By the Numbers: District Attorney
District Attorney Race – August 4 General Election
Incumbent: Lisa Zavogiannis (elected 2006, 2014)
Challenger: Chris Stanford (ran unopposed in Republican primary in May)
Could it be a 3-peat for Liza Z or does Chris Stanford change the name of the district attorney’s office for the first time in 16 years? We’ll all find out August 4.
Zavogiannis took over as District Attorney in the 31st Judicial District in 2006, beating incumbent Dale Potter. She won a second term in 2014, narrowing edging Tim Pirtle in a heated race. With another win, Zavogiannis will have the opportunity to serve on the job for a quarter of a century in Warren County and Van Buren County if she is re-elected for a third term.
Stanford, who earned the Republican nomination while running unopposed in the May primary, is the co-founder of the The Stanford Law Firm (started with his wife Christina Stanford), which began practicing in Warren County in 2013. Stanford would be the first Republican to serve as District Attorney in Warren County should be defeat Zavogiannis in August.
BY THE NUMBERS
This is the first WC Sports Authority numbers breakdown where it doesn’t just come down to Warren County voting. Van Buren County will have its opportunity to influence the winner in the 31st Judicial District – if anything, it’s been VBC that decided the winner the last couple races.
It was noted on several instances in 2014 that Zavogiannis retained the District Attorney job despite falling in Warren County on Election Day. Tim Pirtle won locally by seven votes, 4,074 to 4,067. It was only VBC’s overwhelming support of Zavogiannis (1,091 to 759) that helped her become a second-term District Attorney.
Van Buren County also figured largely into her first election, where she was able to topple Dale Potter in his own home county. It was part of a dominating performance where Zavogiannis swept all 21 precincts and Van Buren County while earning 75.6 percent of the vote (8,712 to 2,830).
The 2006 race wasn’t without its close calls for the two-term District Attorney, however. Zavogiannis had to fight her way to earning the Democratic nomination over Robert Newman and Phillip Clemons. Zavagiannis won Warren County by just 118 votes (4,172 to 4,054) but extended her lead by winning Van Buren County by 316 votes.
Zavagiannis was also the Democratic nominee in 2014. In 2022, Zavagiannis qualified as an independent, allowing her to make it straight to the general election (there was no Democratic candidate in the May primary for District Attorney).
Stanford’s in his first run locally, but he’s already potentially got a baseline number for support. When Stanford was on the ballot in May in the Republican primary, he only needed complimentary votes to move on to the general election. He received 2,855 votes in Warren County (trailing only Ryan J. Moore’s 3,186 votes among those facing no opposition in the Republican primary) and an additional 781 votes in Van Buren County. In total, Stanford’s 3,636 complimentary votes in the 2022 primary would be just shy of 1,500 votes from Zavogiannis’ winning total in the general election in 2014.
For Stanford to win, it’s likely he’ll have to be the first opponent in three tries to narrow the gap in Van Buren County. Zavogiannis won 75 percent of the VBC vote in 2006 and, though that dropped to just 59 percent in 2014, she still was able to have an 18-percentage point gap over Pirtle while overcoming a narrow loss in Warren County.
Stanford would likely need that percentage point gap to come in under 10 points in 2022 (or right at 50/50) in hopes of not having too much to overcome locally. Of course, losing focus of the home front can’t happen for either candidate.
While it’s a district that covers two counites, Warren County – by far – sends more voters to the ballot for the position. In 2014, Warren County made up 81.5 percent of the total votes cast in the 31st Judicial District (8,141 out 9,991 votes). There was a drop in total votes from 2006, when over 11,000 voters were at the polls to elect a District Attorney.
If Stanford can only improve by two percentages point in 2022 in Warren County from what Pirtle did in 2014 as a challenger (when it was 50.04 percent for Pirtle), he could gain the upper-hand in the race. Assuming the same turnout in 2022, Stanford earning a 52/48 split in Warren County would give him the same vote advantage that Zavogiannis gained in 2014 by winning Van Buren County with a 59/41 split.
Turnout will be important for both candidates. It’s already been noted in our previous sheriff and county executive breakdowns last week that the number of voters have been trending up recently in local elections. While it’s unlikely to match 2020’s turnout over 16,000 voters, the 2022 August general elections seem to be drumming up immediate interest.
According to reporting by the Southern Standard (You can find the full story here), 560 people voted on the first day of early voting Friday. Early voting will continue until July 30 and Election Day will be Thursday, Aug. 4.
Simmons Says – Odds and Ends from first days of early voting
I wanted to go ahead and get my civic duty done Friday, so I was one of those 560 people who cast their vote on the first day of early voting. For those wondering about the experience, I can say I was in and out in about 15 minutes (just make sure you have your ID and voter’s card). It was an easy time and everybody there was helpful and happy to be there serving the community.
While I was around the area, I decided to make a lap and talk to some of the people out and about on the first day of voting and get a feel for what the sentiments are around this election. First and foremost, I was blown away by the amount of people who quickly started reciting back lines from my stories last week – they were all-in on reading about the election numbers (and even unloaded a few more on me where they had dug even deeper into precincts and where to watch turnouts flipping the field).
Not everybody is as jazzed about numbers as I am when it comes to elections, but every person I talked to who had read the stories all said they appreciated how it was presented because there wasn’t any lean to it. As I’ve said since the start, and put in all our campaign announcements at the end, I want candidates to put out their statements in their own words and I want my words to be reporting instead of my opinion. I got my opinions out of the way Friday when I pushed some buttons, hit the final submit and received my “I Voted” sticker (Because really, did you even vote if you don’t have the sticker and the Facebook post to prove it?).
If I had to pick talking points that seemed to permeate through all my talks with candidates, supporters, work staff and just people of the general public (you don’t have walk far to find people with opinions and who are willing to talk), I’d say these were at the top of the list:
Party affiliation will play a part, but nobody is sure how much. It’s obvious that the Republican influence is all over the ballot (as I noted earlier, Republican candidates are in the executive, sheriff, DA, both judges and 11-of-12 county commission district races). On the flip side, it feels like there’s never been less Democrats (where there are just 5-of-11 county commission districts with a Democrat candidate and none for some of the most contested up-ballot positions).
It still doesn’t feel like, personally, that it’s going to be the No. 1 decider in the majority of races. Most people are still going to vote for person over party in local elections where it’s very easy to find out information about a candidate (most of them you can simply call up and pick their brains during the election process).
One person made an interesting point to me: Why do we have the county executive, judges and DA elections – perhaps the two biggest jobs in the county (or, at the very least, the highest paying) – in August when the state/national ballots are all primaries? This person’s contention was that those very important positions should be voted on in November, when turnout is likely to get a major boost because state and national elections are being decided too (the city elections are decided in November).
While we can all hope and dream that all Warren County voters would care enough to come out for elections no matter what is on the ballot, it’s pretty obvious that just isn’t the case. Even with participation growing in the races I’ve dug into lately (sheriff and county executive, in particular), those past totals pale in comparison to the turnout in November 2020 when locals could decide between Biden and Trump the same day.
Local murders are going to weigh into several elections, most notably the DA and sheriff races. The more I talk to people about those particular races, the more I find people who are galvanized to head to the ballot and let their feelings be known on the murders (and the subsequent investigations/trials). It was easily the more talked about when I brought up the sheriff race than last week’s Tablet-Gate (which seems pretty blown out of proportions at this point).
Last thing, I had a lot of people ask me to continue the breakdowns for the judge race and the county commissioner seats. I personally hadn’t considered the Stanley-Horton judge race much (it just seems to be the least talked about race of any coming up), but one person stressed that’s why it would be even more important to dig in and analyze it more. As for the county commission races, it would just the abundance of races that makes it hard for me to narrow down into one story.
But I will try my best. I’ll be back with a couple more stories this week.