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Tarpon Springs Republican Gus Bilirakis has a solid lead in CD 12.

Tampa Bay

Voting trends suggest edge for Gus Bilirakis, but there’s a catch

Voter turnout so far in the Pinellas County portion of Congressional District 12 is very low. Only eight percent of registered voters have cast a ballot in precincts voting in the race between incumbent Republican Gus Bilirakis and his Democratic challenger Chris Hunter.

Election supervisors cannot release voter turnout by party in individual precincts or races until after polls close on election night, but an analysis of voting trends in both Pinellas and Pasco counties shows Bilirakis might have an edge in the race heading into Election Day. The district includes a small part of Hillsborough County, but only eight precincts are included. 

While early voting only accounts for one fifth of all ballots cast so far, the locations where people voted suggest a Republican edge. Two early voting locations are in or near Congressional District 12 including the Palm Harbor location and the Supervisor of Elections courthouse location in downtown Clearwater.

There, about 1,000 more Republicans cast a ballot than Democrats with 8,142 Republican ballots cast and 7,121 for Democrats.

In Pasco County where all voters have a say in the CD 12 race, 45 percent of all early votes were cast by Republicans compared to just 34 percent by Democrats with total voter turnout so far at 35 percent.

The county leans heavily Republican with 39 percent of the electorate verses 31 percent for Democrats.

Despite the possible advantage, there is still a huge question of whether or not no party affiliation and third party voters could tip the scales and push a red district to Democrats.

In Pinellas County, 29 percent of voters are either unaffiliated with a party or are registered with third parties. In Pasco County, that number is 21 percent. In both instances, that’s enough voters to negate a Republican advantage.

Democrats have been pushing hard to earn support from NPA voters and nationwide trends and polls show independents are leaning toward Democratic candidates.

There’s also the Trump effect. As voters head to the polls, many are rejecting Republican candidates based on their disenchantment with the Republican Party under the Donald Trump administration. Some Democrats may vote against their own party this election if their frustration with the Trump White House is deep enough.

That was the case for former Congressman David Jolly. Jolly not only left the Republican Party, he announced he voted for Andrew Gillum for governor despite opposing the progressive Democrat on many issues. That decision was based on Republican candidate Ron DeSantis’ alignment with Trump.

Bilirakis should have had an easy race against Hunter, but the vitriol in politics is motivating Democrats to wage intense battles against Republican incumbents.

Bilirakis is also contending with headlines against his campaign that are not only potentially hurting his support among voters, but increasing his opponent’s name recognition.

Bilirakis came under fire after falsely claiming credit for a bill that’s since been signed into law clamping down on opioids. Bilirakis called it “his bill” even though he had nothing to do with it. Worse, Bilirakis actually co-sponsored a 2016 bill making it easier for drug manufacturers to distribute opioids.

The combination of factors means Bilirakis is facing a potential upset in a district where he should have way more than an edge.

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in Tampa Bay since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as senior reporter for WMNF News. Janelle has a lust for politics and policy. When she’s not bringing you the day’s news, you might find Janelle enjoying nature with her husband, children and two dogs. You can reach Janelle at Janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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