Candidates fared poorly on home turf

May 16, 2014 

Does familiarity breed contempt?

It might have in one county commissioners’ primary in Johnston County.

In District 5, longtime incumbent Cookie Pope faced a challenge from political newcomer Patrick Harris. Both fared poorly on their home turf.

Mr. Harris makes his home in Smithfield, where he is the town’s veteran fire chief and where he and his wife own a medical practice. And yet Mrs. Pope won every Smithfield precinct by comfortable margins. She won in East Smithfield, 56 percent to 44 percent; North Smithfield 1, 54-46; North Smithfield 2, 61-39; and West Smithfield, 63-37.

And yet countywide, Mrs. Pope found herself in a race that was closer than many observers expected; she won but captured just 52.9 percent of the vote. That’s partly because she stumbled on her home turf.

Mrs. Pope lost two of four Cleveland precincts, including North Cleveland by an embarrassing margin, and she lost every precinct in Clayton, where she should have enjoyed an advantage because of her 20-year incumbency.

We asked a friend in Clayton why he thought Mrs. Pope fared so poorly there. He said she is neither dynamic nor inspiring and that voters in Clayton simply reached that conclusion before voters elsewhere in Johnston.

Maybe. But with all due respect to commissioners past and present, we have never met one who was especially dynamic or inspiring. In fact, Mrs. Pope comes closest, or at least she did 20 years ago, when she was on the stump arguing that Johnston could build schools without raising property taxes.

It’s possible that after 20 years, voters in western Johnston are simply ready for change. Two decades is a long time to hold an office, and Mrs. Pope’s poor showing on her home turf might argue for self-imposed term limits by candidates.

Or it could be that familiarity does breed contempt; that the more acquainted one becomes with a person, the more one knows about his or her shortcomings, and, hence, the easier it is to dislike that person.

That would certainly explain why two candidates – one an incumbent, one a newcomer; one male, one female; one older, one younger – could perform so poorly among voters they know so well.

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