In the race for the US Congressional District 2 Seat, incumbent Congressman Steve Southerland loss to challenger Gwen Graham in one of the closest races of this campaign cycle by 2,800 votes.
Over 249, 000 votes were cast in the contest.
With such a narrow loss, the second-guessing by Southerland supporters about what could have been done to change the outcome will go on for sometime.
In an exclusive analysis, Tallahassee Reports looked at the results in Leon and Bay County to determine what was different in this race when compared with the two prior victories by Southerland over Alan Boyd in 2010 and Al Lawson in 2012.
Leon County contains the largest block of votes in District 2. In 2014, the voters in Leon County accounted for 41% of the total vote. The next largest block of votes in District 2 came from Bay County, which made up 22% of the vote.
For the Southerland campaign, it has never been about winning the vote in Leon County. This was never going to happen given that Republicans are out numbered by Democrats by a 2-1 margin.
Instead, it was about getting enough votes so that the deficit in Leon County could be made up in the more conservative parts of the sprawling congressional district.
When campaigning in Leon County, Southerland and his staff would let their supporters know they needed to get about 37%-38 of the vote.
As the table below shows, Southerland reached this threshold in his victories in 2010 and 2012, but came up short in 2014.
Southerland's Share of Vote in Leon County
If Southerland would have reached the 37% threshold in Leon County in 2014 he he would of won the race.
A 1.7% increase in Southerland’s share of the vote in Leon County would have resulted in a 3,400 vote swing, just enough for victory.
Was Southerland’s lower take of the Leon vote due to lower Republican voter turn out? In part, but not completely.
In the 2010 mid-term election, Republican turn out in Leon County was 67.0% and Democrat turn out was 60.2%. In 2014, Republican turn out was down to 63.7% and Democrat turn-out was down to 59.1%
The difference in Republican turn-out between 2010 and 2014 would have still left Southerland about 1,400 votes short of victory, assuming Southerland would have captured all Republican votes.
For victory, Southerland would have needed Republican turn-out to be right at 70% in Leon County.
What the numbers show is that Gwen Graham was able to capitalize on her ties to Leon County significantly more than Southerland’s previous competitors, Boyd and Lawson.
In 2010 Boyd received 58.3% of the Leon vote while Lawson garnered 61.7% of the vote. Graham captured 64.7%.
Ultimately, this means that Southerland had less support in Leon County that he had in previous elections.
This coupled with the fact that Leon County’s share of the vote for District 2 increased from 36.4% in 2010 to 41.8% in 2014, provided a significant obstacle to Southerland’s campaign.
But could the campaign make up the difference in Bay County, the place the Southerland family has called home for generations.
The chart shows that in two previous victories, Bay County delivered 72% of their vote to Steve Southerland. However, in 2014 this number fell to 69.8%.
Southerland's Share of Vote in Bay County
Clearly, this fall off in Southerland’s backyard raises important questions about the campaign. But what was the impact? Could Southerland have won with the 72.7% of the vote he received in Bay County in 2012? The answer is yes.
At that level, the vote swing would have been approximately 3,200 votes and would have resulted in a narrow Southerland victory.
This analysis shows that Steve Southerland could have been re-elected if he would have performed at previous levels in either Leon or Bay County.
Given the fact that the challenger, Gwen Graham, was from Leon County, easily explains the difference in Leon County from previous races.
However, the fall off in Bay County – considered home base for Southerland – is more difficult to explain.