Debe Hollingsworth’s win in the Nov. 6 Pine Bluff mayoral election was so thorough that it’s safe to say the political novice was the top choice among all voter groups, a feat made even more remarkable by her roughly 5-2 victory margin over her chief competitor, two-term incumbent Carl A. Redus Jr.
A check of precinct returns indicates Hollingsworth’s support not only crossed racial and socioeconomic lines, but that she also appealed to voters of different ages and education levels.
How did she do it?
“I think she worked her butt off,” said Jefferson County Election Commission Chairman Trey Ashcraft. “She raised a lot of money and spent a lot of money, and ran a great campaign that stretched for nearly two years. She included everyone with her message and was unafraid to reach out to every group.
“She did very well with all demographics,” he continued. “For her to get the results that she did and wind up less than a percentage point shy of attaining over 50 percent of the votes in a nine-candidate field is a pretty amazing accomplishment in my estimation.”
Ashcraft and commission Secretary Stu Soffer said that at its onset, the race reminded them of the 2008 mayoral contest in which Redus, who is black, led a less-crowded slate but was forced into a runoff by a white opponent, Greg Gustek.
“I think the 2008 election was a polarized vote,” said Soffer, also a member of the state election commission. “The 2012 vote was remarkable. People voted their heart, not color.”
Soffer said Hollingsworth, who is white, “reached across racial lines and brought people together, and the people indicated they wanted a change.”
“I expected Hollingsworth to come out ahead in the first round,” said Ashcraft. “I wasn’t certain who would be second, but suspected it would be Redus. I didn’t think anyone would get more than 30 percent of the initial vote. Again, I think the results showed that Hollingsworth was well-received by a wide variety of voters.”
Hollingsworth captured 8,323 votes, a 49.48-percent share. Redus received 3,004 for 17.86 percent.
“We had no clue the results would be what they were,” Hollingsworth said Friday night. “I expected a runoff.”
Hollingsworth believes that she won in part because of her “door-to-door canvassing.”
“We campaigned everywhere,” she said. “We went to Howard Street in the Shady Grove area, which some might not consider as desirable, and met some of the most gracious and receptive people. I was overwhelmed by them, and I think they were appreciative that we brought our campaign to them. I don’t know if anyone else did or ever had.”
Hollingsworth, a businesswoman and former state bank examiner, campaigned on a five-point “New Direction” platform, citing crime fighting, economic development, city government enhancements, bettering the city’s image and improving education as her primary goals.
She garnered the most votes at each of the 15 polling places. and led in all but a handful of 113 precincts. Among her most impressive margins were 39-0, 96-6, 298-10, 402-77 and 442-114 in Precincts 101, 215, 219, 222 and 406, respectively. The polling places for those precincts included the Shrine Temple at Ninth Avenue and Main Street, Summit Baptist Church at 901 Ridgway Road, and Gospel Temple Baptist Church at 1100 Oakwood Road.
Redus led Hollingsworth only in Precincts 210, 303, 306, 313 and 401 by respective margins of 10-6, 7-5, 5-3, 1-0 and 2-0. Those precincts’ polling places included First Presbyterian Church at 700 West 32nd Avenue, St. Peter’s Rock Baptist Church at 1201 South Catalpa Street, Matthews Memorial Baptist Church at West 20th Avenue and Blake Street, and the Pine Bluff School District Administration Building at 1215 West Pullen Street.
Redus said previously that he thinks he lost some support because of “misunderstanding” concerning his recent failed lawsuit. Redus had sought a two-year extension on his current term with a new election schedule based on the city’s declining population. He charged that the crowded election ballot was “indicative of the divide-and-conquer strategy that has been used in this community for quite some time.”