The numbers in an election rarely tell the whole story.
That certainly is the case with the results of Tuesday's Republican Party primary.
Columbia County Commission Chairman Ron Cross defeated Brett McGuire 53 percent to 47 percent. Those are the numbers people will see when, years from now, they look back and boil the race down to a simple win/loss.
What those numbers won't tell future voters is this: That six-point spread is as wide as the Grand Canyon. Make no mistake: This wasn't just a win for Ron Cross; it was a royal beat-down for Brett McGuire.
Never before in Columbia County has there been a race as astoundingly, one-sidedly ugly as this one. A virtual tag-team of McGuire's campaign, in tandem with Jim Bartley's "Taxpayors (sic) Council," pounded relentlessly on Cross.
Not only did they disparage Columbia County's government and malign Cross' stewardship in language that would be laughable if it wasn't so caustic, but Bartley also bludgeoned Cross with long-dead legal issues dredged up from decades ago in Cross' former private business.
This wasn't even the usual faux-politeness whisper campaign that permeates politics; this was unhinged primal screaming.
Yet Cross won. They threw everything they had at him, and Cross still won. The gates held. The attackers failed.
If this were a poker game, McGuire's people put all their chips on his victory and busted. But it goes much deeper than that; the losers so overplayed their hands that they bankrupted any future they might have had in Columbia County politics. They won't be welcome if they try to return to the game.
That starts with the challenger himself. Brett McGuire is now officially a three-time loser. He lost to Bill Jackson. He lost to Lee Anderson. He lost to Ron Cross.
McGuire might be tempted to run again. But people like Jackson, Anderson and Cross stay in office because they have built a base of support, and McGuire has infuriated and alienated the base of three political veterans. There isn't much red left on that apple.
As for Bartley, while he was merely tolerated before, he now is politically radioactive. No candidate in his or her right mind would allow this loose cannon anywhere near them.
Prior to this race, would-be kingmaker George Snelling had been content to just be the money-man behind candidates; this time he took it personally, including writing an angry anti-Cross letter and sending copies to fellow West Lake residents. So did Ben Jackson, McGuire's campaign manager, who sent a near-identical letter to fellow Jones Creek residents.
But guess what: Cross won every West Lake and Jones Creek precinct at margins larger than his overall victory. With friends like those, who needs enemies?
A more immediate political punishment is looming for Lee Benedict.
Benedict has run for office on his own twice before and lost, and this year was an early, vocal cheerleader for McGuire. But like the rest of McGuire's camp, Benedict also went too far. With inexplicable attacks aimed at Cross' supporters, he seemed determined to alienate as many people as possible.
That wasn't a bright move, considering Benedict has filed to run for the school board seat of the retiring Mickie Blackburn. Two other very good candidates also are running, assuring Benedict will join McGuire as a three-time loser unless he quits to avoid the embarrassment.
There were many others who participated in this travesty. It's human nature to rubberneck at a train wreck, but McGuire's folks who pulled up lawn-chairs and cheered will never be able to clean up their consciences.
Congratulations to Ron Cross, though I'm sure he's questioning whether public service is worth such grief.
And we wonder why more people don't run for office, and why so few people vote.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail barry.paschal@newstimes online.com. Follow at twitter.com/barrypaschal.)
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