/7) I have worked in news for years and I’ve heard more people say “I voted for Candidate X because he asked me to.”
It happens more than you think.
Yarbro is changing the game and it’s refreshing. On his website he cites that he’s running for the Senate because he’s tired of sideshow politics, which resonates with those of us who are also very tired of the Gays, Guns and God agenda that has been going on for the last few sessions. It has become tiring and unsettling, especially knowing that we have nearly 11 percent unemployment sitting like a dark cloud on the chest of so many hard-working Tennesseans struggling to make ends meet who need to know that someone at least recognizes that this state has issues that are real and impacting their families.
If Yarbro is going to win this race though and I do believe that he can, he’s going to have to take the advantages of free social media tools combined with old-fashioned shoe leather hitting the sidewalks. I wrote last week about as democrats, what are we going to do in positively helping campaigns? It’s more than just a donation (because a lot of folks don’t have any money to give right now) but we can give a more valuable commodity and that is time to candidates.
As I live nowhere near Yarbro’s district and the only dog I have in all the races in the state is to get candidates with a (D) behind their name elected, I will say that other politicians should be watching this race. It’s interesting to see Yarbro combining old-school and new media opportunities, and he has the ear of established bloggers around the state, especially in his home district, but the real test is going to be in the voting booth and in traditional media outlets.
And this goes for all candidates. Because of our economic situation in this state, some folks will vote to get rid of politicians who they don’t think have got the job done and the flip side is that they might vote for the name they know.
That, my friends, is what candidates and their supporters need to watch because it is key.