Darden Rice, Ken Welch neck and neck in new poll, but St. Pete mayoral race still wide open

DardenRice_Ken Welch
Voters are still largely undecided in the race for St. Pete Mayor.

New polling is showing the race for St. Petersburg Mayor is still wide-open,

The most recent survey from St. Pete Polls found, much like a similar one taken by the same pollster in early March, City Council member Darden Rice leading the field, but with just over 16% support among respondents. Former Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch trails with just under 16%, a difference of just 0.9 percentage points between the two. Former St. Pete City Council member and former state Rep. Wengay Newton gets 12%.

No other candidate named in the poll broke 5% support.

But one true takeaway, again like the March poll, is that the race is still very much anyone’s to claim. Among the 527 likely voters polled, 40% of them remain undecided in the Aug. 24 Primary.

Undecideds are even more prevalent in a hypothetical November General Election. St. Pete Polls asked who they would vote for if the election were held today between Rice and Welch, the two perceived front-runners in the race. In that question, 45% of voters weren’t sure.

Though Welch holds a lead among those who have decided to enter the race, with 31% indicating support compared to 24% for Rice. Welch also leads the hypothetical two-way matchup in March by the same margin.

Welch also appears to have more momentum than Rice. While Rice’s support barely grew from the March survey to the latest, Welch increased his support over a percentage point, going from being virtually tied with Newton at 14% to approaching 16% in the latest poll. Newton lost two points.

As for political parties, Rice and Welch are in a dead heat among Democrats, with Rice holding just a 0.4% lead over Welch 18.9% to 18.5%. Still, 34% of Democrats remain unsure.

The two are tied among Republican voters, both with 12% support and an overwhelming 48% still undecided.

Rice leads 15% to 14% among independent voters, also with 48% undecided.

Perhaps (not surprisingly) there is a wide gap between the two candidates along racial lines. Rice, who is White, leads in that demographic 21% to Welch’s 9%, with 46% unsure.

But, Welch, who is Black, has a much larger lead among Black voters, a demographic that has made up their minds in the election more than any other group. He leads with 39% support; Rice claims just 3%. Newton, who is also Black, gets 27%.

And Rice, a woman, is not capitalizing on the women’s vote. She actually trails Welch slightly among women voters, with Welch coming in just over 16% and Rice just under, a difference of 0.6%. She does, however, lead among men, 16% to 15%.

The takeaway from the poll is similar to the survey taken in March — nothing is guaranteed.

Rice and Welch are so far the top fundraisers in the race, with Rice leading. Between her campaign account and political committee, Friends of Darden Rice, she’s raised more than $556,000. Meanwhile, Welch has raised about $282,000 between his campaign and committee, Pelican PAC.

But Rice is burning through her money faster than Welch. She’s left with about $374,000 after spending early, while Welch has been so far frugal and left with more than $243,000 on hand.

And even though Newton, likely buoyed by his name recognition as a former City Council member, remains in the No. 3 spot in the latest poll, his fundraising paints a different picture. He’s only raised about $8,000.

That means the race remains a likely matchup between Rice and Welch.

With Welch so far holding on to his campaign cash, voters should watch polls as the race heats up and he starts scooping up paid media.

Janelle Irwin Taylor

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 [email protected]



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