Winn credits volunteers, newsletter with primary win
Granville native and former Washington County District Attorney Robert Winn credits a little help from his friends for an unexpected victory in the Republican primary for the position Sept. 15.
“It was a really encouraging outcome for us,” Winn said. Although the results would not be official until the roughly 190 outstanding absentee ballots were counted, Winn said he was assured the win.
His opponent, Kevin Kortright, the incumbent district attorney his former second in command, trailed by more votes than there were absentee ballots.
Winn said he expected to maintain his edge in the count barring a statistically unlikely feat of the ballots all breaking for his opponent. “Particularly because we did some campaigning with the absentee ballot people,” Winn said.
“Right now I’m ahead 53 percent to 47 percent,” Winn said Friday. As soon as he knew there would be a primary, Winn said, he went to work.
“What we did was after the committee endorsed Kortright – we had a lot of support among the committee people, but this is politics obviously, so a few people can control a committee vote and the county endorsement meeting,” Winn said.
When the meeting did not go his way, Winn said, he contacted political adviser Michael Cline from Fort Ann who had worked on the campaigns of Judges Stan Pritzker and Kelly McKeighan to start to develop a strategy for how to approach the primary election. Having run a primary before, Winn said, he knew he had to target likely voters in the Republican primary.
“One thing that I didn’t anticipate – I’ve run three contested elections in this county – and I received more unsolicited volunteer support in this race then I have ever received for this race even when I had the party endorsement. I had people calling me from Easton, Greenwich, Cambridge … all over the county helping me with this campaign,” Winn said.
Winn said that while party members weren’t authorized to help him due to party rules they gave him “off-the-record advice” while the campaign was taking place.
“So I could not get any committee people – well I could have – but I didn’t ask anyone to break that rule,” he said. So with no committee members circulating petitions or able to put out yard signs supporting Winn he relied on the volunteers.
“A lot of young people helped us on the campaign,” Winn said, including his nephew Paul. A number of people with some national experience helped the campaign, including Kelly Eustis who helped with the Web site; local college student Joe Frandino, who had worked on Howard Dean’s blog, gave Winn some help as well as law student Mary Ellen Stockwell, Ron Daigle Jr. and Chris Bernstein.
Winn said he thought a number of things factored into Kortright taking the party committee’s endorsement other than his being the incumbent. The endorsement meeting was not well attended and many vote by proxy, he said.
Winn said he saw examples of this when during the primary he ran strong in towns such as Salem and Fort Edward, but received little or no support from those towns toward the party endorsement.
Winn said he also thought the close personal friendship between Kortright and the Republican Party chairman factored in as well. “There’s nothing wrong with this. … I think that had a lot to do with his securing the endorsement,” Winn said.
Proxy votes are cast by the chairman, Winn said.
“I knew in those towns I had a lot of support but that support didn’t translate into the nomination,” he said. “That’s not necessarily a reflection of how you’re going to do in the primary.”
A strategy developed with Cline was the idea of the newsletter, something tangible that people could hold on to.
Winn said the newsletter his primary campaign put together was a key factor in swaying Republican voters to his side.
Winn said his wife, Janet, who had experience in newspapers, helped him to come up with some of the structural elements of the “paste up.” Along with Cline they determined what to keep in and take out.
“We just went through an extensive editing process with it as well as researching it to get to the final end product,” he said. An issue sure to hit home with fiscally conservative Republican voters was the expense of the incumbent’s office and what benefit that gave to the people of the county, Winn said.
“One of the issues we developed and were concerned about was the budgetary issue. We’ve had a few rough years here in this county and how the district attorney budget exploded 35 percent is really beyond me,” Winn said.
Politically or practically, Winn said, he didn’t think the voters in the general election would approve. “Obviously the taxpayers aren’t going to react favorably for an increase like that for any department,” he said.
“I think that I’ll be able to run an excellent DA’s office on less than the budget of last year and the year before,” Winn said. Issues raised in the newsletter were ones he expected to continue to hit home with voters beyond the primary, he said.
Moving forward to November, Winn said, he wants to concentrate on having some presence in every town in the county.
“I’m not going to make any prediction except the one with the most votes wins,” he said.
Winn said a big factor going forward would be the party organization that could not work for him previously against the endorse candidate will now work for him in the general election.
“Now all of the organization is on my side, rather than his. That will certainly make the process more efficient for me. This is a large county and we had a good group of volunteers helping us, but it is hard for a person not working with the party structure to have an organized campaign in all 17 towns of Washington County,” Winn said. “It’s very difficult to create 17 different organizations when you don’t have the party backing on your side.”
“Our theme for the campaign was ‘No man is above the law, no man is below the law’ a Teddy Roosevelt quote,” he said meaning every person was going to be treated alike if he was elected.
A message that will resonate even better in the general election, Winn said.
With the Independence Party line secure for the November election, Kortright said he would continue to seek re-election.
“I’m disappointed my folks didn’t get out and vote but positive about the general election,” Kortright said. “It’s a shame that it was that low of a number — 3,000 out of 15,000 or 16,000 registered Republicans in the county. I’m looking forward to when (voting) is open to everyone because I believe I’ll get support from Democrats, independents and the majority of the Republicans,” he said.
“Negative campaigning works but we’re trying to keep away from that there will be nothing nasty in our side of it,” Kortright said.
Kortright said he thought negative campaigning by Winn had made the difference in the primary but he said he planned to continue to stay positive and focus on his programs and accomplishments.
“That’s what people need to know about,” he said.