Winners and losers emerging from St. Pete’s Primary Elections

winners and losers
Results are in, but there's always more behind the scenes.

As with any election, big or small, there are those who nailed it, and those who didn’t.

This year’s St. Petersburg Primary Elections were full of winners, from the candidates on down to their teams, and plenty of losers, including flubbed mail campaigns and missed opportunities.

Election results show us which candidates scored a win, and which are heading home to ponder their next move. But thoughtful analysis yields some less familiar winners and losers.

Let’s take a look.

WINNERS

Rick Baker

Baker might have gotten bested four years ago by team Rick Kriseman, but now he has a chance to redeem himself. While the satisfaction might not be as sweet as seeing his own name on the Mayor’s desk come January, he at least has a dog in the fight.

Baker is backing Robert Blackmon, as he did two years ago when Blackmon ran successfully for City Council, in a race that puts his guy against what many in the former Mayor’s sphere consider a Kriseman 2.0 candidate in Ken Welch.

The retribution might be indirect, but it’s retribution nonetheless. Kriseman is backing Welch. And the team surrounding Welch, whether publicly or behind the scenes, are largely those who rallied behind Kriseman for the past eight years.

Blackmon is young, and Baker is a mentor. So a Blackmon administration wouldn’t just be a win for center-righters like the former Mayor, it’s a chance for him to have at least some advisory capacity in the administration.

Team Welch

As Welch’s general consultant, Reggie Cardozo had his hands on much of the strategy that propelled Welch to a first place finish Tuesday night and standing that launches him into front-runner status heading into the General Election battle.

Cardozo successfully assembled what is arguably the most accomplished campaign team among any St. Pete candidate this cycle. Team Welch looked like it was hitting some bumps early on with some high-profile departures, including former Tampa Bay Times Political Editor Adam Smith, who had been the most forward facing member of Welch’s campaign.

But he quickly rallied, helping to bring veteran Democratic consultant Ashley Bauman fresh off a long stint as Communications Director under both former Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and current Mayor Jane Castor.

And Bauman wasted no time turning the campaign into an earned media power house. She did one of the things she’s most known for, leveraging media contacts to ensure any positive news coverage was at least considered. Ask her about her campaign schedule and she might tell you late nights were never off the table. We know, and we have the late night answered texts to prove it.

Other key players include Campaign Manager Stephanie Owens of Dolphin Strategies, Field Director Kevin O’Hare, who previously worked as a regional organizing director for U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s 2020 presidential bid, and Marissa Tully, a veteran fundraising pro who worked for Adam Hattersley’s congressional campaign and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s presidential bid, among others.

The team produced high-quality digital videos spotlighting Welch’s positives, while carefully avoiding any blowback from the mudslinging hurled his way as the race front-runner. Mailers attempting to tie him to Donald Trump bounced off, and better for the team, actually did harm to Darden Rice, whose committee was behind the attacks. Same with Wengay Newton’s attempt to paint Welch as a racist, based on a text referring to former Mayor Baker.

Now the team heads into the General with more money than Blackmon on hand, though not by much, and a wide lead in the polls. If there’s a team that can hold on, it’s probably this one.

Jason Holloway

Not deterred by his own political ambitions, Holloway, as part of team Barry Edwards et al., was a behind-the-scenes force for Blackmon.

Blackmon had a lot going for him to make a good run for Mayor — the race was ripe for a moderate or conservative candidate with strong business backing. Blackmon filled that void. But he came to the race late and had to overcome a massive fundraising deficit as a result.

However, the biggest win for Holloway might be less about his success for Blackmon and more about what it means for his own political prospects. Where better to learn the campaign trail than in a high-profile local election where conservative candidates are often counted out?

Ben Kirby

This one might need a question mark disclaimer. After nearly eight years as Kriseman’s Communications Director and being an integral part of the current Mayor’s inner circle, it stands to reason Kirby might have a four-year extension on offer should Welch win the November General Election.

Let’s look at the facts. Kriseman went all-in for Welch. By proxy, that puts Kirby squarely in Welch’s sphere. Those who know local politics understand the difference between being blocked from supporting candidates and not supporting candidates. That’s not to suggest Kirby broke any rules, but this is how stuff works. It’s unlikely the two haven’t made fast friends throughout Welch’s campaign.

And then there’s precedent. Look no further to Tampa at Bauman, who seamlessly transitioned from the Buckhorn administration to Castor’s when they passed the baton. It made sense there, and it makes sense here. Buckhorn and Castor, though the new Mayor tried to at least partially distance herself, were seen largely in lockstep. Like Kriseman with Welch, Buckhorn was all-in for Castor. Keeping Bauman on avoided a rocky transition. Keeping Kirby would do the same.

Chris Latvala

When Copley Gerdes entered the race for District 1 on the City Council, it seemed like he was a lock for front-runner status. After all, it was only two years ago a Gerdes (Copley’s dad) held the seat. But that underestimated Bobbie Shay Lee, the Republican who tied Gerdes Tuesday night at 34% of the vote each.

What’s that got to do with Latvala? He was calling the shots.

City Council races were quiet. They didn’t grab headlines and there wasn’t a ton of money thrown around. But in one of only two City Council districts with a Republican advantage, leveraging the power of the Pinellas GOP class is as powerful as any earned media. Latvala, building on dad Jack Latvala’s powerhouse consulting prowess, did just that, and it worked.

Low-dollar donors

When a ballot includes a former elected official who served eight years in the exact district he’s seeking, it’s easy to assume he’ll have the edge. Especially when the other names on the ballot are newcomers with little to no previous name recognition.

But Richie Floyd, with his commanding 51% share of the Primary vote, showed former City Council member Jeff Danner that grassroots can trump name ID.

Floyd came out on top in the fundraising game, with his finance reports characterized by an abundance of small, individual donations. As of the latest finance report, Floyd raised $69,067 since entering the race in November 2020.

That’s obviously a win for Floyd, but it’s a bigger win for the donors who fueled his campaign, showing that at least in St. Pete, those $5 and $10 checks can make all the difference.

Jim Rimes

Although he prefers to stay behind-the-scenes, Rimes, perhaps the best nuts-and-bolts consultant in Florida, helped right the Blackmon ship after a shaky start AND is the consultant working with Tom Mullins‘ winning campaign.

St. Pete Catalyst

Election night in St. Pete was a sad reminder that in many ways, local journalism is in trouble. The Tampa Bay Times’ election coverage was sparse, encapsulating only surface level details about election results, candidate platforms, and what happens next (the Times’ post-game analysis included the bold assessment that Welch overwhelmingly won the city’s Black vote — how insightful!).

Enter St. Pete Catalyst. The startup outlet has been, and continues to prove that it is filling a void, blasting wall-to-wall coverage of the consequential mayoral race. It published video interviews with candidates, robust election night coverage, and election previews to get voters in the know. And they did it all without sacrificing other coverage on business, real estate and culture.

St. Pete Polls

At a time when pollsters are facing crippling scrutiny after big misses, St. Pete Polls proved this mayoral election why FiveThirtyEight uses them in its polling aggregations.

Pollster Matt Florell for months showed Welch on top, and Rice’s drop from the top two perfectly corresponded with the controversy that likely tanked her campaign.

And his final poll, taken the weekend before the Primary, predicted a 10-point margin between Welch and Blackmon, which is almost to the decimal the ultimate outcome.

Candidates not named Welch hemmed and hawed that the polls were’t accurately reflecting their overall support, but the final numbers don’t lie. St. Pete Polls nailed it.

Julie Marcus, Supervisor of Elections

Welch made his victory statement 11 minutes after polls closed. Yes, that is partly because he had such a wide lead over both No. 2 finisher Blackmon and No. 3 Rice, but it was also because the SOE office knows how to do elections.

Vote tallies from mail ballots dropped within minutes of polls closing, and Election Day ballots started posting only minutes after that.

Making their performance even stronger, throughout the course of the day, not a single major issue was reported at any city polling place.

Pete Boland

Boland is a well-known restaurant owner in St. Pete who joined the mayoral race late after what he described as an inability to really get behind any of the declared candidates. His bid was never fully taken seriously. He didn’t get headlines like the top-polling candidates in the race. But he ran a professional campaign with dignity and raised money like a serious contender.

What was most refreshing about Boland’s campaign is what sets him apart. He showered praise on all of his opponents, even if he often disagreed with them. In an Election Day post, he offered positive attributes for each candidate and shared praise for each one’s love for the city and desire to make it the best.

He was up against mostly immovable forces, and the election results show it. But if we learned anything about Boland this cycle, it’s that he has a place in city politics in the future, should he choose another run, potentially for City Council.

Michael Ingram

As a University of South Florida St. Petersburg student, Ingram was the youngest candidate of the crowded mayoral field at just 20 years old. Some people balked at his entrance into the race … he can’t even buy a beer. But Ingram quickly showed he has the chops — and a bright future. During various candidate forums he spoke with passion, intelligence and kindness.

Ingram is a man to watch as he furthers his education and grows his experience. That was made clear through his evolution as a candidate. While he was very astute even in his first candidate forum appearance, he grew more knowledgable and better able to communicate his ideas with each. He should be proud of his accomplishments on the trail, and we hope he runs again, possibly for a lower level office to build himself from a more appropriate starting place.

MIXED BAG

Ex-City Council members

Charlie Gerdes is a great guy. He was loved and respected among his peers on Council for eight years and most of his constituents over the course of his two terms. He’s just a nice guy, and a great dad. But despite all that, his son, Copley Gerdes, didn’t see the dominating performance at the polls some expected from the family name.

Also on the ballot, former City Council member Danner took a hit. He starts what is basically a fresh race against Floyd heading into a citywide General from a district Primary, and that could help him. But that doesn’t change the walloping Tuesday, in which Floyd collected 51% of the vote to his 27%.

Taken together, Tuesday’s election results suggests St. Pete voters might be looking for fresh blood, not family legacies and third terms.

Mark Ferrulo

The progressive activist (disclosure: Mark’s a dear friend of the Schorsch family) was, perhaps, Rice’s biggest cheerleader. There was even a rumor that Ferrulo would have left his position with Progress Florida to be Rice’s Chief of Staff had she won. But none of that was meant to be. Not much of Rice’s loss is Ferrulo’s fault. That’s part of the reason why he’s in the Mixed Bag column and not the Losers bracket. The other reason he is not is because, as he has throughout his career, Ferrulo displayed unyielding loyalty to a decades-long friend. It’s hard to find much fault in that.

LOSERS

Blue Ticket Consulting

Where to begin here? The consulting shop run by married couple Meagan Salisbury and Tom Alte already doesn’t have the greatest track record as of late, but this election cycle showed they might not be learning from past mistakes.

Likely the biggest misstep this time around came via a series of campaign mailers targeting Welch, on behalf of the firm’s client, Rice. The mailers attempted to paint Welch as a Trump acolyte based on endorsements he received from local Republicans and contributions from GOP interests.

It backfired, hard. It was a “people in glass houses” sort of scenario, considering Rice also had GOP contributors and, two years ago, herself endorsed a Republican, Blackmon. Further, it was disingenuous. Welch is a prominent local Democrat who served as a Joe Biden delegate. That’s about as far from Trumpy as it gets.

They didn’t make the mailers, but surely Salisbury, who directly repped Rice and chaired the political committee that paid for them, should have known better. Two years ago her husband repped City Council candidate Orlando Acosta. Just like this year, the shop was behind mailers tying Acosta’s opponent, Ed Montanari, to Trump. It didn’t work then, even when it was against an actual Republican, so what made the pair think it would work this time against a Democrat remains a mystery.

Further down the ballot was Gerdes. While this wasn’t a direct loss, a statistical tie wasn’t expected, and probably could have been avoided.

Dylan Sumner

Back to those mailers though. If Blue Ticket takes an L here, so does Sumner, who produced the offending mailers.

But he has another layer of blame: Using stock images of Black people. At last count, St. Pete has a robust Black community. Using stock photos of Black models looking distressed seemed not only out of touch, it screamed, “we can’t find any Black supporters.” That’s not a good look, especially not in St. Pete where race relations are a top of mind issue this race.

Sumner does plenty of big races with national profiles, such as in Georgia last year. Maybe he should just stick to those.

Jackie Lee

It was just last year Florida Politics was including Lee among its INFLUENCE 100 list of the most influential people in Florida Politics. But then Biden lost in Florida (she was heading up his efforts in the Sunshine State) and now she has taken the best-funded candidate (Rice) and lost decisively. It’s difficult to be a Democratic consultant in Florida, but if your candidate is spending $77 per vote, while the winners spend about 15 bucks per vote, there’s as much wrong with the strategy as there is the candidate.

Jonathan Stanton

Not only was Stanton, the head of Lema Construction, one of Rice’s largest, most prominent campaign contributors, there is also some bad blood between him and Welch. Many in Welch’s orbit quietly blame (incorrectly, I believe) Stanton for some of the leaks to the Tampa Bay Times about the 2018 controversy surrounding Welch’s wife. If Welch wins, Stanton should not expect to win many city contracts to build firehouses, etc.

Wengay Newton

Newton could have been a contender — a long shot, but better than the 7% showing he posted Tuesday night. With two terms as a City Council member and one as a state Representative, that should have been enough to at least get into double digits.

But Newton put little effort into the race, raising just $42,000. And he made a poor calculus that lost him credibility among city Democrats and its Black community. He tried, it’s fair to say desperately, to make Welch out as a racist. But the reverse racism card doesn’t play well among the African American community and the offending comment he tried to play up largely bounced off anyone Newton might have hoped would listen.

Now it’s fair to question what, if any, future Newton has in politics. He was already smarting from a major defeat for Pinellas County Commission last year, and now he has another embarrassing loss to add to the list.

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises Media and is the publisher of FloridaPolitics.com, INFLUENCE Magazine, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Previous to his publishing efforts, Peter was a political consultant to dozens of congressional and state campaigns, as well as several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.



#FlaPol

Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

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