Dekalb Voters Think It’s Time for Change—Maybe

There’s an old adage that every United States Senator looks in the mirror and sees a future President of the United States. A new poll from 20/20 Insight may have DeKalb politicos looking in their mirror and seeing “Someone new”. According to a October 14th and 15th poll of 560 Dekalb County super Democrats only 36% think Dekalb County CEO Burrell Ellis deserves a second term, while 42% think it’s time for someone new, and the rest are undecided.

Ellis is in the third year of his four-year term – he is due to run for reelection in July 2012 – and has faced criticism since taking office in 2009. Dekalb has faced budget deficits and cutbacks, its credit rating was downgraded and then withdrawn, and Ellis has a tense with the county commission.
However, a closer look at the poll reveals some interesting opinions about Ellis and his chances for re-election.
The poll, what 20/20 Insight calls a “Flash Survey”, is different from other polls Blogging While Blue has done in the past, because the survey did not ask a full set of demographic and other identifying questions. Instead only the voter’s race and gender were identified which some might argue makes it less reliable, but we think the results are still valid.
Despite the difficult time Ellis has had in office, he still maintains a 50% job approval rating among super Democrats. This is largely because over 40% of voters feel he has done “Just OK” and give him a job approval rating of 3 on a scale of 1-5.  At this stage of the campaign this may not seem troubling, but his opponent(s) will likely try and pick apart Ellis’s record and this soft support could fade. What’s even more significant is that only 30% of these “Just OK” voters believe Ellis deserves a second term.
Another red flag in the survey for Ellis is that over 46% of Black women and 48% of White men think its time for someone new as Dekalb’s CEO. These are two strong constituencies in a democratic primary and it shows Ellis has some serious work to do with those two groups, if he is to win reelection.
But there is good news. Ellis’ election is over eight months away, which is an eternity in politics since historically most voters don’t start focusing on local races until the last 60-90 days of the campaign. For instance Dubya got re-elected in 2004 after having similarly low numbers and although President Obama is currently facing historically low reelection numbers he still runs neck and neck with the current field of possible Republican challengers.
So who’s going to run against Ellis next year? Surely, we are not the only ones doing formal or informal polls of voters. The worst kept secret in Dekalb County politics is that former CEO Vernon Jones is gearing up for a run at his old job. His supporters argue that the county was in much better shape under his leadership. While that may be true, they must have forgotten his embarrassing performance in the 2008 US Senate primary runoff. Although Jones was the sitting CEO, he lost Dekalb County in the runoff to a candidate  from Midtown Atlanta, Jim Martin.
A far more likely scenario in the Dekalb CEO race, is that someone new will emerge to challenge Ellis. Maybe it’s County Commissioner Lee May. Thirty-something year-old May – seen as a rising star in Dekalb – has been a vocal critic of Ellis during the budget season and he supported the I-20 MARTA line being included in the 2012 TSPLOST project list, while Ellis support for the same line was seen as lukewarm. May could use Ellis’ lack of support for the MARTA line, which would benefit democratic stronghold South Dekalb, as a base for his run and crossover to get votes in Central Dekalb to get elected.
Another rumbling we’ve heard is that Central Dekalb County Commissioner Jeff Rader is interested in Ellis’ position. This would be much more complicated, because Rader would have to figure out a way to get enough votes in South Dekalb to mount a serious challenge. Think that’s a stretch? Remember former Governor Roy Barnes carried Dekalb County over former Attorney General Thurbert Baker in the 2010 gubernatorial primary.
The numbers go both ways. Any challenger shouldn’t take Ellis for granted. He essentially would start the campaign with 36% of the vote. He only needs to get another 14% to win for another term in office. While 42% of the voters think it’s time for “someone new”, that doesn’t mean that those same 42% are willing to vote for “anybody” that is new.

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