Lenny Curry surges into May runoff on “GOP Night” in Jax

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The fever in the room built all evening and by the time Jacksonville Mayoral candidate Lenny Curry took the stage at about 9, he got the rock star response an electoral winner could expect. And why not? Just hours after many in the Smart Set predicted Mayor Alvin Brown would clear 50 percent to avoid a runoff, the results came in: Curry, a first-time candidate, got within 4 1/2 points of an incumbent who ran as a “conservative Democrat” and has never been below 55 percent approval in a poll.

Curry’s remarks from the stage were familiar to the few hundred supporters in the ballroom at the Hyatt Regency Hotel. But the delivery? Something new. His messaging about “investing in diverse neighborhoods,” his commitment to public safety and “restoring police” to the streets was imbued with a different spirit than before, before there was tangible proof  that the Curry messaging resonated with the public.

The most tangible proof of all: the voice of the voters.

“We can do this together,” an exuberant Curry said from the stage. “Together we will restore Jacksonville to greatness.” It will have to start bright and early Wednesday morning; Curry added, by way of closing, that in the “very short term” he had to “take the little ones and put them to bed.” His children, he said, had experienced a very active day.

“Phase 2 starts tomorrow,” he said, as chants of “Lenny, Lenny” filled the room.

Speaking with Curry briefly after his remarks from the stage, his obvious joy over his campaign’s  performance was irrepressible.

Tuesday was “big,” he said. Asked about the campaign going forward, he said, “It’s where I want to be. I’m ready for round 2. It’s all about the basics, the one-on-one connection with voters,” he said, stressing that the phone-banking and the door-knocking that has been central to his strategy has paid off.

Brian Hughes was no less ebullient. “The incumbent had $3.1 million, was backed by Bill Clinton and D.C. power brokers, had a 71 percent approval rating. That person was told ‘No, thank you’ by 57 percent of Jacksonville voters.”

“The Democrats had the vote advantage and the money advantage. Even with those advantages,” Hughes said, the mayor couldn’t close the deal.

Hughes presented the triumverate of Alvin Brown opponents (his candidate, Bill Bishop, and Omega Allen) as presenting a “unified message of change that has resonated with nearly 60 percent of Jacksonville voters.” He contends that Bishop’s message and priorities line up well with those of his candidate.

“Bill Bishop is a fellow Republican. He’s fought on the city council to make the mayor accountable,” Hughes said. “They agree on so much. It’s time for change. The time is now.”

“We’ll keep talking to Councilman Bishop and supporters,” Hughes said, about Curry’s “vision for change.”

“We’re going to push for the next eight weeks to finish the conversation and convince Jacksonville residents that they need a change,” Hughes said, before beginning to negotiate a spate of media appearances for his candidate starting at 6:15 a.m. Wednesday.

Robin Lumb, chairman of the Duval County Republican Party, was no less thrilled, calling the GOP night “fabulous” and “excellent.”

Similar sentiments were heard from Sheriff John Rutherford, whose political capital was burnished on two fronts tonight: this race, where he endorsed Curry very publicly, and the sheriff’s race, where Mike Williams, his endorsed candidate, made the runoff against Democrat Ken Jefferson instead of the other high-profile Republican, union leader Jimmy Holderfield.

“I feel great,” Rutherford said. “But I’m not surprised.” He said he looks forward to the Jefferson/Williams runoff when voters will see a “stark difference” between the qualifications and readiness to lead of the two remaining candidates.

It was a huge night for the local GOP, a validation of Curry’s vision and approach to the campaign. For the next two months, politics in Jacksonville will be a contact sport in every sense of the word.

A.G. Gancarski

A.G. Gancarski has written for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. He is based in Northeast Florida. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter: @AGGancarski



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