Former Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch is leading opponents by a significant margin, according to the latest survey of the St. Petersburg mayoral race by St. Pete Polls.
In stark contrast to previous polls, Welch leads the field of eight candidates with 20% support among respondents. Three candidates are vying for the No. 2 spot in the poll, separated by less than one percentage point.
What is perhaps most shocking is the statistical tie among three candidates trailing Welch. There, former state Representative and City Council member Wengay Newton has a razor thing edge with just shy of 13% support.
Newton has done little campaigning and has raised a pittance compared to Darden Rice and Robert Blackmon — just over $23,000. Welch, Rice and Blackmon have all surpassed six figures, and Rice has by far spent the most on the election.
Yet Rice trails Newton in the poll with just over 12% and only leads Blackmon by a tenth of a percentage point, though the difference between the three is statistically insignificant.
The latest poll also finds more voters have made up their minds about who to vote for in the Primary Election, with 34% indicating they still hadn’t decided. That’s down from the previous poll in which 40% were undecided.
The poll found more good news for Welch. In hypothetical matchups in the General Election, he leads both Rice and Blackmon.
Against Rice, 36% of surveyed voters said they would vote for Welch, while only 21% said they’d cast a ballot for Rice. In that matchup, 44% were unsure.
Welch performs slightly worse against Blackmon with 30% support, but that’s still enough to put him ahead, with Blackmon pulling in just 17% support with 53% unsure.
Meanwhile, if the race were between Rice and Blackmon, Rice leads there by 10 percentage points, 28% to 18% with 54% unsure.
Welch’s lead in the Primary Election is largely buoyed by his lead among Democrats and independents, and by his decent support among Republicans. Among Democrats, Welch leads with 26% support, compared to just 18% for Rice, 17% for Newton, and only 4% for Blackmon.
He also leads among independent voters with 19% support to 14% for Blackmon, 10% for Newton, and just 9% for Rice.
Welch, a Democrat, even commands double-digit support among Republicans — a voting bloc Blackmon needs to make it into the top-two in the August Primary. Blackmon does lead with 26% support, but Welch performs well with 12%. And, other candidates in the race are splitting the GOP vote Blackmon needs, with a combined 20% going to the remaining candidates. Republicans, though, are still largely undecided, with 42% indicating they were still on the fence.
The poll is timely, with candidates set to square off in the first debate of the race at noon Tuesday. The debate will be aired on Bay News 9 and on the Tampa Bay Times website.
It could be an opportunity for candidates who polled poorly to try to make a name for themselves. Candidates Pete Boland, Michael Ingram, Torry Nelson and Marcile Powers failed to break even 5% support in the poll. Ingram, a USF student, surprisingly led the field of lower-tier candidates at 3% support, with Boland, a restaurateur, trailing with 2.4%. Nelson, a last-minute entrant into the race, garnered just 2%, while Powers came in with less than 1%.