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Kathleen Peters cruises to easy victory over Amy Kedron

Outgoing state Rep. Kathleen Peters scored an easy win over Democrat Amy Kedron Tuesday night in her bid for Pinellas County Commission District 6.

Peters won 60 percent to 40 percent over Kedron with three quarters of all precincts reporting.

The district covers mid-Pinellas County including Seminole, parts of St. Petersburg, St. Pete Beach, Treasure Island and Madeira Beach.

Peters will replace John Morroni, who passed away earlier this year.

Peters entered the race with broad name recognition from her service in Tallahassee. She served in House District 69 since 2012 and before that was Mayor of South Pasadena.

She also waged a high-profile campaign against former Congressman David Jolly in a heated primary contest to replace the late Bill Young for that seat.

Peters also likely gained respect from independent voters after she announced she would be leaving her post in Tallahassee. Peters vocally took on departing House Speaker Richard Corcoran in his attacks on home rule, threatening local government’s ability to maintain autonomy over its own policies.

She told reporters and voters she grew tired of the hyper-partisanship in the state’s capital and thought she could better serve voters in the less-partisan county commission.

Peters also amassed an impressive war chest, raising nearly $250,000 for her commission campaign. Kedron raised just $37,000.

Kedron also was the subject of scrutiny, which could have been why her campaign never really gained momentum.

The Democrat was the subject of stalking and abuse accusations by her former boyfriend. Kedron countered by saying she was the one who was the victim of domestic abuse.

Kedron also was ridiculed by some after calling police on Tampa Bay Times reporter Mark Puente, who was waiting on a public sidewalk near one of her campaign fundraisers to ask questions.

News of that incident led to one of the few elected officials who publicly supported her, St. Petersburg City Council member Gina Driscoll, rescinding her endorsement

Kedron is a former professor at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg and got a law degree, but Florida Bar records show she is not licensed to practice here. 

Peters said she plans to continue working on mental health issues as a Pinellas County Commissioner, which was one of her top priorities in the House.

She said she wants to create a program for people detained under the Marchman Act to give them beds and substance abuse counseling programs. Currently people detained under the Marchman Act are taken to the Pinellas County jail and released once they sober up.

No surprise here: Jeff Brandes trounces Lindsay Cross

Florida Senator Jeff Brandes will keep his Senate District 24 seat representing parts of St. Petersburg.

Brandes stomped his Democratic challenger, Lindsay Cross, 54 percent to 46 percent.

Cross was an underdog candidate in a difficult matchup against a well-known incumbent. She fought a hard battle right up until Election Day, but couldn’t bridge the gap created from her late entrance into the race and inability to keep up with Brandes’ campaign finance war chest.

Brandes is a popular politician in Florida respected across party lines. He gained respect from many Democrats after supporting legalizing medical cannabis and pushing for relaxed regulation over the industry once voters approved it.

He’s also made a name for himself pushing for more access to autonomous vehicle technology and other innovative solutions to modern day problems. Brandes is a bill-sponsoring machine in Tallahassee, proposing often bipartisan legislation ranging from allowing students to use computer coding as a language requirement to regulating “delivery robots” to serve as a sort of Uber of commerce.

Cross waged a strong grassroots campaign. She managed to stretch her limited funding by using creative marketing strategies. Rather than buying up expensive television ads (she did have some), Cross focused on alternative sources to reach voters like Hulu, Netflix and Pandora.

She also used social media as a strong outreach tool. In the final two weeks of her campaign, Cross began posting daily videos on Facebook highlighting issues in her race.

While not overtly negative, Cross attempted to beat Brandes on local issues. An environmental scientist by trade, one of Cross’s biggest appeals to voters was her commitment to sound environmental policy protecting drinking water, Florida’s myriad waterways and combating climate change.

She also hammered away at red tide, which is still plaguing Pinellas County beaches, driving visitors and residents away from the beaches and costing jobs. Cross blamed Brandes for supporting polluters, including the sugar industry.

She also opposed Brandes’ commitment to Florida’s network of charter schools, noting traditional public schools shouldn’t have to share funding with for-profit educators that only teach 10 percent of Florida’s school children.

But Brandes’ vast name recognition and expansive fundraising lead gave him a strong advantage.

Brandes raised more than $2 million compared to Cross’s less than $200,000.

Cross entered the race late after another candidate, Carrie Pilon, bowed out to tend to family medical matters. Her late start left early fundraising efforts sluggish and didn’t give her enough time to build funding momentum to even come close to matching Brandes.

The race isn’t necessarily an upset for Democrats. Unlike other Florida races, Cross was not expected to have a viable shot at upending Brandes’ reign in the Senate.

Gus Bilirakis

Gus Bilirakis elected to seventh term in Congress

U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis will serve a seventh term in office after defeating Democrat Chris Hunter Tuesday in a contentious race.

Bilirakis has held the seat since 2007. Before that, his father represented Congressional District 12. Between the two, there has been a Bilirakis representing the district for more than three decades.

The race became competitive for a couple of reasons. Hope for the “blue wave” of Democrats unseating conservatives from local, state and federal offices gave Democrats momentum this election cycle as more people flooded the polls.

It’s not unusual for midterm elections to serve as a referendum for the party in power in the White House, but this election cycle appeared even more fueled against the policies of President Donald Trump.

But it was Bilirakis’ own blunders that took a race that should have been a total shellacking and turned it into a toss-up heading into Election Day.

Most recently, Bilirakis took credit for a law seeking to put water on the nationwide opioid epidemic. An ad referred to it as the “Bilirakis Interdict Act.” That law provides funding and equipment to detect fentanyl at the border.

Bilirakis was not one of the 18-sponsors of that bill nor did he vote in committee on it, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

What he did do is co-sponsor the 2016 “Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act” that scaled back the Drug Enforcement Agency’s ability to halt shipments of drugs that posed a danger to the public.

The optics are made worse by Bilirakis’ cozy relationship with the pharmaceutical industry, from which he accepted more than $80,000 in campaign contributions during the 2016 election cycle. During this cycle, he has collected nearly $70,000 from the industry.

In July, Bilirakis came under fire for a campaign press release that claimed 90 percent of his contributions came from Florida voters. That number was actually 62 percent.

The negative headlines didn’t necessarily hamper Bilirakis’ loyal support in his Clearwater district, but they did give Hunter the ability to get his face and name out to the voter.

A relative unknown in politics, Hunter was a great candidate on paper. Hunter is a former federal prosecutor for the U.S. Department of Justice and served as an FBI agent after the 9/11 terrorist attack. That resume is attractive to conservatives who vow to support rule of law.

But Hunter’s absence in the political sphere paired with Bilirakis’ family legacy put him at a huge disadvantage. As Bilirakis’ campaign mistakes made headlines, so too did Hunter’s.

Still, it wasn’t enough to push Hunter through the finish line.

Charlie Crist sails to easy victory over George Buck

Democrat Charlie Crist scored an easy victory over Republican George Buck in his reelection race for Congressional District 13 in St. Petersburg and parts of Pinellas County.

In a landslide, Crist grabbed 58 percent of the vote of the vote.

Crist’s race looked sealed from the get-go. He raked in well over $3 million to ward off a GOP challenger. Buck’s unimpressive fundraising haul came to about $30,000 and his campaign efforts were limited.

Crist was first elected to the district four years ago when he beat former GOP Congressman David Jolly. Crist’s victory came after the district’s boundaries were redrawn to include parts of downtown St. Pete and south St. Pete, a hub for Democrats.

The district changes shifted the district from leaning conservative to favoring Democrats.

Crist ran a tough campaign against Buck, a retired firefighter turned academic, despite is massive fundraising advantage.

His campaign slathered airwaves with positive messages about his freshman class accomplishments including work for veterans and consumers, as well as his open communication with constituents.

One of Crist’s ads featured the Democrat, who used to be a Republican Florida Governor, taking calls from constituents telling voters he works for them.

Crist focused a lot of his campaign efforts helping other Democrats in more competitive races. He toured the state rallying voters in various campaign stumps, town halls and get out the vote efforts.

Crist said those stops helped his own campaign while also pushing messages from other Democrats. He made several campaign appearances with Lt. Gov. nominee Chris King, and also campaigned heavily for Attorney General candidate Sean Shaw who and Agriculture Commissioner candidate Nikki Fried.

Crist plans to continue work in Congress supporting access to health care and fighting back conservative efforts to scale back on health care access for people with pre-existing conditions.

He’s also working with colleagues to identify mitigation and relief efforts to combat red tide, which is plaguing Crist’s district.

blue wave

Tampa Bay competitive ‘blue wave’ races to watch

The 2018 midterm election is widely considered one of the most contentious in recent history.

Like all midterm elections, it’s serving as a referendum on the party in power in Washington. But fueled by the overtly contentious Donald Trump administration, Democrats are fired up to send an anti-Trump message this election.

That message is trickling down to state and local races as Democrats seek to capitalize on voter motivation to the polls. Tampa Bay is no different. Here are the races to watch for a potential local “blue wave”:

Dana Young vs. Janet Cruz

Senate District 18 is a swing district. Republican incumbent Young is waging a fierce battle against outgoing House Democratic Leader Cruz to keep the seat red in a Democratic attempt to regain the Senate.

The two are polling neck and neck, with Young carrying a slight advantage. Both candidates have broad name recognition and strong political track records in Tallahassee to run on.

Like many matchups, the difference between the two lies almost solely in partisan difference.

Young supports increasing resources for charter schools and other school choice programs like voucher programs. Cruz opposes public spending on those programs that fall on the backs of traditional public schools.

Cruz wants assault weapons banned in Florida. Young doesn’t.

The outcome in this race will likely come down to voter turnout and whether or not Democrats managed to rally enough support from independent voters to head to the polls.

Amanda Murphy vs. Ed Hooper

The Republican and Democratic candidates in the Senate District 16 matchup could not be more different.

Murphy, the Democrat, is a young woman. Hooper, the Republican, is an older white male.

Murphy is a charismatic candidate, while Hooper is less personable. Murphy has stuck to mostly issue-driven campaigning, while outside groups supporting Hooper have blasted negative ads and mail pieces attacking Murphy.

Both Hooper and Murphy have a legislative track record. Murphy lost her seat to Amber Mariano by just 700 votes in 2014. Hooper left the House and then ran unsuccessfully for Pinellas County Commission in 2014. He lost to Democrat Pat Gerard.

There are a lot of forces driving this race and making it one of many potential flips for Democrats, despite a Republican spending advantage.

First, the district itself is fell into turmoil when its mostly beloved former state senator, Jack Latvala, resigned from his seat after allegations of sexual misconduct.

The Latvala controversy could actually be a boost for Murphy as nationwide voters are showing more support than ever for female candidates to overthrow long-standing ‘good ol’ boys’ club’ members filling elected bodies.

The fact that Hooper is similarly aged to Latvala and a man could put voters off electing another male to the seat.

Second, Murphy is a moderate in a district that’s also fairly moderate. While it leans Republican, Democrats aren’t far behind and independents will play a key role in who walks away with the win.

Like other close races, whichever party reaches those voters will likely emerge victorious.

Jennifer Webb vs. Ray Blacklidge

House District 69 looks poised for a Democratic overthrow.

The seat is open because incumbent Republican Kathleen Peters decided to run for Pinellas County Commission. That made the district a prime target for flipping.

Webb isn’t out-funding Blacklidge, but she’s raising enough money to stay competitive and polling favors a Webb victory.

Both candidates align with their parties on most issues, including gun control, education and health care.

One issue that could play a role in the outcome of this race is the amount of attack ads that have targeted Webb. The ads seek to portray Webb as a political insider tied to “radical” groups that would upend school choice, promote open borders and massively increase taxes.

Those ads have tied Webb to progressive gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum and U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

Such negative ads can turn voters off and decrease turnout for the candidates they seek to support. That could help Webb.

But the ads, as with other attacks on Democratic candidates, weaponize “socialism” and paint Webb as a tax-happy, job-killing liberal.

If Democrats don’t have success with their get-out-the-vote efforts, those ties could be damning.

Ross Spano vs. Kristen Carlson

As a conservative, Spano should be a shoo-in for the Congressional District 15 race.

The district — which includes Brandon, Plant City and Lakeland — is heavily conservative. It went plus-10 for President Donald Trump in 2016. Incumbent Republican Dennis Ross scored a 15-point victory over the Democratic nominee in that race, Jim Lange.

Yet the race is one of the most indicative in Florida of the Democratic blue wave some are anticipating in a contentious midterm that’s serving as a referendum on the policies of President Trump.

A Carlson campaign internal poll showed the race tied. Other polls have shown a close race with some giving Spano an edge, but not the landslide the district has seen for Republicans in the past. One conservative pollster showed Spano with a massive lead over Carlson.

Carlson’s campaign is buoyed by an influx of cash from Democratic groups supporting targeted candidates to flip red seats in state and federal races. With that support, Carlson has outraised Spano by double and has managed to turn a no-chance race into a competitive one.

As a prosecutor, Carlson battled a high-profile case against the orange juice industry over products sold to public schools marketed as 100 percent pure that actually contained additives. She’s well-known in the district and has used her campaign war chest to further bolster that name recognition.

If Carlson wins, or even comes close to winning, it will likely mirror trends nationwide in Democratic-targeted districts and serve as evidence as to whether or not the blue wave is real.

Gus Bilirakis vs. Chris Hunter

The Congressional District 12 race shares some similar trends with the Spano/Carlson matchup. Like Spano, Bilirakis should be able to secure an easy win against Hunter, his Democratic challenger.

More so, Bilirakis’ win should be made all the easier because of his legacy name recognition. Between he and his father, the two have held the district for more than three decades, making the Bilirakis name a staple in the Clearwater district.

Yet in some ways, the race is even more indicative for Democrats this cycle. It didn’t start out competitive. Hunter initially had trouble drawing down party campaign contributions or outside spending on ads supporting him. Money flowed into races Democrats thought they could flip, and CD 12 was not on that list.

It is now. That’s in part due to a series of blunders by the Bilirakis campaign.

His campaign falsely claimed he had a hand in legislation that clamped down on the nationwide opioid epidemic when, in fact, he had co-sponsored legislation that did the opposite.

The campaign also incorrectly claimed it had received 90 percent of its contributions from Floridians. That number was actually 62 percent.

The headlines gave Hunter and the Democratic Party an opening to boost his name recognition and a shot at taking the seat. Hunter was able to use earned media to push his image as a former federal prosecutor and FBI agent, an image that will bode well across party lines in the north Pinellas district.

Hillsborough County Commission

Democrats have a rare opportunity to flip the Hillsborough County Commission to Democrats.

Two Democrats are waging fierce campaigns against Republicans. If both win, the commission will have a Democratic majority for the first time in 14 years.

It’s a tough climb, but if the blue wave is real, Kimberly Overman and Mariella Smith could do what Democrats have been trying to do since 2004.

Overman likely has the best shot of pulling out a win over Republican Todd Marks. The two are running for an open seat, removing the giant hurdle that comes with facing an incumbent.

Overman has been a vocal transit activist in the county. Transit and transportation are one of the county’s hottest topics right now as commuters have grown fed up with unnerving traffic congestion.

She’s also served on dozens of community boards over the years, lending to positive name recognition.

Smith’s campaign will be harder to push through the finish line. She faces longtime Commissioner Victor Crist who, along with Marks, has used his campaign finance coffers to deliver a series of attack ads against Smith.

If Smith manages to overcome that and Overman pulls out a win over Marks, a new Democratic makeup on the Commission could fundamentally change priorities in Hillsborough County.

blue wave

Darryl Paulson sees possible ‘blue wave’ in Tampa Bay

Longtime Florida politics expert Darryl Paulson says voters “appear to be saying no to both Republicans and President Trump.”

Jeff Brandes seems to be the only secure candidate at this point,” said Paulson, a former Republican, in an interview. “That is due to his incumbency, his huge financial advantage and his Democratic opponent entering the race at a late date.”

Other local Republicans in the Tampa Bay area are facing credible threats in races that should be easy wins for Republicans, indicating the so-called “blue wave” that might be coming to this region.

The Emeritus Professor of Government at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg looked at four races:

— Amanda Murphy and Ed Hooper in Senate District 16.

— Janet Cruz and Dana Young in Senate District 18.

— Gus Bilirakis and Chris Hunter in Congressional District 12.

— Ross Spano and Kristen Carlson in Congressional District 15.

In each of them, Republicans have at least one reason they should be waging easy campaigns.

Senate District 16 is a Republican-leaning district, having been in the hands of Jack Latvala for years. But without an incumbent in the race, Hooper is facing a credible challenge to keep the seat red.

Paulson (Photo: USF)

“Murphy is the more charismatic candidate and has sufficient resources to pull off an upset,” Paulson said.

In the Cruz/Young race, Paulson said Young should have an advantage and, in any other year, would be the clear favorite.

But because Cruz, as a current elected state representative, is a well-known political figure in Hillsborough politics. That throws water on Young’s incumbent status.

He also points out that, even though Young is out-raising Cruz, Cruz has raised enough financial resources to remain competitive in the race. It’s a matchup Paulson said “could go either way.”

Paulson isn’t sure if Hunter can pull off a win in his battle to unseat longtime Congressman Bilirakis in the Clearwater Congressional district, but notes it is a possibility.

“Bilirakis should be a lock to win his congressional race, but is facing strong opposition from Hunter, a former FBI agent and a model candidate,” Paulson said. “Bilirakis may have damaged his campaign with last-minute false allegations about both his and his opponent’s record.”

Paulson is referring to several of Bilirakis’ campaign missteps.

As far back as July, someone published a push poll asking leading questions about whether they would support Hunter if they knew he supported open borders and U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi as Speaker should Democrats regain that chamber.

Hunter hasn’t said either of those things and, in fact, said he thought Democratic leadership needed to venture away from the traditional establishment vanguard.

Bilirakis also came under fire more recently for staking claim to federal legislation aimed at addressing the national opioid crisis. Not only did that effort not include Bilirakis’ fingerprints, he also co-sponsored legislation in 2016 that did the exact opposite.

Furthermore, he “claimed Hunter supported a proposal to raise energy bills $1,200 a year. Never happened,” Paulson said. “Both missteps occurred in October and made Bilirakis look scared.  

“This would be a major upset, but it may well happen.”

Paulson also sees a potential shift for Democrats in the Congressional seat currently held by Republican Dennis Ross. That district includes Brandon, Plant City and Lakeland and is heavily conservative.

Ross won re-election against a Democratic challenger in the previous election cycle handily and the district went double digits in support for President Donald Trump.

But “the longer the race goes on, the more likely it looks to be trending Democrat,” Paulson said.

“Midterms are often a referendum on the party in power and the person in the White House,” he added.

And that, it seems, might be happening.

What blue wave? Pinellas GOP exudes confidence majority will hold firm

Hours before midterm election results start rolling in, Pinellas County Republicans are just as optimistic as Democrats.

“I think you’re going to see us win Election Day turnout, as always,” said Todd Jennings, Pinellas County Republican Executive Committee vive-chair.

Party volunteers have been calling voters in a last-minute get-out-the-vote effort. They also have groups continuing to canvass neighborhoods as well as volunteers at the polls to monitor voting activity, on the watch for potential problems.

One problem was reported by Democrats earlier in the day at Jet Jackson Recreation Center in South St. Pete, but that issue was quickly rectified. Voters were delayed when some people who showed up had been listed as already voted.

The Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections office explained it as a poll worker error.

Jennings said the Party feels good with its legislative lineup of candidates and doesn’t expect the so-called “blue wave” to reach Tallahassee.

Some Pinellas County incumbents are easily favored to win re-election, which includes state Sen. Jeff Brandes and Reps. Chris Sprowls and Chris Latvala. Newcomer Nick DiCeglie is also a favorite in his mid-Pinellas and Clearwater House District 66.

Ed Hooper, the Republican running against Amanda Murphy for the Senate District 16 seat (previously held by Jack Latvala) is facing a tough race. Both Hooper and Murphy have previous legislative experience, each with good name recognition. Even though SD 16, which includes north Pinellas, all of Pasco and parts of Hillsborough counties, leans conservative, Hooper’s race is considered one of several that Democrats could pick up.

Another is the House District 69 seat incumbent Kathleen Peters is vacating to run for Pinellas County Commission. That district covers parts of western St. Pete, St. Pete Beach, Treasure Island, Madeira Beach and Seminole. Democrat Jennifer Webb is polling ahead of Republican Ray Blacklidge.

The Republican Party has recently dumped a ton of money into an onslaught of direct mail targeting Webb as a “radical” progressive candidate and questioning whether she can be trusted to work for voters, not special interests.

Some of the information in those flyers was misleading or exaggerated.

For months leading up to the elections, Jennings has been walking neighborhoods talking to voters. He said a lot of those he’s spoken with expressed frustration with the current harsh political climate.

“I spoke with one cul-de-sac of independents who said they were all voting straight R down the ticket,” Jennings said. “I don’t know if that’s necessarily a countywide trend or it was just that neighborhood in Seminole.”

Registered Republicans in the county got fired up for this election during the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation, Jennings noted, as well as what they see as an unfair bias in the mainstream media.

Blue wave or not, Pinellas Democrats are fired up

Tampa Bay-area Democrats are pooling resources for get-out-the-vote efforts in St. Petersburg.

Congressman Charlie Crist joined candidates Lindsay Cross, Jennifer Webb and Sean Shaw at Webb’s House District 69 campaign headquarters in the Tyrone area to call voters who have not yet cast a ballot either on Election Day or during early voting.

“Do you have a plan to vote,” Cross, who is running for Florida Senate against incumbent Jeff Brandes, asked. “You do. Will you be voting Democrat?”

There was a pause, followed by a grin.

“Probably. Ok, we’ll take probably.”

Cross and the others chuckled as she hung up the phone.

About 20 volunteers crammed into the small office, cellphones in hand. Cross and Webb sat on the floor under a window — Cross’ shoes sat next to her in a clear indication of a race hard traveled.

Senate District 24 candidate Lindsay Cross phone banks on Election Day.

Everyone, including the candidates, had stacks of voter information. Most of the names on the list were Democrats, but some were no party affiliation or third party. All had not voted, but had an estimated probability of voting of at least 50 percent.

There were thousands upon thousands of names. Democrats need those voters to head to the polls on Election Day. As of 1 p.m., 4,000 more Republicans had cast a ballot than Democrats.

“That’s pretty normal,” said Pinellas County Democratic Party Chair Susan McGrath. “We’ll see a surge this evening when people start getting off work.”

Pinellas County Democratic volunteers phone bank on Election Day.

That optimism was universal.

“I feel really good,” Crist said.

He thinks Democrats will win back enough seats in Congress to take control of the U.S. House of Representatives. But he’s not sure if that will be by a landslide or a nudge.

“It’s just hard to say,” he said.

Crist’s seat is safe. He’s widely favored to defeat Republican George Buck for his Congressional District 13 seat. Cross, on the other hand, is facing a tough challenge against an incumbent who has outraised her by $1 million.

“I feel great,” Cross said, heading out the door to wave signs on the busy 66th Street near Tyrone Mall.

Outside, two teenagers saw the politicians coming and going, some carrying signs, all wearing campaign T-shirts. They asked some questions. A few minutes later they showed up with their dad.

“What time should I pick them up,” he asked.

His kids wanted to stay to phone bank.

Pinellas County election AM rush favored Republicans

Voter turnout in Pinellas County after the Election Day morning rush is favoring Republicans.

Democrats had a slight early turnout edge heading into Election Day, but Republicans stormed the polls a little hard than Democrats.

Total voter turnout as of 11:00 a.m. separated the two parties 134,000 to 131,000 with Republicans out performing at the polls so far 22,000 to 18,000.

Total voter turnout in the county is 51 percent — only 6 percent less than the entire election turnout in the 2014 midterm election.

Preliminary voting patterns show another potential kick to Democrats in their quest of a “blue wave.”

In 2014, 44 percent of no party affiliation voters and 56 percent of third party voters cast ballots. This year the two groups combined have turned out 38 percent of the vote, far lower than the overall county average.

Democrats were hoping for high turnout among independent voters who might vote blue as turmoil surrounds the Republican Party and President Donald Trump’s divisive White House.

Still progressives are fighting up until the last minute trying to turn out the vote. Pinellas County Democrats joined forces to cross campaign with Congressman Charlie Crist, Attorney General candidate Sean Shaw, Florida House District 69 candidate Jennifer Webb and Senate District 24 candidate Lindsay Cross.

Crist is pretty safe in his Congressional District 13 race, but Webb, Cross and Shaw are all running competitive races.

The campaigns are canvassing neighborhoods and looking for people who still have not voted. The message to many is simple: Vote like the election is up to you, because it is.

Mid-day turnout at the polls is typically low as voters spend their days working, but another surge is expected once people start getting off work. Candidates and their supporters are using the downtime to phone bank voters who still haven’t voted and walk as many neighborhoods as possible.

South St. Pete polling place has Election Day glitch

Election Day started out with a bang in South St. Petersburg, but the hoopla was quickly deflated around 7:53 a.m.

That’s when a technical glitch at the Jet Jackson Recreation Center caused voting to temporarily halt.

The line as polls opened at the precinct was about 40-deep, according to poll watchers. That line was moving swiftly until the glitch allegedly caused poll workers to receive error messages that voters had already cast ballots.

The issue affected several voters who insisted they had not yet voted.

Some of the stories are conflicting. Some reported malfunctioning voting machines. Others said there was user error caused by people double feeding ballots into scanners.

The Supervisor of Elections office said its initial reports suggested it was a poll worker error in which voters were being scanned into the voting queue twice, creating an error.

The issue was fixed by 8:23 a.m. and the SOE office said no voters were turned away. A handful of voters left during the wait because they had to get to work, but planned to return later in the day.

“I’m told everything is fixed and voters were able to cast their ballots,” said state Sen. Darryl Rouson, a Democrat who represents the South St. Pete area.

On the other side of town in West St. Pete, voters in precincts 211, 215, 216 and 222 casting ballots at Pasadena Community Church formed a line about 40 deep that remained steady through 8:00 a.m.

The tone was excited. Every voter left smiling and jovial, proudly boasting their “I Voted” stickers. But their reactions leaving the polls were also indicative of the vitriolic atmosphere surrounding this midterm election.

Dozens refused to comment on the election or talk about their votes. One young man approached the polling place with his mom. He said he was a first time voter, but his mother, asked if they would answer questions about the election, quickly wrapped her arm around him and shuffled him by.

Of the few who did comment, one wouldn’t say who she voted for.

“The most important issues I think would be the healthcare, Social Security and Medicare,” Lori Crisp said. “I want it to be affordable. I don’t want to be paying outrageous amounts. You know, with Social Security and Medicare, you’ve worked all your life and they’ve taken it out of your paychecks, you should be entitled to it.”

Crisp said she doesn’t make voting choices based on partisanship.

“I do my research and make my choices,” Crisp said.

But she sees too many people making voting decisions based on political ads that she described as “mudslinging” that often include misleading or false claims.

Another voter, Joe Davis, came out to vote in favor of Amendment 4, which would restore constitutional rights to non-violent felons who paid their debt to society.

“I’ve got friends that are affected, so this is really important,” Davis said.

Davis completed the entire ballot — right down to local races. He said it wasn’t intentional, but voted for Democrats including Senate candidate Lindsay Cross and House candidate Jennifer Webb. He also supported U.S. Senator Bill Nelson and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum for governor.

Throughout St. Pete, polling places were packed with signs for different candidates and issues. Polling places with multiple precincts casting ballots had long lines. Single precinct polls were quiet.

In Tyrone, Pinellas County Democrats waived signs for local candidates including Webb and Cross. Many proudly wore Gillum shirts.

At Creative Soul coffee shop in the Grand Central District, the barista asked everyone who came in, “Have you voted?”

They all had.

Polls are open until 7 p.m. tonight. Anyone in line by 7 p.m. will be able to vote.

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