Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Untold Story: How 'Damaging Events' Helped Democrat David Prater Defeat Republican Wes Lane

One of the most surprising upsets of Election Year 2006 to many was the 824-vote defeat of incumbent Republican Oklahoma County District Attorney Wes Lane by Democrat David Prater.
In the aftermath of Lane's defeat, there's been a lot of head-scratching: What happened, given Lane's lead in almost all the polls leading up to that final weekend before election day?
Now, we have an idea of what happened and it comes from a post-election "focus group" meeting conducted by Lane's pollster and consultant, Chris Wilson of Wilson Research Strategies of Oklahoma City and Washington.
Wilson's study was of a selected group of 10 "likely" Lane voters who switched their votes to Prater in the final hours. The participants were paid $50 each for their time.
TMRO obtained a copy of Wilson's report to Lane and it essentially confirms our earlier conclusion that two events on that final weekend sealed Lane's fate. First, was the arrest of an assistant district attorney following a minor traffic accident and allegations he was under the influence of drugs. Second, was the Prater news conference with the relative of a crime victim who had appeared in a Lane commercial and her comments critical of Lane. Both events resulted in wide news coverage in the hours leading up to election day and, Wilson's report concludes, "the sustained negative media coverage had a devastating impact." Those were the final blows to Lane, but the ground beneath him already had been eroded by several other factors.
Erosion Of Support For Lane: (1) Wilson's study found that "every participant (in the focus group) said they had voted more Democratic in 2006 than is the norm." Some of the participants mentioned they voted for Prater because he is a Democrat. (2) The endorsements Prater received from law enforcement organizations prompted some to switch their votes from Lane to Prater as the campaign evolved. The endorsements were "seen as tantamount to being supported by the police themselves," Wilson reported. "Participants voiced strong concern over the prospect of electing a district attorney who had lost the support of the police." (3) Some of the participants were not necessarily for Prater, but against Lane, the study found. "Each participant had their own specific negative story about either Lane himself, or the DA's office, with each story coming straight from the news media. There can be no question the sustained negative media coverage had a devastating impact." The study also found that some believe the DA's office under Lane exuded an "air of incompetence," citing the departures of assistant DAs, the Crystal Dittmeyer case, the Brian Bates prosecution and other, less public, incidents. (4) "Another key issue discussed by participants was Wes Lane's perceived lack of visibility as a district attorney. Several respondents stated it was their opinion, that throughout his term, Lane was much less visible than his predecessor, Bob Macy. Participants felt they 'seldom' or 'never' saw nor heard from Lane unless it was because of a negative news story about him or the office. This perception of a lack of visibility clearly played into Prater's message of an office in turmoil and created a view of secrecy and/or underhanded operations."
Damaging Events: "Wes Lane was the casualty of several damaging events over the course of the campaign that culminated over the last weekend to result in his defeat. (1) The foremost problem was the down year for all Republican candidates. To a person, every participant said they voted more Democratic this year than in the past; a close examination of the straight party voting pattern proves this to be the case and likely cost Lane far more than the ultimate vote difference between he and Prater. (2) Secondly, Prater's advertising campaign seemed to generate more recall among voters than did Lane's. Participants remembered Prater's advertisement about police department endorsements more than any other. This was a determining factor amongst many voters and caused several of our participants to change their vote in the final hours. The perception with these voters that Lane had lost police support to Prater was without a doubt one of the principal factors in the outcome of this race. As one participant said, 'That was the one thing that ensured me to vote for Prater instead of Wes Lane.' (3) Lastly, voters' views of Lane were heavily impacted by the negative news coverage throughout the campaign, concluding with the barrage of negative stories in the final weekend before the election. Each of the voters in our group had a negative view of the district attorney's office, and each seemed to have their own unique reason. In the opinion of participants, during his tenure Lane seemed to only be the recipient of negative coverage." (4) The two stories over the final weekend, the ADA being arrested for what voters remember as some form of substance abuse and the press conference in which Mrs. McCurdy denounced Lane, said she had been misled and endorsed Prater, were devastating. Even if not for the other factors, these stories may have been terminal to the reelection effort."
Summary: "When grouped together, these issues were simply too much to overcome. Republican Party affiliation in a Democrat year, scores of negative media attention with two very damaging stories in the final days created a public sentiment toward Wes Lane that allowed David Prater to win over enough voters in the final days to win this election."
Prater Consultant Don Hoover Cites Hard Work: "In my humble opinion, David Prater won because of his tremendous personal effort. I’ve never had a client who worked harder or longer. The police endorsements were certainly a key but they would never have happened without David’s unrelenting effort. David’s work made my job easy. All I had to do was make a few television and newspaper ads and leave the heavy lifting to him. David and his wife, Tamara, won it because 'quit' is not in their vocabulary."
Image courtesy Fox 25 News


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