If you played kickball or baseball in the 1990’s, you quickly learned one of the schoolyard’s most basic principles: “Tie goes to the runner!”
The gist is this: if the ball and the runner reach the base at the same time, the runner is safe.
A few days ago, the idea popped in my head to apply this rule to politics.
First, some basics to set up the analogy:
The “runner” is the challenger. He’s trying to score.
The incumbent is on defense. The incumbent controls the field and generally has more money and people trying to help his/her campaign. These advantages pay off. The incumbent generally wins. It’s aggravating at times.
Sometimes, for various reasons, an incumbent will face a close race for re-election. Here, we can infer political momentum because the incumbent’s inherent advantage must have dwindled for a reason. Perhaps the incumbent did something wrong? Perhaps the incumbent is swept up into national partisan trends? Or, perhaps, the particular challenger happens to be a bad ass.
A general rule emerges: If a race is close as election day approaches, you should bet on the challenger. The reason: the momentum that he/she used to close the gap will more than likely carry him/her to victory.
“Tie goes to the runner”
The 2020 Ticket
We’ll start at the top:
President: Biden has not only closed the gap on the incumbent, he’s favored in every poll. Biden’s going to win. So you’ll know I’m consistent, I wrote a post in July called “Trump is Going to Lose.” It’s the most unoriginal title I ever came up with, but my feelings haven’t changed. Unless something drastic happens in 2020, we’ll have a new President in 2021.
WINNER: RUNNER (BIDEN)
US Senate: This is a race where my theory gets put to the test. Cal Cunningham was leading in most polls against the unpopular incumbent, Tom Tillis. You had to like Cunningham’s chances. Then, Cal got caught sexting with a woman in a different state. Cal’s basically in hiding now, refusing to answer questions. He’s trying to run out the clock.
I still like his chances. Why? He’s in a close race with an incumbent that’s coming down to the wire. People obviously didn’t like Tillis to begin with, and Cunningham’s personal mishaps aren’t going to change that. “Tie goes to the runner.”
WINNER: RUNNER (CUNNINGHAM) by less than 2 points.
Governor: This race has never been close, so our theory doesn’t apply.
U.S. House (District 8): Incumbent Richard Hudson faces his most serious challenger yet in former NC Supreme Court Justice and Fayetteville native, Patricia Timmons-Goodson.
The partisan makeup of the 8th District favors a Republican. The middle, rural parts of the district are solidly “red.”
For a Democrat to win, they have to drive up Democratic vote on the “ends” of the District (Cumberland and Cabarrus).
If Trump keeps imploding, he could turn “lean Republican” races like this one into “toss-ups.” Tie goes to the runner in toss-ups.
The cracks are forming in the Trump foundation, but there’s a whole lot of MAGA in the middle of NC’s 8th District that will fight (and vote) to the end.
As a side note, this race is somewhat personal to me. My old man ran for this seat in 2002 when I was a senior in high school and lost in the Democratic Primary. In addition, I clerked for Justice Timmons-Goodson while I was in law school. She’d be an excellent Congresswoman and Fayetteville would benefit substantially from having a resident member of Congress. Hudson has never held a real job outside of politics and lives in Washington D.C. Let’s get Hudson some work in the private sector.
Please vote for Timmons-Goodson.
WINNER: TRUMP SAVES OR KILLS HUDSON
If Trump implodes and loses nationally by >8 points, then this race goes to the “runner,” Timmons-Goodson. If not, Hudson keeps his seat.
NC SenateDistrict 19
Kirk deViere vs. Wesley Meredith, Part II.
This one is always fun to cover, and I’ve written about it extensively. This seat is the epitome of North Carolina’s purple politics and produces close and expensive races.
I never miss the chance to remind folks that I called this race within .03 of a percentage point in 2018, and I kept the receipts:
Surprisingly, the race seems quieter this time around. I keep waiting for a bombshell that hasn’t materialized from Meredith, the king of attack ads. From what I can tell, its been mostly a mailbox battle. Maybe Meredith’s not getting as much money from the Republican Party this time around?
Regardless, the race is likely to be close again, but it’s hard to say if our baseball theory applies this time. Meredith’s only been out of this seat for one term and held it longer than deViere prior to losing in 2018. Who’s the runner? Who’s in the field?
I think this one ends up a lot like 2018, with deViere gaining a little more ground due to Democratic enthusiasm. I’ll call it to the 10th of a percentage point to see if I can re-create my crystal ball magic:
WINNER: Kirk deViere 51.3%, Wesley Meredith 48.7%
After I wrote this post, I googled the “tie goes to the runner” rule. I came across a post on a blog for umpires. There’s a blog for everyone nowadays.
Last week was a bit like living in the Twilight Zone. After months of being told to wait, we finally got a glimmer of hope from the Governor. He went on T.V. with Dr. Mandy Cohen and told North Carolinians that virus numbers had stabilized. The pair gave the green light to open all elementary schools in North Carolina. They said that the science supported the decision.
But the Cumberland County Board of Education answered the Governor with a 6-3 “NO” vote and through a spokesperson said they would not revisit their decision. Cumberland County Schools would remain closed through 2020.
Several days later, I’m left wondering how this happened. It’s baffling. I thought we were following the science? Did the dimmer switch break?
I’ve developed a few political theories in an effort to make sense of it all, but unlike the Cumberland County School Board, I’m not ready to have “virtual” science for the rest of 2020. So what follows is a mix of politics and science in an attempt to shine some light on this debacle.
The Fayetteville Observer, in an editorial that half-way supported the board’s decision, had this to say:
Like elsewhere, the virus has had a disproportionate impact on African-Americans. Based on cases where the race is known, 61 percent of people who have died from COVID-19 in our county have been Black, in a county where Blacks make up 39 percent of the population.
These are among considerations the school board had to take into account in a school system which has a majority-minority student body.
I expected a bit more from our paper. This is the one time that race should have been left out of the conversation. A virus doesn’t care about your skin tone. However, you are more likely to catch one if you’re poor and live in a crowded home with working-class parents. This is a socio-economic problem, plain and simple.
Maybe our paper was only reflecting the “true spirit” of Fayetteville’s politics, where race always simmers under the surface, waiting for a chance to boil over. Here’s a relevant flashback from four years ago:
The Cumberland County Board of Education begins the new year with new leadership, and not everyone is happy about it. Rather than follow tradition, school board members voted 5-4 to elect Greg West as chairman, rather than current vice chairperson Carrie Sutton.
“I’m just shocked,” Sutton said. “I’ve worked on this board for eight years, and never have I been in a situation like this…this is so racial.”
“All I can say is, you are wrong,” West said, responding to Sutton’s claims of racially-motivated voting. Board members Peggy Hall, Rudy Tatum, Donna Vann and Susan Williams supported West, who voted for himself. Alicia Chisholm, Porcha McMillan and Judy Musgrave supported Sutton, who voted for herself. West served as chairman most recently in 2014. During the public comments portion of the meeting about a third of the people in the room asked the board to choose Sutton as chairwoman.
Unsurprisingly, the School Board’s recent vote fell along nearly identical lines. Did this vote become a racial issue? Was it a personal grudge against Greg West (who supports re-opening)? It’s hard to tell.
The point is that racial tension and mistrust are poison to the process of making a reasoned decision. The Nation, City, and School Board are full of both right now.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve seen a generational divide in how we treat the virus.
This makes sense. If you’re old, you’re far more likely to die of Covid. You’re also less likely to empathize with families that are going through the hell that is “virtual” school because no such thing existed when you were raising your own children.
The local science regarding age is worth mentioning here:
75 people have died with Covid in Cumberland County so far. 80% of the deaths have been people over the age of 65.
No one under the age of 25 has died with Covid in Cumberland County.
The majority of the members of our school board are “getting up there” in age. It may be that the six school board members who voted “no” are worried that in-person school will spread Covid in Cumberland County and they have personal fears of Covid due to their age or health history.
If these fears exist, they are irrational. Dozens of counties have already gone back to school. I argued in a post several weeks ago that we would know within “2-14 days” if in-person school increased Covid transmission because we would see a spike in these counties:
We saw no spike. In fact, Dr. Mandy Cohen went on T.V. last week and said there has been “no increase in community spread” in counties with in-person education. But in politics, fear beats reason, every time. I have a hunch the 6-3 vote would have been different if we had a younger school board.
Teachers “Union” Calling the Shots?
The North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) is a political organization that advocates for teachers in North Carolina. The group organized the rallies in Raleigh promoting higher teacher pay that made national news. Remember all those red shirts?
The NCAE is against opening schools:
At an emergency town hall meeting Thursday night, NCAE leaders told the 1,000 virtual attendees that Cooper’s decision endangers students and school employees. Bryan Proffitt, NCAE’s vice president, said they’re now being “forced to fight against our principals, our school boards and our school district administrators” to keep schools from adopting Plan A.
“I would be lying to you if I didn’t say that the strategy has to be that we have to fight locally,” Proffitt said. “You are going to have to push your school board. The decision is now in the hands of school boards. It is not in the governor’s hands anymore, he relinquished that today.”
“It is in the hands of school boards so we are going to have to push our school boards for the safest possible conditions, and if that means you’ve got seven people on your school board, you’ve got to get four people to vote the way you want.”
Unsurprisingly, Sorce has aligned his position with his stepdaughter and the NCAE, voting to keep schools virtual for the rest of the year. Other school board members have used “teacher safety” as their primary motivation for voting against opening, now that Cooper’s “science” supports having elementary schools open.
In Charlotte, a lawsuit was recently filed to open schools. The NCAE was named as a Defendant. The suit accuses the NCAE of being an illegal public union and conspiring with school board members to advance its agenda of keeping schools closed. Here’s a link to the Complaint, if you’re interested in reading it:
The NCAE wants this to be a partisan fight. Notice how the NCAE VP simply brushed off Governor Cooper by arguing that he “relinquished” control of the decision. This comes after Tamika Kelly publicly admonished Trump for “not following the science” and wanting to open schools a few weeks before (see the video above).
It’s hard to avoid the fact that we have a powerful special interest group representing teachers in North Carolina that clearly has the ear of local school boards. They won the battle in Cumberland County.
Hate Trumps All?
I’d be remised not to mention the orange elephant in the room. Partisanship and hatred for Donald Trump is a primary motivation for many who oppose open schools. It just is. It’s in Trump’s interest to re-open the country as fast as possible, including schools.
I have a hard time with this one, because I think Donald Trump is a horrible President, but I’m in favor of my two children going back to the classroom. Show me some science that says my kids aren’t safe. I’ll change my mind and publish a retraction.
It’s this writer’s opinion that members of the Cumberland County Board of Education are “caught up” in a fight that is bigger than the decision to send kids back to school in Cumberland County. It’s a political fight being waged on multiple fronts that has lasted all of 2020.
In a tumultuous election year, it’s easier to get caught up in national issues of race, or political party, or Donald Trump. It’s harder to look at the facts and the data in your little county and make a reasoned decision.
The right thing is simple: Put your political agenda aside. Put our children first.
If you live in Cumberland County and have kids in public schools, you certainly have strong feelings about whether they should return to the classroom. I’ve advocated for a return for several months. You may disagree, but I think everyone believes that the decision should be made on clear science. A flawed system may keep that from happening.
Our school board is currently laying the bureaucratic groundwork to keep our kids at home for the foreseeable future. Their tool: a system of metrics that measure the “covid risk level” in Cumberland County.
The above graphic is taken from a youtube video of the school board’s last virtual meeting. Many of these graphics are blurry screenshots. Apologies, I can’t find the actual charts online. You can watch the video below for clearer images:
The covid metric spreadsheet appears five minutes into the video. It seems that the county gets “points” for four covid metrics:
Case positivity rate
New cases per capita
Rate of acceleration
Active clusters in last 2 weeks
More points = More Covid. The maximum score is 13.
According to our county leaders, we should have a score of 4 or less before kids can go back to class. We’re currently at a score of 6.
A score of 6 puts us in the “Accelerated Spread” category (Orange).
But look closer. The “rate of acceleration” metric says “14 day deceleration.” It’s green.
So we’re in the “Accelerated Spread” category when our “rate of acceleration” is going down? This is absurd on its face. Covid can’t accelerate and decelerate at the same time. It exists in the universe and there are laws governing such things.
Positivity Rate Wrecking the Metrics
Looking closer, it appears that our phantom “acceleration” comes from our current positivity rate. We received 4 of our 6 points from this category alone. Skip to 16:00 in the youtube video to see how this works.
Under the current system, if Cumberland County’s positivity rate was below 6% (it’s currently 7.7%) we would get 2 points instead of 4, for a total score of 4 points. At 4 points, the “metric system” would recommend that our kids go back to school.
Making this worse is the fact that Cumberland County’s positivity rate jumps around. The reason is that the rate is entirely dependent on the number of tests that are analyzed on a given day. You can use the following link to see that we’ve been as low as 5% and as high as 15% within the past month.
It’s entirely possible that our school board keeps school shut down based on a small percentage of one data point.
Since its the linchpin, we may as well read the data point’s “fine print”:
Description/Data Source: This shows the percent of positive tests as a proportion of total (Electronic Lab Reporting) ELR tests. We know that as testing increases, the number of cases can climb. This gives us an idea of the number of cases with respect to the amount of testing being done. These are only calculated using results from labs that report into NC EDSS electronically, listed below. Thus, this many not be representative if a large amount of tests in Cumberland County are being done by labs not reporting electronically. The percent positive displayed is the average percent positive during the last two weeks. Data in this spreadsheet is updated on Mondays. https:covid19nchdds.gov/dashboard/testing
It “may not be representative” but it “may be” the thing that keeps your kids from going to school. Welcome to 2020!
I think we need to find out if there’s a large number of tests in Cumberland County that aren’t being reported. If so, why are we even using this percentage in our decision making? You might as well pick a random number.
A Way Forward
If we’re going to open schools in Cumberland County, we’ve got to get a new system, or at least give less weight to the “percent positive” number that is admittedly based on incomplete data.
A cynic might say that Governor Cooper, NCDHHS, and County administrators set up these metrics with the goal of keeping schools closed. I’m not quite there yet, but if they don’t fix it, I will be.
Here’s one solution: from the very beginning, we have been told that we needed to “shut down” in order to “slow the spread” and avoid overwhelming our health care system. Remember that? What happened that that data point? Fortunately, it’s still being monitored:
If you go to 36:00 minutes in the video, you will hear Michael Nagowski, the head of Cape Fear Valley Hospital. He notes that the number of covid patients has been cut in half since the peak of the pandemic. He says there are twenty eight people at the medical center that are “also covid positive.” The peak was fifty-seven.
This is consistent with (if not better than) the trend across the state:
The number of individuals hospitalized in Cumberland County for covid should carry as much, if not more weight, than the percentage of positive tests. Hospitalizations are not dependent on the number of tests given or the number of labs electronically reporting results to the state. In fact, hospitalizations, apart from deaths, are the best way to determine the severity of the pandemic in this community. There is no “fine print.”
These types of formulas are wonderful for elected officials. Our leaders can sit back and point to a graph or chart and avoid making a difficult decision themselves. It’s the definition of political “cover.” The problem is that once you get in the weeds, you find that the cover is often a smokescreen.
Remember that the ultimate decision rests with your elected officials, not some contradictory color-coded chart on a blurry youtube video. Hold them accountable.