As Election Day approaches, the stars align for Ken Welch
Donald Trump gets booed at a Libertarian National Convention 5/25/2024 via Associated Press.

Darden Rice's star is dimming.

With St. Petersburg’s Primary Election just one day away, former Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch remains in a strong position to clinch a spot in the runoff, with City Council member Robert Blackmon still maintaining a strong grip on the No. 2 spot.

Welch leads Blackmon 10 points, with 37% of surveyed voters indicating support, including 39.5% who have already voted and 34% who plan to vote, according to a St. Pete Polls survey conducted Saturday among 542 registered St. Pete voters.

Making Welch’s claim to the top spot even stronger, more polled voters said they had already cast their ballot for him than any other leading candidate.

Blackmon posted 27% support, with St. Pete City Council member Darden Rice 10 points behind at 17%.

Just 25% of voters polled said they had already cast a ballot for Blackmon, with 30% saying they planned to vote for him. About 19% of voters surveyed said they already cast a ballot for Rice, with 14% indicating they planned to vote for her.

Only 8% of voters polled who have not yet voted said they were still on the fence.

The results show more good news for Welch after Tuesday’s Primary Election. He leads both Blackmon and Rice in hypothetical General Election matchups, with his strongest performance against Rice.

Welch leads Rice head-to-head with 55% support to just 22.5%. That more than 30-point margin is more than the undecided in that potential race, which is just 23%.

Welch would still perform strongly against Blackmon, according to the poll. There he shows 53% support to 29%.

While Welch maintains a strong lead in the Primary, his support puts him far enough away from the 50% plus one vote threshold to avoid a General Election contest.

Welch leads in every single demographic except two. Blackmon, himself a registered Republican, leads with 60% from GOP voters. But Welch still posts strong crossover appeal, with 16% support. That’s better than Blackmon’s crossover appeal, which showed just 8% support from Democrats.

Blackmon also leads Welch among White voters, but it’s a statistical tie between the two men. Blackmon pulled just over 34% support while Welch polled at just under 34%.

Perhaps most surprising for Rice, as the only leading woman on the mayoral ballot, she is not leading among women. She pulled just 13% support among female voters, while Welch showed 42% support and Blackmon 25%.

Rice has seen a stunning fall over the past two months. Early in the campaign, before Blackmon entered the race, he was the perceived front-runner, with all political calculus pointing to Welch battling for the No. 2 spot.

Her dip in standing is likely fueled by Blackmon’s entrance into the race, providing a conservative option for Republican voters in the nonpartisan race. But it might have been her own campaigning that dropped her out of the top two.

In July, several campaign mailers, paid for by Rice’s political committee, Friends of Darden Rice, attempted to tie Welch to former President Donald Trump. The mailers cited Welch’s endorsements from local Republicans, including Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, and to campaign contributions from Republicans.

The mailers were widely disregarded as political theater. Welch is a Democrat and served as a delegate for now-President Joe Biden. Further disenchanting critics and turning some on the fence, Rice herself has numerous campaign and committee contributions from GOP locals and related entities. And two years ago, she endorsed a Republican for City Council, her now rival Blackmon.

Rice also faced blowback on the mailers for using stock images of African American individuals, a move for which she later offered an apology.

Blackmon has also faced some controversy, including a Florida Politics report about a South St. Pete apartment complex he acquired in late April. After closing on the property, Blackmon filed paperwork to have several tenants, one who was less than $200 behind on rent, evicted.

A Tampa Bay Times article also documented a series of controversial Facebook posts from the early 2010s, including one where he referred to a family, including a 3-year-old girl, as “sluts on a plane.” Blackmon didn’t confirm the posts’ authenticity, but he didn’t deny them either.

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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