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2020

Winners and losers emerging from Tampa Bay’s Primary Elections

Some stood out, others fell down.

With votes tallied, voters have a clear picture of which candidates emerged victorious in Tuesday’s Primary Elections.

But with any election, there are winners and losers who are less obvious.

From consultants whose strategies paid off to victories that could lead to ultimate defeat, Election Day always tells a bigger story than what the polls produce.

Here are this Winners and Losers emerging from Tampa Bay’s Primary Elections..

Matt Gaetz: Winner

Gaetz made a political gamble this year by endorsing Scott Franklin in Florida’s 15th Congressional District over incumbent Ross Spano.

His endorsement paid off, with Franklin ousting Spano from office with 51% of the vote Tuesday night.

On paper, Spano and Gaetz should be ideologically aligned. Both are staunch President Donald Trump allies and their policies fall on the far-right spectrum.

But Gaetz endorsed Franklin, cautioning voters that Spano’s federal investigation “weakened” him to the point President Donald Trump supporters no longer “count on him to defend President Trump against Pelosi and the liberals.”

Had Spano won, and then survived what would have no doubt been a bloody General Election, Gaetz would have been left with an awkward situation on the Florida delegation.

Instead, Gaetz can use his ultra-conservative star power to help hoist Franklin to victory in November, a lift arguably easier with Franklin on the ticket than Spano.

Team Luna – James Blair, Mike Haridopolos, Brad Herold: Winner

Blair was hired by the Anna Paulina Luna to GC the race in Mid-February after one of her early advisors, Haridopolos (who is still is a senior advisor to Luna), let her know the campaign was not headed in the right direction. Blair is a part-time data geek who is an expert in direct voter contact and strategic communications. He built a team that knew how to capitalize on her media profile, social media following, and compelling biography. Together, they built a small-dollar fundraising machine helmed by Parks Bennett of Campaign Inbox.

Blair executed a perfectly timed media and voter contact strategy that contrasted Luna’s bio, youthful energy, and personal appeal against opposition research and Amanda Makki’s background as a lobbyist with deep ties to the Washington establishment. Herold capitalized on it with compelling TV ads, Dean Petrone of Go Big Media quarterbacked the digital ad strategy that amplified the message, and Derek Utley of X Strategies maximized Luna’s already savvy social media throughout the race.

The overarching story of this campaign is that, under Blair’s guidance, capitalized on all its strengths, whether Matt Gaetz’s endorsement, Makki’s unforced error with Donald Trump Jr., or Luna’s own personally-built brand.

Kevin Lata: Winner

Lata was a late entry to former investigative journalist Alan Cohn’s campaign for CD 15. Cohn pulled off a victory over Rep. Adam Hattersley Tuesday night with 41% of the vote compared to Hattersley’s 33%.

He’ll now take on Franklin in November.

Early in the campaign, Hattersley seemed the easy favorite. He had establishment support and money rolling in.

Lata’s entry into the race this summer offered a less-public boost to Cohn’s campaign.

What voters don’t often see, or even read about, is the behind the scenes jockeying that goes on for earned media — things like coverage in the news cycle.

Lata not only upped Cohn’s presence on journalists’ radar, he served as a staunch advocate, policing any mention of Cohn’s name by providing context and ensuring fairness in coverage.

He also led a transformative strategy game that capitalized on Hattersley’s record as a moderate. Hattersley was an NPA before he was a Democrat and he managed to wrest Florida House District 59 from Republicans in 2018 by touting his moderate bonafides.

Whether that strategy remains successful in November, where moderation is a blessing, not a curse, remains to be seen. But in a competitive Democratic primary, Lata’s bet on progressive values paid off.

DCCC: Loser

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee didn’t endorse a Democrat in the CD 15 primary, for good reason, but it did go all in against Spano.

Their efforts were successful in getting Spano out of office, but the battle to put the district in the blue column might now be harder than it would have been had Spano survived his primary.

Franklin comes to the ticket so far squeaky clean while Spano would have been a ripe target for continued attacks about his campaign finance dust-up in 2018 for which he’s now under federal investigation.

They won’t say so out loud because it would be strategic suicide, but the DCCC also likely now has a candidate less electable in the General Election than Hattersley would have been.

Cohn claiming the progressive lane in the primary earned him the party’s nomination, but it leaves red meat on the table for Franklin to paint him as a socialist aligned with power players conservatives love to hate like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez.

Cohn also enters the General Election less funded than Hattersley would have, bringing about $130,000 to the race compared to Hattersley’s $236,000. Franklin has about $104,000 on hand as of the end of July, but he’s shown a willingness to self-fund, having already put $350,000 of his own money into the race. Hattersley’s six-figure funding lead over Cohn would have gone a long way toward ensuring adequate resources for a General Election.

Mac Stevenson: Loser

This Adam Putnam alumnus lost Spano’s campaign despite having congressional leadership on his side.

Spano enjoyed endorsements from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Minority Whip Steve Scalise and from Club for Growth, which pumped more than $300,000 into Spano’s campaign.

But it wasn’t enough to carry a deeply flawed candidate to victory and put Stevenson squarely in the loser column.

That’s especially true considering Stevenson’s former Putnam colleagues, Amanda Bevis, Justin Hollis, Trey McCarley, and Brett Prater, went in for Franklin.

Grady Judd: Winner

Judd threw his name in the hat for Franklin in early August, a move that arguably tipped the scales for Franklin whose late-breaking surge looked like it might fall just short of victory.

As Florida Politics columnist Joe Henderson pointed out, in Polk County, “if Grady wants it, Grady gets it.” Grady wanted Franklin and his victory Tuesday night was thanks exclusively to Polk County voters where he received 5,725 more votes than Spano, enough to bridge Franklin’s deficit in both Hillsborough and Lake counties.

Whoever convinced Hattersley to run: Loser

We’re not sure who it was or if it’s just one person or a group, but whoever it is really screwed Hattersley. In doing so, they not only left him out of office, they also left his House District 59 potentially vulnerable. And now they have nothing to show for either.

While it might have been better had Hattersley won his primary, it was still a questionable pilfering from the get-go. Surely Democrats could have found any number of viable candidates (See: Cohn) to run who wouldn’t jeopardize a seat they ONLY JUST WON.

Now Hattersley is out of an elected job and Democrats are going to have to fight harder than they should have to keep a Dem in his seat.

Will the real Slim Shady please stand up?

Charlie Crist: Winner

With Anna Paulina Luna claiming victory Tuesday night over establishment favorite Amanda Makki, Crist likely scored himself an easier race in November.

Crist would have been the favorite in Florida’s 13th Congressional District no matter his General Election challenger, but Makki would have likely been harder to ward off than Luna.

Makki had broad establishment support, which gave her a powerful fundraising apparatus for a Herculean General Election against a mega-funded incumbent.

Allegiance to Trump paid off for Luna in the primary, but it could be a liability in the general where Democrats outnumber Republicans by nearly 27,000 voters.

Makki towed the Trump line in the primary, but her track record showed a more moderate Republican with ties to Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, considered a swing vote for Democrats in the U.S. Senate.

The party of Trump: Mixed bag

Luna’s election over Makki showed how strong the Trump movement still is in factions of the Republican party. Luna entered the race as a relative outsider, brandishing staunch support for her Commander in Chief. Her campaign Facebook page showed images representing themes that strongly reverberate within the Trump wing of the party, including her armed to the teeth with a military weapon.

It was a vote that demonstrated yet again how Republican voters are rejecting establishment candidates and elected officials in favor of “draining the swamp.”

But while that strategy appears to have been successful not just in the CD 13 GOP primary, but throughout the state (See: Laura Loomer,) it will be tested in the General Election where it’s not just one brand of Republican against another, but a melting pot of voters with varying ideologies. Many of those voters might not be too keen to buy into the Trump rhetoric.

St. Pete Polls: Winner

As it usually does, St. Pete Polls nailed it. Matt Florell and Co. called Luna’s win, Franklin’s surge and Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister’s massive domination, among other races.

LGBTQ community: Winner

The LGBTQ community saw a big win in Florida House District 70 Tuesday night with the election of Michele Rayner to replace outgoing Rep. Wengay Newton.

Rayner will enter the district as its first female and first openly gay representative.

Thanks in part to support from the LGBTQ community, like Equality Florida, Rayner claimed 31% of the vote in the four-way race with her next closest opponent, Keisha Bell, claiming just 27%.

Women Republicans: Winner

The Republican House caucus has a slate of female candidates from the Tampa Bay region on the ballot in November — some incumbents, some hopeful newcomers.

Fiona McFarland is one of the headliners. She defeated Donna Barcomb and Jason Miller for the HD 72 nomination where she hopes to replace Margaret Good, a Democrat. McFarland has a real chance to reclaim the seat for Republicans. The two women in the race were separated by just 266 votes, according to unofficial election results, meaning the GOP fielded two competitive women for the race.

In other seats, Republican women are heading to the Nov. 3 ballot without having had to ward off a primary challenger. Amber Mariano, who was once the chamber’s youngest member, is trying to hold onto her HD 36 seat against Democrat Daniel Endonino. Josie Tomkow, also an incumbent, faces Democrat Chris Cause in HD 39 while Colleen Burton faces reelection in HD 40 against Democrat Jan Barrow and NPA Emily Michie.

Republicans could get another female representative in HD 64 where Traci Koster is running against Democrat Jessica Harrington to replace Rep. Jamie Grant who resigned to take an appointed position in state leadership. Meanwhile, Linda Chaney is challenging Jennifer Webb in HD 69.

Black students: Loser

They haven’t lost yet, but Tuesday’s election results sent a resounding message to the Black community in Pinellas County School Board District 7 that voters don’t necessarily think Black representation on the board is important.

Former St. Petersburg City Council member Karl Nurse claimed 34% of the vote, topping a four-way race in which he’s the only White candidate. He’ll face Caprice Edmond in a November runoff. She claimed just 25% of the vote.

District 7 is the county’s only reliable district for Black voters, and hence, students. It’s the only School district with more than 10% Black voters (20%.) Other single-member districts have 3% (District 4,) 4% (District 6) and 10% (District 5.)

Incumbent Rene Flowers is the board’s only Black member. Before her, Lew Williams was the only Black member and before him, Mary Brown. The county didn’t get its first Black School Board member until 2002. Now, they risk losing their only representation again.

Hillsborough County School Board incumbents: Loser

Steve Cona, Lynn Gray and Tammy Shamburger will all face runoffs in November in races where incumbents typically have a decent shot of winning their reelection outright in the primary.

These three didn’t manage that, each failing to get the more than 50% required to avoid a runoff.

Why, you might ask? All three voted in favor of keeping schools closed for the first four weeks this school year. Lengthy public comment earlier this month showed more than half of commenting parents wanted schools open. Those parents might have come out in force against the incumbents, an eventuality that was promised during public comment.

Sally Harris: Winner

We suppose you might be able to call her the comeback kid. Harris, who formerly served on the School Board, secured 28.4% of the vote Tuesday night against incumbent Lynn Gray who came in just behind with 27.85%. The two head to a runoff election Nov. 3.

The razor-thin lead is remarkable for a number of reasons. First, it’s notoriously hard to unseat sitting school board members. The races tend to draw little interest and incumbents often get by on name recognition, with some exceptions, of course. In this case, Harris might have benefited from Gray’s vote to keep schools closed the first four weeks of school.

It’s also worth noting because Harris cast the deciding vote in 2015 to oust former Schools Superintendent MaryEllen Elia. While Harris’ former colleague, April Griffin, met political demise this cycle, Harris appears to have avoided the same ire. Griffin led the unpopular charge to oust Elia and Harris was her swing vote. The issue haunted Griffin this year as she fought unsuccessfully in the Hillsborough Tax Collector’s race.

Anthony Pedicini: Winner*

If we’re looking at the state as a whole, Pedicini will be lucky to make the mixed bag category, but in Hillsborough County, he’s a winner.

Pedicini doggedly fought for Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister’s reelection and he delivered big on Tuesday night with Chronister besting GOP challenger Charles Boswell with 62% of the vote — more than 20,000 more votes than his opponent.

Pedicini led a fundraising machine. Chronister heads into the General Election against Democrat Gary Pruitt and no-party-affiliated Ron McMullen with nearly $1 million still in the bank between his campaign account and affiliated political committee, Friends of Chad Chronister.

Nick Janovsky: Loser

Janovsky rep’d former Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner in the winner-take-all Democratic primary for Hillsborough County Clerk of Court.

Beckner lost with just 47% of the vote compared to Cindy Stuart’s 53%.

The loss came despite being better funded. Janovsky’s strategy painted Beckner as a new kind of candidate, one markedly different than four years ago when Beckner lost the same race to incumbent Pat Frank. While Beckner was criticized then for running a negative campaign, he fought this one out with a positive tone.

But he was unable to ward off Stuart’s winning strategy claiming the conservative lane in the race, which went negative.

It’s all good, however, for Janovsky: he’s still crushing it as a Realtor for the ultra-wealthy and as lucky sombitch at the poker table.

Chris Mitchell: Winner

Speaking of, Democratic operative Chris Mitchell was behind a steady stream of comparative and negative attacks that ultimately hoisted Stuart to victory.

Through the PAC Impact Florida, Mitchell directed campaign mailers at GOP voters, praising Stuart as the Tea Party pick and slamming Beckner as a tax and spend liberal and “radical.”

With the Democratic primary open to all voters, they were votes ripe for the picking and Mitchell’s foray across the aisle paid off.

Hillsborough GOP: Mixed bag

The Hillsborough County Republican Party could be on its way to a makeover with April Schiff defeating incumbent Clarice Henderson for state committeewoman. Henderson is part of Hillsborough GOP chair Jim Waurishuk‘s allied circle while Schiff is a vocal critic. With her election Tuesday night, it means the party, which independently votes for its leader, could be poised for a change in leadership.

This is another example of divisions within the Republican Party (don’t worry, Dems have their divisions, too.)

Waurishuk has come under fire recently for incendiary comments comparing liberals to Nazis and calling the COVID-19 pandemic a hoax. Some within the party, including Schiff, hope for a more unifying leader. With her election, they could get it.

Whether that lands in the winner or loser column really depends on who you ask.

Chris Latvala: Winner

Latvala wasn’t on a ballot Tuesday, but he still came out a winner. Latvala is quietly building a consulting business, including representing Kaylee Tuck in Florida House District 55. Tuck won the GOP primary for the Southwest Florida House district with 56% of the vote over Ned Hancock. It was quite the drubbing considering Tuck came to the race as a young candidate fresh out of law school and was under-funded compared to Hancock.

Meanwhile, Latvala is sitting pretty as he awaits his reelection in November against Democrat Dawn Douglas. Douglas has raised just $3,700, including a $2,500 personal loan, since entering the race in May and she retains just $2,000. Latvala is sitting on nearly $100,000, putting him in prime position for an easy race.

He also deserves a hat tip for his usual statesman-like charm, offering kind congratulations to Douglas after she defeated her primary opponent, Mike Henkel.

Gary Dolgin: Loser

This one breaks our no-candidate rule on these lists, but it deserves a mention. There have been few candidates who have worked as hard as he did to become a judge, but despite his dogged efforts, he walked away with 24% of the vote. Those who have met Dolgin know he’s about the nicest guy, but, oftentimes nice guys finish last (or in this case, second to last.)

It’s not the first time he’s been snubbed at the ballot box either. It might be time for him to admit it’s just not going to happen. Fetch didn’t become a thing.

Barry Edwards and Jason Holloway: Mixed bag

The Real Solutions duo backed Rep. Wengay Newton in the Pinellas County District 7 race for Pinellas County Commission. Newton lost in disappointing fashion to School Board member Rene Flowers by 19 points.

For a sitting elected official to lose that badly, someone didn’t do something right.

Newton’s campaign seemed complacent at times, focusing, it seemed, more on scooping up endorsements than reaching actual voters.

But, Edwards and Holloway also rep’d Nurse in his School Board race, so the night wasn’t a total loss.

Rick Kriseman: Winner

As Kriseman’s chief of staff, Kevin King, put it on Twitter, run against his “coalition” “at your own peril.”

Kriseman went all-in for Flowers. His support was just as much about his relationship with Flowers as it was his probable disdain for Newton. Newton supported Kriseman’s opponent in 2017, former Mayor Rick Baker, a Republican, and he often poo-poo’d Kriseman’s policy priorities when serving on City Council.

It’s not the first time a Newton has fallen victim to that brand peril. Newton’s brother, Will Newton, ran for the City Council seat his brother vacated in 2015. After Kriseman backed now-City Council member Lisa Wheeler Bowman, that Newton also found disappointment at the ballot box.

The biggest burn for Wengay Newton: He left his House District 70 seat, which would have been an easy reelection win, to fall flat in Pinellas County.

Gregory Wilson: Winner

Wilson’s firm, Politicus, crafted four television commercials for Flowers, leading to an overwhelming victory against a well-connected sitting state House member who went negative.

With Wilson’s help, Flowers managed to overcome a dark money opposition campaign — one that lacked the benefit of top tier endorsements from police, fire or realtor organizations or the coveted Tampa Bay Times nod.

One of the four commercials, a 30-second spot slamming Newton for his vote to raise per-pupil spending by just 47 cents, Wilson shot exclusively from his smartphone. Just like Soderbergh!

While it was behind the scenes, the effort likely helped lead Flowers to claim more 52% of the vote in a competitive three-way primary.

Ana Cruz: Winner

Cruz picked up two major victories Tuesday night for candidates she represented including Nancy Millan for Hillsborough County Tax Collector and Rayner for HD 70.

Rayner was elected outright in an open Democratic primary while Millan took out former School Board member April Griffin in the Tax Collector race.

Cruz operated behind the current, pushing a positive narrative for Rayner and capitalizing on a series of negatives against Griffin.

Julie Marcus: Winner

Marcus survived not only her first election as Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections, she survived a race rife with unprecedented challenges under the grip of a global pandemic.

Nearly 180,000 people voted by mail this election compared to just 3,600 early votes and 31,000 Election Day votes, a sign that Marcus’ efforts to make vote-by-mail accessible paid off.

Not a single issue was reported on Election Day either, painting the election as overall success in the county.

Voter turnout: Winner

Voter turnout in Tuesday’s election was more than 25% in Hillsborough County and more than 31% in Pinellas County. Looking at previous presidential years for Florida’s primary election (which a presidential candidate is not actually on, but still tends to drum up political enthusiasm,) voter turnout went up for the third cycle.

Turnout in 2016 was 19% in Hillsborough and 28% in Pinellas. In 2012, 16% of Hillsborough voters cast a ballot and 23% in Pinellas. Turnout in 2008 was even lower at 10% in Hillsborough and 12.5% in Pinellas.

Honorable mention here, too, for Pinellas voters, who are clearly more engaged than their neighbors to the east.

Written By

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including Florida Politics and Orlando Rising and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also publisher of INFLUENCE Magazine. For several years, Peter's blog was ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

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Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Drew Dixon, Renzo Downey, Rick Flagg, A.G. Gancarski, Joe Henderson, Janelle Irwin, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Scott Powers, Bob Sparks, Andrew Wilson, and Kelly Hayes.
Email: Peter@FloridaPolitics.com
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704

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