The last few days before an election are a whirlwind. On one hand, candidates are looking forward to kicking back and celebrating their accomplishments, win or lose. On the other, the race isn’t over, especially when there’s another push just around the corner.
St. Petersburg’s mayoral candidates are in that boat this weekend and, while none of the top-polling candidates are taking their foot off the gas, all are ready for a slow down.
Former Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch said he and his team will be running a final get out the vote push before Tuesday’s election..
“Sign waving, canvassing,” he said, adding he has a series of campaign videos to run at participating churches Sunday.
But like all candidates over the past 16 months, Welch’s campaign has faced challenges related to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.
“The thought was we’d be passed the pandemic now and you’d be able to do more door to door,” he said. “Folks are kind of withdrawing from that.”
The need to stay safe, and keep residents safe, has forced creative get out the vote activities. Welch will have ads running through Election Day Tuesday, including on television and digital and ads in publications targeting various demographic groups such as the LGBTQ and African American communities.
“I’m feeling fantastic for the campaign. We’ve got an outstanding team and we’ve been really strategic,” Welch said. “I’m upset with the pandemic,” he conceded. “I had coffee with someone whose surgery was postponed because hospitals are getting to capacity. And what’s happening in schools is just ridiculous.”
Welch was referring to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ ban on local school district mask mandates, which has left mask wearing optional among both students and faculty at Pinellas County schools.
“When you get a bunch of kids together who don’t have masks and aren’t vaccinated, that (hospital crowding) was bound to happen.”
Welch has been consistently the top-polling candidate in the race, followed by City Council members Robert Blackmon and Darden Rice. The top two candidates, should none receive more than 50% of the vote, will head to the Nov. 2 General Election.
Blackmon, heading into the weekend with a fresh haircut, hit the streets Friday for some last minute sign waving and plans to canvass and phone bank on Saturday and Sunday. He called Monday, “the calm before the storm.”
“We’re having a really good time talking to people on the phone. That’s been a great strategy. People are surprised when I call them,” Blackmon said. “The responses I’ve been getting are really positive. I got swarmed at Dillards while buying a suit. I was completely mobbed when I walked through the mall and it’s stuff like that that goes to show that you’ve actually reached voters.”
Blackmon said he’s feeling “somewhere between first and last,” a nod to the typical superstitious tendency for candidates to not overplay their hand. But he said he’s “cautiously optimistic.”
“I like what I’ve been seeing in the polls,” Blackmon, who surged to No. 2 in the polls last month.
That surge knocked Rice out of the top-two, positioning that only election results will prove.
Rice, after her dip in polling, has been spending big on the final stretch. Despite what appears to be a stumble, likely fueled by controversial campaign mailers attacking Welch, a Democrat, as a Donald Trump acolyte, Rice’s solid name recognition and years of civil service put her still in prime position on Election Day.
“My team and I are really excited heading into Election Day on Tuesday. Our campaign prioritized grassroots organizing from the very beginning, and we now have a well-oiled machine going into the final four days,” she told Florida Politics in a text message. “Everyone will be out knocking on doors, following COVID protocols, and making phone calls to make sure we get people out to vote.”
Tentatively, Rice’s campaign plans to greet voters on Election Day at four polling places, including The Coliseum in downtown St. Pete, Pasadena Community Church, Pinellas Community Church in South St. Pete, and Roberts Recreation Center, in Northeast St. Pete.
Welch said he’ll be casting his ballot on Election Day at his polling place, Lake Vista Community Center, and plans to hit some other polling places as well, including Pinellas Community Church and the Coliseum.
“Hopefully there’s a line,” he added.