Arlington's race for mayor was narrower than expected. UTA professor explains why it was so close
Arlington Mayor Jim Ross won his second term with 646 votes more than his opponent, realtor and business owner Amy Cearnal. The election marks the closest Arlington mayor's race in recent history, according to city archives dating back to 2001.
Thomas Marshall is a UT Arlington professor of political science. He spoke with KERA News' Kailey Broussard about the results.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
"Well, I think two things happened. (Cearnal's) finances came in late and much larger than expected. By the way, that's completely legal and possible in Texas election codes, which has no limits on the size or timing of donations. What that meant is that she was able to pull a pretty respectable vote for a first-time challenger who was probably not very well known at the beginning of the campaign. The second thing that I think is worth pointing out: Mayor Ross ran a reasonably well-funded campaign, but it was not a really great campaign in terms of turning out votes. His votes have steadily dwindled from the first round in 2021 to the runoff to this round. And while he spent in the ballpark of $12-$15 per voter in the election, which is roughly what she spent, and we don't have the report yet. His ground game wasn't very good."
How common is this last minute injection of funds into an election, especially at the local level?
"It's not unusual. We've seen it in other elections, when people outside the district who have some contact within the district donate late. It is completely legal under Texas law as long as it is correctly reported. Texas does not limit the size of donations and the timing of donations. Typically, it happens for challengers because incumbents go and raise their money earlier. Both of them raised money in some fairly large amounts. I think what was not clear and not well understood at the beginning of this race is that a lot of roughly $100,000 would come in pretty late, perhaps more."
In terms of local elections, especially local mayoral races, how common is it for an incumbent to win a reelection with this close of a contest?
A comparison that jumps out at everybody is the difference between he and Mattie Parker over in Fort Worth, who bumped up her vote totals about 16 or 18% over her last runoff total in 2021, whereas his went down 2%. So there are candidates who steadily win by small margins and never really build their popularity and their vote percentages. It is, however, unusual for a candidate who is not involved in a personal scandal or in a dysfunctional city government not to come through fairly easily on later elections.
What do you think were some of the issues that affected the election results for Jim Ross?
"He thinks it had to do with sort of a core of voters who were never very happy with him. The Gay Pride resolution may not have warmed up people. There is a core of voters who are just unhappy with City Hall. There's no doubt about that. And it was a low voter turnout election. Low voter turnout elections can be very tricky in many cases."
What should Mayor Jim Ross be thinking about, knowing that he kind of scraped by by less than a thousand votes this time around?
"I think Arlington has got some really serious redevelopment problems. They've been longstanding. It's an older suburb which is nearly built out. And in transformation, there are some exciting and positive things going on in Arlington. It is not a city in a high-crime death spiral like some northern cities may be. But it is challenging and it isn't clear that that his goal is immediately to change very much of what's been going on for he and (former Mayor Jeff Williams) in the past."
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