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January 12th, 2009
Past as prologue: How to win a city election

San Marcos residents wait in line to cast their vote on election night 2008.
Photo by Christina Zambrano

News Reporter

An analysis of voting patterns from the November city council election, particularly the mayor’s race, suggests than an ethnic divide thought by many to have dissipated continues to factor in San Marcos political races.

Though Mayor Susan Narvaiz won a third term, she lost almost all of her north side support in the most recent election. Narvaiz won with lopsided margins in south side precincts, along with a strong “get out the vote” campaign in early balloting.

The analysis shows that candidates for the San Marcos City Council in November 2009 would be well served to campaign on the more Hispanic south side. Indeed, Narvaiz probably would have been subject to a run-off election if her mayoral opponents, David Newman and Daniel McCarthy, would have been more attentive to the south side.

Narvaiz won re-election by sweeping the south side and by carrying precinct 315 on the far west side of town. Narvaiz received more votes than her two opponents combined in precincts 110, 111, 112, 113, 114, 116, 120, 127 and 315.

The mayor’s top precincts were, in order, 113, 116, 315, 121, and 120. In total, Narvaiz received 6,451 votes to her combined opponents vote total of 6,431 – a margin of 20 votes.

McCarthy and Newman combined for more votes than Narvaiz in precincts 330, 332, 334, 336 and 446. The challengers’ combined top precincts were, in order, 334, 446, 332, and 330. McCarthy received 2,563 total votes. His best precincts were, in order, 334, 120, 330, 336 and 446. Newman received 3,868 total votes. His best precincts were, in order, 334, 446, 332, 336, and 330.

Narvaiz received 4,330 votes during early voting, while her opponents combined for 3,916 votes, a margin in her favor of 414 votes. On the day of the election, McCarthy and Newman combined for 2,515 votes to Narvaiz’ 2,121 votes, a margin of 394 votes in their favor. McCarthy and Newman failed to make up the vote advantage that Narvaiz established during early balloting.

While 3,121 people voted at the early polling location on the Texas State University campus, McCarthy, a Texas State student, received only 1,499 votes overall during early voting. That means more than half of the people who voted early on campus went for McCarthy’s two opponents. It is likely that McCarthy would not have done as well as he did without the campus polling place being open for four days. At the same time, he did not do as well with the student vote as he might have.

It is obvious that candidates McCarthy and Newman did not campaign in the south side of San Marcos, nor in precinct 315. Those failures enabled Narvaiz to narrowly avert a run-off election. Both McCarthy’s and Newman’s best south side precinct was 120. Their strength in that precinct reflects the number of students who live in that precinct, rather than any specific work from their campaigns.

It could be argued that McCarthy had very limited appeal in the south and west sides of town, but the same can’t be said of Newman. Especially in precinct 315, it was possible for Newman to connect with voters based on his education and career experiences. But he appears not to have made his case to those voters.

Incumbent San Marcos Councilmember Chris Jones of Place 4 easily prevailed against challenger Lisa Marie Coppoletta, receiving 6,168 votes to her 4,925. Jones won by carrying north and south side precincts.

Jones carried the traditionally African-American precinct 111 and other south side precincts 113, 116, and 120. Further, Jones carried precinct 315 and swept the north side, carrying 330, 332, 334, 336 and 446. Jones’s top precincts were, in order, 315, 332, 334, and 336.

Coppoletta carried four precincts, all on the south side – 114, 112, 121, and 110.

Coppoletta’s showing could be attributed to her vigorous campaigning and, possibly, to Narvaiz’ strong showing on the south side. Although the campaigns were completely independent of each other, it is possible that Narvaiz’ presence as a female on the ballot helped Coppoletta as another female candidate.

It appears obvious that viable San Marcos City Council candidates will have to devote resources to getting out their vote during early voting and should never write off any part of town as unnecessary or unreachable for their campaigns.

Comparing precinct vote totals for city council races with the precinct presidential vote totals yields some anomalies. President-Elect Barack Obama, a Democrat, carried San Marcos south side precincts 111, 112, 113, 114, 120, and 127, while losing precinct 110 by 32 votes (427-395), and precinct 116 by three votes (435-432).

The Democratic ticket swept the north side, carrying precincts 330, 332, 334, 336, and 446, only losing the Republican bastion of precinct 315.

While Obama carried the usually Democratic north side precincts of 330 and 334, along with the Republican 336 and the new 332 (cobbled together after the 2000 census from the old precincts 445, 451 and the Mimosa Circle neighborhood, all reliable republican areas), Narvaiz lost those precincts. Except for precinct 315, the Democratic ticket either won or narrowly lost all the precincts that Narvaiz carried.

The mayor’s race seems to reflect an on going ethnic divide in the city that many thought had been superseded by other concerns. Further, Narvaiz’ loss of most north side precincts reflects an erosion of support relative to the 2004 election in which she unseated Robert Habingreither for mayor.

In that election, Narvaiz won all San Marcos precincts except 315. The most important question from the 2008 election: How did Narvaiz lose her support in precincts 330, 332, 334, and 336, while also flipping 315 to her favor, thereby becoming a three-term mayor in San Marcos?

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0 thoughts on “Past as prologue: How to win a city election

  1. Good analysis Ed, that will help as more San Marcos voters get involved. Thanks.
    One point that I feel you missed was that there were no clear issues brought to the front to distinguish on the south side. For instance, the movement of the Springtown shopping center (as part of the general development move south on I-35 by the Mayor and council) was brought up in the final Mayoral debate. But the point that services are being moved away from these precincts never hit home with the voters.
    We have to do a better job of distinguishing the issues, rather than having election races based upon name recognition. Let’s see what was learned in 2010.

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  3. Rob, Thank you very much for your comments. They are very thoughtful. I agree that the challengers did not articulate issues of importance to the south side voters. McCarthy campaigned on issues of importance to student voters while Newman campaigned on issues that would appeal to many north side voters.
    Further, your point about the movement of services south on I-35 is very well taken. One of the reasons I supported the Hotel/Conference Center being located on the north side of town was because that location would have helped our Downtown. The location that the Hotel/Conference is at now does nothing to help our Downtown and instead helps development along the interstate which doesn’t need any help.
    Please feel free to contact me here or at

  4. I know the money things is not a huge issue when I only spent $200 but I would like to point out that in light of the fact that Susan spent $100,000. With 6451 votes that means she spent $15.5/vote.

    I spent less than $0.08 ($200/2563). That means I out-campaigned her (Dollars to votes) by a factor of 194:1.

    Dave the “serious” candidate spent $5113 and got 3868 votes at a cost of $1.3/vote, a factor of 12:1 over Susan.

    Combined, Dave and I spent $5313 and got our money’s worth at $0.83/vote combined. Dollars to votes we out-campaigned Susan nearly 19:1.

    Again, money isn’t everything. Maybe all this means is that Susan way overspent. Would you expect anything else from an elected official? But in light of these facts in a race that came down to ten votes, one can’t help wonder whether the “will of the people” really got a fair shake.

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