A Denver district was jokingly nicknamed for now-Rep. Ed Perlmutter during the last round of redistricting, but the Colorado Democrat ended up skipping the race. He ran and won four years later.
All the hard work of drawing a Congressional map can be ruined by a basket of chicken fingers.
Across the country, Republicans and Democrats are feverishly strategizing about how to draw Congressional districts that will benefit their parties for the next decade. But even though districts can be drawn to dramatically favor a particular party or even a specific person, candidates and campaigns still matter and sometimes races don’t turn out as they were planned.
Ten years ago, Democrats controlled the redistricting process in Georgia. Powerful state Senate Majority Leader Charles Walker (D) wanted to draw the 12th district to elect an African-American Democrat who just happened to be his son. Nobody dared to grab even a precinct and hurt Charles “Champ” Walker Jr.’s chances of getting elected.
But Champ became his own worst enemy.
“I met with him, and when he started going over his background I knew right then and there that it wasn’t going very far,” remembered Atlanta-based consultant Allan Crow, who had worked with the state Democratic caucus for years.
“I left the meeting in shock,” Crow continued, “and most of it came out later.”
Crow declined to join Walker’s team, but the Democrat’s campaign went on and it wasn’t long before Republicans found a treasure trove of opposition research from Walker’s early 20s, incidents the Savannah Morning News referred to in a 2002 story as “a few run-ins with the law.”
In the most prominent example, Walker had been arrested one decade earlier for disorderly conduct at an Applebee’s restaurant after a dispute with a waitress over some chicken fingers.
According to the paper, Walker also had been arrested less than a year later for shoplifting a $5.49 Slim Fast shaker at a Kroger’s grocery store. The paper reported Walker had wanted “a particular flavor of Slim Fast, whose shaker was absent from the box, so he took one from another flavor on the shelf.” He’d also been driving on a suspended license and had been previously arrested for leaving the scene of an accident, all charges that had been dropped but that weren’t public before his House bid.
Republicans used the arrests in a television ad, even though, as Walker told the newspaper, “I don’t even remember being arrested for that — it’s amazing to me.”
Walker was never convicted, but the political damage had been done. He lost the seat that was drawn for him by 8 points to little-known college professor Max Burns (R).
“It was drawn to be an African-American seat and a Democratic seat in that election. It was neither,” Crow told Roll Call recently. Two years later, in 2004, Democrats won the seat when Athens-Clarke County Commissioner John Barrow unseated Burns. But over a decade of elections, the district never elected a black candidate.
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