Turnout wasn’t great, but don’t let that fool you into thinking the St. Petersburg mayoral race isn’t a big deal.
And now it’s down to two.
Voters have two candidates who present remarkably different options. There’s the obvious — that former Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch is a Democrat and City Council member Robert Blackmon is a Republican, one would be the city’s first Black Mayor, the other its first millennial — and the not so obvious.
With apologies to Peter King, here are five things I think I think about the St. Pete mayoral race.
Why aren’t you on TV?
After Tuesday’s election results there was one thing shockingly missing — neither surviving candidate ran post-election ads.
Fresh ads a few days after polls closed would have been the perfect reset for both candidates. Voters’ options have been whittled down and that always changes the tone. Welch no longer has to worry about splitting the city’s liberal vote or its Black vote. And Blackmon has immense ground to gain.
Welch finished Tuesday with 10 percentage points more than Blackmon and polls show Welch even further up in a head to head matchup with Blackmon.
That makes Blackmon’s absence even more detrimental. Welch can afford to run out the clock, but Blackmon needs to get to work now on identifying cross-party support. Leaning into conservative support got him into the top two, and it was smart strategy for the Primary. But in the General, he’ll need to tap heavily into the city’s non-partisan voters and its more moderate Democrats.
A well-placed ad, say, on the weather channel this week as all eyes were on the approaching storm, could have set a bipartisan tone, one we know Blackmon can hone because he did it successfully two years ago.
Tim Nickens with Blackmon?
This jumped out. The Pulitzer Prize winning former Tampa Bay Times Editor of Editorials is on Blackmon’s payroll with a $2,500 payment. Everyone knew Adam Smith, the former Times Political Editor, was working for Welch before he took a gig as Tampa Mayor Jane Castor’s communications director. But Nickens landed under the radar.
It will be interesting to see what role he takes on and whether it will become more apparent as the race heats up.
The math favors Welch
The most recent survey in the mayoral race, taken the weekend before the Primary Election by St. Pete Polls, which nailed it, showed Welch dominating a hypothetical match-up against Blackmon with 53% of the vote to Blackmon’s 29%.
It’s safe to estimate Welch could gain about 75% of the voters who went for former City Council member Wengay Newton in the Primary. These are largely black voters, and it makes sense they’d shift to Welch, not Blackmon. That would account for about 5,500 votes.
Likewise, Welch could probably capture about two thirds of Darden Rice voters. They’re liberals and progressives and many might not be keen on switching teams to a registered Republican. There’s another nearly 11,000 votes.
Taken together, that would put Welch somewhere in the vicinity of 53%-55% of the overall vote.
It’s less clear how Blackmon can change that math. And that brings up the next point.
When does Rice endorse … does she even?
Rice has been in Blackmon’s corner before. She endorsed him for City Council two years ago. And if the campaign mailers that likely tanked her campaign this year are any indication, she’s not a big Welch fan at the moment.
So maybe throwing her weight again behind Blackmon could help him rewrite some of the aforementioned math.
But would doing so be political suicide? When she endorsed Blackmon two years ago, she was able to write it off as a bipartisan nod. There wasn’t, ultimately, a viable Democrat in the race and she had progressive bonafides built up for years to help her weather any blowback that did come.
But now it’s different. Blackmon is running a much higher profile race and, with a bruising loss added to her resume, she might not have the same insulation from bucking party loyalty.
No endorsement seems like the better strategy.
And speaking of that bruising loss, it’s the third time Rice has taken an L in races against Black opponents. She also previously lost to Rene Flowers and Earnest Williams.
It begs the question: Is this apropos of anything?
It might be — not necessarily for Rice herself, but of the political climate in general that makes it crushingly difficult for White progressives to win multi-candidate races if a Black candidate already has the Black community in their corner. Look no further than Gwen Graham’s loss to Andrew Gillum for Governor just a few years ago.
Rice wins Twitter
She may not have won on Election Day, but Darden certainly won the Twitters by perfectly expressing her post-election mood.
Mixture of feelings this morning. pic.twitter.com/WoV2KmLc9y
— Darden Rice (@DardenRice) August 25, 2021
August 30, 2021 at 9:08 am
“And speaking of that bruising loss, it’s the third time Rice has taken an L in races against Black opponents. She also previously lost to Rene Flowers and Earnest Williams.”
“. . .crushingly difficult for White progressives to win multi-candidate races if a Black candidate already has the Black community in their corner.
Progressives like to inject race into everything. It keeps things tense and sour, and that’s good for them.
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