November 3rd, 2010

John Clay watched glumly as the election returns rolled in Tuesday night. “We fought hard,” he told his supporters, “but the people have spoken”. He left the crowd to make the congratulatory all to his opponent, the newly elected Commissioner.

It was a bitter pill to swallow for Commissioner Clay who campaigned on a re-election platform of lower taxes, transparent and fiscally responsible government and open beaches. “I believe that most people supported my message,” Clay said, “the problem was that we were outspent. My opponent out-raised me four to one. They had the backing of the political establishment which was very generous.”

Despite numerous fundraisers and appearances, Clay was unable to keep up with his opponent. When asked why he had trouble raising funds, Clay responded, “These are tough economic times. People find it hard to give to a politician when they wonder if they’re going to have a job tomorrow. It’s kind of ironic, though. People will probably be paying more in taxes as a result of this election but that’s a hard point to sell.” Clay had promised to never make a decision on the Board that would personally benefit him. But that message was overshadowed by his opponent’s high name recognition. “The only thing that can counter high name recognition is increased advertising,” Shay said, “and we just didn’t have the funding for that. If every Republican in the County had donated two dollars, we could’ve pulled it out.”

The Board of Commissioners will now be represented by three Commissioners who live in District 1 which is comprised of Roanoke Island and the mainland. When asked about the lopsided representation, Clay responded that his District 5 seat, the At-Large Seat, “is the people’s choice. While the people may not have realized this fact during the campaign season or on election day, they will surely feel the effects of that choice in the years to come.”

On the other side of town, Dan Dannie, candidate for Sheriff, met the same fate. His opponent will retain his seat as Sheriff. Dan ran on a campaign of community policing, cleaning up the drug problem and increased transparency. While the message appeared to resonate, Dannie’s loss reflects the same issues that troubled the Clay campaign, namely funding.

“The opposing party is very well funded in this county,” Dannie said, “It’s hard to go up against a well oiled machine without adequate contributions.”

Dannie’s opponent had high name recognition like Clay’s opponent. “You see the same names over and over on the ballot and people just sort of get used to voting for those folks. I don’t take it personally. I just needed to get my name out more. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t match my opponent in fundraising.” It wasn’t for lack of effort. Dannie held several fundraisers. Conservatives, though, had a hard time parting with enough money to mount a successful name identification campaign for Dannie despite the prospect of electing the first Republican Sheriff in the County’s history. “People want to help,” Dannie said, “They’ll put a bumper sticker on their car or put a sign in their yard but when it comes to writing a check, they stop short.”

What does all this mean for the future of the County? Clay responded, “When people become serious about reform, serious about change, they will become serious about supporting reform candidates. Until then, the status quo will prevail.”