As widely expected, the People's Alliance slate of incumbent Steve Schewel and newcomers Jillian Johnson and Charlie Reece sailed to a top-three finish in yesterday's primary election.
With nearly 9,400, 8,200 and 6,000 votes, respectively, the PA slate finished well-ahead of the rest of the pack. (See the NC Board of Elections website for the latest numbers.)
Longtime Durhamite Mike Shiflett came in at the middle tier, with just over 3,800 votes; fifth and sixth place finishers Ricky Hart and Robert Stephens each drew about 2,500 votes.
For the Shiflett and, to a lesser extent, Hart campaigns, the big question will be whether a get-out-the-vote campaign could close the gap with third-placer Reece. It's not an insurmountable gap, but it would be a tough get.
In 2011 -- the last year where we had the at-large seats up for grabs -- Steve Schewel, Diane Catotti and Eugene Brown all had similar vote totals to those seen by the leaders in last night's results, while challenger Victoria Peterson (I know, I know) was at approximately Mike Shiflett's vote total level. The general election vote tallies by percentage didn't change much, although only one candidate (the perennial John Tarantino) fell out of that seven-person primary round.
While we can expect last night's 13,000 ballots cast to probably rise to 20,000 or more in the general election, the question will be which way the eliminated candidates' votes split. Azar's total might swing to Shiflett, but the other candidates' tallies could be a more random walk; we also wouldn't be surprised to see Hart or Stephens pick up a good chunk of those in the general.
The sixth-place finish was the nail-biter of the evening. The Herald-Sun's coverage initially gave the nod to Stephens, but challenger Sandra Davis took a lead later in the evening, per a Tweet from the Herald-Sun's Lauren Horsch. By morning, Stephens was again in the lead.
We're not sure which is more surprising: Davis' strong showing (as she essentially ran no active campaign); or Philip Azar's eight-place, 1,300 vote total. In a year when affordable housing is a big issue, Azar -- who spent much of his decade in Durham as a Habitat for Humanity staffer -- had a showing that significantly trailed expectations.
Meanwhile, Stephens, a one-year resident of Durham, is on to the final-six as the one candidate lacking any political action committee endorsements to make it to the next round.
Oh, and Bill Bell is still going to win the mayoral race.