The House District 12 Republican primary race had a familiar trajectory for most of it.
Former Jacksonville City Council President Clay Yarborough was ahead in polls (one we saw had him up by 20 points a few weeks out from Election Day).
He was also ahead in fundraising.
Then, in the end, it got interesting.
A third-party mailer from the Conservative Leadership Fund surfaced that darkened Freeman’s features, raising the ire of Republicans across the state, including Speaker-Designate Richard Corcoran. Yarborough told us it came from “outside of Jacksonville” and that he knew nothing about why it dropped.
Outside mailers and money came in for Freeman against Yarborough, from such disparate elements as trial lawyers, business consortia, and gambling interests.
Yarborough held on. And won by almost ten points.
His campaign, he told FloridaPolitics.com Thursday, was a much bigger version of the “robust grass roots” effort that won him his council seat in 2007, augmented by mail pieces and social media.
“You never know until the returns show up,” Yarborough said.
Part of the uncertainty: a poll that was talked about at the end of the race, a survey which showed Yarborough only up by three points.
Freeman’s surge and Yarborough’s relative loss of position were due to mail on Freeman’s behalf, which Yarborough said: “saw numbers go up for Freeman.”
“Once the mail started to roll out,” Yarborough said, Freeman’s numbers went up.
Yarborough countered this with a “heavy effort” on the grass roots side, especially in the two-thirds of the district that hadn’t had him as their councilman.
Nothing fancy about his strategy: a uniform outreach, chasing absentee ballots, and — the “biggest thing” — standing on his “conservative record” and amplifying that message.
Attacks against Yarborough didn’t shake his base, the candidate said.
“Folks didn’t buy into that,” he noted, saying that he never had to answer for mailers attacking him during calls or door-to-door canvassing.
“Not one voter mentioned anything. Not even one voter slammed the door in my face,” Yarborough said, adding that “one lady got this mailer and said ‘it made me want to vote for you more.’”
In the end, the two strongest operations were those of Yarborough and Freeman: Yarborough represented the conservative Mike Hogan wing of the party; Freeman, the more-inclusive Chamber side.
There were attempts both in the city and outside to recruit stronger candidates to oppose Yarborough; while Richard Clark dipped his toe into the race, he eventually withdrew and backed Yarborough.
That didn’t happen.
A win’s a win; now Yarborough is focused on the way forward.
Part of that will be continuing the legacy of Lake Ray, a “personal friend and mentor” of long standing.
Ray has led the way on port development and economic policy over the last eight years.
Another part of that: building a bridge with the Chamber and other community members who opposed his candidacy.
“I can’t force them to do anything,” Yarborough said, but he is “reaching out” and “bridge building” all the same
“I’ve got a lot to learn,” he added.
Yarborough will be one of a few new members of the Duval Delegation, joining HD 16’s Jason Fischer and HD 14’s Kim Daniels (who won primaries and are prohibitive favorites to win against nominal competition in November).
Yarborough would like to see a “cohesive delegation.”
“A fragmented effort,” Yarborough said, drives the “rest of the state to laugh.”
With chances pretty good that Yarborough will be in his seat for eight years, expect him to walk the line behind the social conservatism of his heart and the pragmatism that will be expected in his legislative role.