Insider Predictions: Two Runoffs & A “Jump Ball”

Predicting the outcome of any political campaign is notoriously difficult — and predicting closely contested School Board races may be especially so.

The turnout is generally low, and the polling is weak.  The majority of voters tend to make up their mind while they’re looking at the ballot, and forget who they’ve voted for 10 minutes later.

Undaunted, LA School Report talked to a few campaign consultants and insiders to try to get a sense of what knowledgeable observers expect to happen when the votes are counted late Tuesday night. The predictions we got — tentative as they were — included a decent chance of runoffs in Districts 2 and 6 and a District 4 race that’s too close to call.

District 2

School Board President Monica Garcia is expected to finish a strong first in District 2. The question then becomes whether she will get 50 percent of the vote, obviating the need for a runoff, and if there’s a runoff who will it be against?

One consultant put the chances of a runoff at roughly 60 percent, thanks largely to the fact that Garcia has four opponents, and thus a greater chance of each biting off little shares of her vote.

Insiders are expecting turnout to be between 20 and 25 percent — thanks to a very uninspiring Mayor’s race. Low turnout helps the campaigns with better field operation — and makes things more unpredictable.

“It’s difficult to predict,” said Steve Barkan, who’s running Garcia’s campaign. “A two percent change in the turnout can mean the world.”

Barkan also noted that a last-minute spending binge by UTLA could impact the race. “I don’t know what else UTLA has in store for the weekend,” he said. “They tend to do last-minute bombardments.”

As for who might make the runoff along with Garcia, many observers have been impressed with Robert Skeels, who seems to be running an effective grassroots campaign. But second and third place could be decided by as few as a couple hundred votes, so this one is too tough to call.

District 4

The closest, most anticipated and most bitterly contested of all the 2013 School Board races has been waged in District 4 between incumbent Steve Zimmer and challenger Kate Anderson. There are only two candidates on the ballot, however, so — barring celestial intervention — there will be no runoff.

An internal poll conducted by pro-Anderson forces had the challenger a couple of points ahead of Zimmer, within the margin of error — and this was before the attack mailers against Anderson really kicked into high gear. But internal polls done by the campaigns aren’t shared publicly and give little definitive information to those who see them.

“The polls are impressionistic,” said one political strategist. “They’re like a Matisse painting rather than a photo.”

In District 4 particularly, it could all come down to who does better at reaching and motivating voters. Zimmer has his own small, under-funded operation, as well as the support of UTLA and the service workers union, SEIU Local 99.  Anderson has her own, moderately well-funded campaign and the support of the Coalition for School Reform.

“That race, to me, feels like a jump ball,” said the political strategist.

District 6

Thanks to one-sided spending in favor of Antonio Sanchez, there seems little doubt about who comes in first.

However, a pro-reform consultant we spoke with still thinks this race has a 60 percent chance of going to a runoff, citing in part the surprisingly strong campaign by Monica Ratliff, who won endorsements from the LA Times and Daily News. 

“She has put a real credible effort together without much resources,” said one pro-reform consultant.

Ratliff has barely been able to campaign herself, since she teaches full-time at San Pedro Elementary.

Previous posts: Zimmer Irate Over Reform Coalition AttacksAnalysis: Air War Vs. Boots On the GroundOutside Spending SkyrocketsReform Coalition Attacks Sanchez Opponents in District 6Reformers Try to Match Union “Ground Game”