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2020

Jennifer Webb suffers blistering loss against Republican Linda Chaney

Webb estimated the GOP and allies spent $2 million attacking her in the race.

Rep. Jennifer Webb will apparently not be serving a second term.

With 92% of precincts reporting, Webb secured just 48% of the vote to GOP challenger Linda Chaney‘s 52%

Going into Election Night, Webb took nothing for granted — despite dramatic polling and fundraising leads or the seemingly paltry campaign coffers of her opponent, a former St. Pete Beach City Commissioner.

That’s because in Florida politics, there’s always more to the story – especially in swing districts like hers, Florida’s 69th House District, which mainly covers coastal areas of Pinellas County. She was right to not claim early victory, suffering a scorching loss as Republicans throughout Pinellas County overperformed Tuesday night.

Swing districts aren’t much of a thing these days, but this is one of them. 

When now-St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman, a Democrat, vacated the seat in 2010, now-County Commissioner Kathleen Peters, a Republican, picked it up. Webb challenged Peters in 2016 and lost, but won in 2018 against Republican Ray Blacklidge.

There are 45,559 registered Republicans, 44,592 registered Democrats and 34,026 NPAs, and since 2018, the Democratic voter rolls have grown at a quicker clip than that of the GOP.

The district encompasses Gulfport, South Pasadena, Seminole, parts of west St. Pete, Lealman and the Pinellas Beaches from Tierra Verde north to Madeira Beach.

It’s home to a lot of retirees and tourism is a key economic driver.

Before being elected, Webb served as Director of Community Partnerships with the University of South Florida, a role that put her face to face with countless businesses and nonprofits with the aim of helping underserved communities. 

Before getting her seat on the St. Pete Beach City Commission, Chaney was a medical entrepreneur who ran a mobile mammography lab.

Both women touted long histories of community involvement they said equipped them for the job.

Webb commanded fundraising, though it wasn’t enough.

Take the first half of October: Webb not only outraised Chaney by more than $6,000 ($15,331 to $9,245), but she vastly outspent her to the tune of a record $112,084. In that same period, Chaney spent just $1,195. 

Local polling also gave Webb a major advantage. A St. Pete Polls survey conducted Oct. 17 and Oct. 18 had Webb leading Chaney by nearly 10 points. The survey suggested that around 23% of registered Republicans planned to vote for Webb, while just 10% of Democrats planned to vote for Chaney.

Still, Webb faced an onslaught of GOP-backed criticism.

In a phone conversation the week before Election Day, Webb said she believed the race was closer than polling suggested, and Chaney’s anemic money situation didn’t tell the whole story.

That’s because the state GOP targeted Webb and other Democrats running in competitive House districts with countless attack ads via TV and mail. The ads attempted to tie candidates like Webb to the Florida Democratic Party receiving federal Paycheck Protection Program loan money, which the party ultimately gave back, and which benefited none of the candidates. 

Webb said she believed the party spent upward of $2 million attacking her alone.

When it came to the issues, both Webb and Chaney kept environmental conservation – namely, clean water protections – at center stage. 

With all its miles of coastline and reliance on being a destination for millions of people who pay good money to experience its natural beauty, HD 69 saw environmental advocacy on both sides of the aisle. 

Both candidates said they are pro-environment.

Webb has a notable record on the environment from her time in the Legislature, including co-sponsoring an anti-fracking bill, supporting Florida’s Climate Resiliency Research Program and helping to get funding for much-needed water infrastructure projects in her district.

Chaney pointed to her past efforts to curb over-development on St. Pete Beach and her founding of the city’s Environmental Stewardship Board.

The candidates differed on plenty of other issues. Chaney’s platform included GOP favorites like cutting regulations as well as taxes. Webb, meanwhile, supports a state-level coronavirus relief package, more robust public education funding and expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. 

Endorsements fell mostly along party lines. 

Webb received endorsements from local Dems like Pinellas County Commissioners Charlie Justice, Janet Long and Ken Welch, as well as Gulfport Mayor Sam Henderson and others. 

Chaney, meanwhile, saw endorsements from Republican electeds like incoming House Speaker Sprowls, Sen. Jeff Brandes and Rep. Chris Latvala.

The one notable difference was that the National Federation of Independent Businesses, which endorsed dozens of other Florida State House candidates, most of them Republican, announced it was backing Webb (and seven other Dems vying for Florida House seats) over Chaney.

Written By

Kate Bradshaw is a Florida-based journalist, writer and editor. She is a former staff writer at the Tampa Tribune news/politics editor at Creative Loafing Tampa Bay.

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