The district 2 primary, of course, is a reprise of a special election earlier this year. The winner of that race was Theresa Smith, who ran this week for a full four-year term. She was challenged in both races by Georgia Blotzer.
Smith's performance in February wasn't stellar: She didn't win a majority of the vote, despite being the only person running as a Democrat in the race. (In a special, only the candidate endorsed by the Democratic Committee can use the party's label on the ballot*.)
Given Smith's anemic margin of victory, and the fact that Blotzer and anyone else could run as a Democrat this time around, rivals hoped Smith would be vulnerable in the primary. Instead, she improved on her performance, racking up 55 percent of the vote.
So what happened?
For one thing, the track record is pretty good for candidates who a) win in a special election, and b) run in a regular election shortly afterward. This outcome, for example, was similar to Jim Motznik's 2001 run for City Council. Motznik won a special that winter with less than half the vote (he hadn't been endorsed in that race) ... but won the spring primary with 60 percent of it.
Among the other factors in this year's District 2 contest: the dark-horse candidates.
Smith's stronghold is in the 20th and 28th wards, which make up the sprawling western reaches of the city. In the special election, though, Smith was hurt slightly by the fact that two other candidates, Chris Metz and Brendan Schubert, also had their base in that area. Neither Metz nor Schubert ran in the primary, though, and Smith took roughly two-thirds of the combined vote in those two wards. That's a 5-percentage-point improvement from her showing in the special.
The dark-horse candidate in this week's race, by contrast, hurt Blotzer.
Blotzer's base is in the 19th ward precincts in and around Mt. Washington. Rob Frank hails from the same part of the district, and ran on a reformist platform similar to Blotzer's. It showed in the results. In the special election, she got nearly 64 percent of votes in the 19th ward -- but with Frank in the primary, she picked up less than 55 percent.
Of course, even if all Frank's votes had gone to Blotzer instead, she couldn't have beaten Smith. Blotzer had to make in-roads elsewhere in the district no matter what.
After the special election in February, the rap on her -- noted here and elsewhere -- was that she was little known outside the 19th ward. She did have some success addressing that weakness this time around. In February, she racked up less than 10 percent of the vote in wards 20 and 28. In May, she scored nearly 25 percent of the vote there.
But it just wasn't enough. The May primary drew nearly 1,800 more voters than the special election did ... and Smith racked up nearly 1,200 additional votes. It's tough -- mathematically impossible, actually -- to catch up that way.
* Boring note: An endorsed candidate in a special gets an added benefit. Any votes cast by voters pulling the lever for a straight "party line" go to the endorsed candidate. Smith didn't have that advantage in the May primary, so I ignored any party-line votes when computing the numbers above. That way, we're comparing votes cast for actual, you know, people.
I love Mel Packer!