One election this year won’t be touched by the expected tidal wave of Democratic voters turning out to support Barack Obama: the contest for Fifteenth District judge. The successor to retiring judge Ann Mattson will be elected in a nonpartisan vote.
August’s primary cut the field from four people to two: Chris Easthope, who’s represented the Fifth Ward on city council since 2000, and Washtenaw County first assistant prosecutor Eric Gutenberg, who’s been with the prosecutor’s office since 1989.
Both attribute the August victory to hard work—and both think winning the November election will be even harder work. “In the primary election, there are about ten thousand likely voters,” explains Easthope, “but in the general election, there are about sixty, maybe seventy thousand voters. So it’s harder to hit every door.”
Gutenberg says he’ll “continue to do what worked before: knocking on doors and going to neighborhood events to meet as many people as possible.” Easthope agrees: “Going door to door, getting your literature out, making phone calls, doing emailings—all these things are important. But the biggest thing is going door to door. You’ve got to do it every day.”
Joan Lowenstein, one of the candidates eliminated in August, looks at the likely voter numbers and draws a different conclusion. Compared to the primary, she says, the general election is less a matter of personal campaigning and more “a matter of advertising. For a general election, it’s impossible to knock on every door. Instead, you do advertising and mailings and have to get a lot of people to tell other people.” While door-to-door campaigning is cheap, advertising costs money: Easthope estimates that between the primary and general elections he’s raised close to $25,000, while Gutenberg’s treasurer says his total is “just south of” $30,000.
Lowenstein points out one additional challenge facing the judicial candidates: “You have to get people to turn over the ballot. It’s a huge ballot this time, and I’d bet a lot of people don’t even turn it over to get to the judges—which are really important.”