White’s unofficial totals were 3076 to Democrat Guthrie Castle’s 1452 and independent John Andreuccetti’s 85. White polled 68 percent of the vote. At his victory celebration in his headquarters at the Park Place Mall, the winning candidate joked that he was disappointed. “I had wanted to get 76 percent to beat Brian Kelsey.” Fellow Republican Kelsey had won a recent special election race for state Senate District 31 with 75 percent of the vote.
The District 85 House seat had been occupied by Kelsey, who vacated it early in his own race to insure that a Republican successor would be in place before the current session of the General Assembly, which convened on Tuesday, got too far down the line.
White’s victory insured that the GOP would maintain its 51-48 edge over Democrats in the House.
Given the long odds against a prospective victory by Castle, his Democratic backers had devised for him a “stealth campaign,” one in which the candidate and his backers set out to avoid public attention as such — indeed, to be as inconspicuous as possible — in the hope that the Republican hierarchy and candidate White himself would consider themselves home free because of the GOP’s well-known predominance in District 83.
Meanwhile, went the theory, the over-confident Republicans would be lulled to sleep, and Castle, supported quietly by representatives of the House Democratic Caucus, which went along with the strategy, would flood the district late in the game, as they in fact ended up doing, with targeted mailouts and robo-calls (some of them involving Memphis mayor A C Wharton and 9th District congressman Steve Cohen).
But the Republicans had been able to anticipate and track the Democratic activity, said veteran political consultant Layne Provine, who advised the White campaign. Provine said the White campaign sponsored its own deluge of last-minute attention, paying special attention to mailouts and teams of door-to-door campaigners.