Former Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch is leading City Council member Robert Blackmon by a healthy margin in the race for St. Petersburg Mayor, according to the latest results from a St. Pete Polls survey, released Thursday.
The poll, the first since the Aug. 24 Primary, shows Welch with 53% support to Blackmon’s 36%, with 11% of voters still unsure in the race. That’s a troubling data point for Blackmon because it shows even if undecided voters broke his way, it still wouldn’t be enough to bridge the gap with Welch.
The lead is well outside the poll’s 4.5% margin of error.
The results also suggest Welch’s endorsements from previous candidates are helping him maintain his lead. The last poll taken just days before the Primary election showed Welch leading Blackmon in what was then a hypothetical General Election matchup with the same 53% share of the vote. Blackmon improved some from that poll, which showed him at the time with just 29% support.
City Council member and former mayoral candidate Darden Rice endorsed Welch earlier this month, potentially giving him access to the more than 9,000 voters who cast a ballot for her in the Primary Election. Neither Pete Boland nor Wengay Newton, candidates who also lost in the Primary Election, have endorsed a candidate, but they are the most likely to have voters willing to switch allegiance to Blackmon. But their cumulative share of the vote in August represented less than 8,000 votes.
Blackmon also may have made some key mistakes heading into the General Election cycle. He missed the opportunity to strike fast after his second place finish in the Primary — there was no immediate push with television ads. He also has, at times, failed to project clear messaging to voters on his agenda. And his campaign took a hit earlier this month when he went quiet on the campaign trail after the death of a close friend, former Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Keith McCants. While Blackmon’s grief is understandable, and unfortunate — he had worked closely with McCants through the football star’s battle with addiction — the precious moments lost during that time could translate to lost ground in the race.
Welch leads in almost every demographic at this point in the race, ahead of the Nov. 2 election. His highest support comes, not surprisingly from Democrats, with an overwhelming 73% of the vote to Blackmon’s 16%. Republicans largely broke for Blackmon, at 67% support, but more GOP voters crossed party lines to support Welch than Blackmon, at 19% support.
Democrats also represent the largest share of St. Pete voters. According to the most recent voter registration data available with the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections office, with 88,055 registered Democrats and just 49,527 Republicans.
Welch also leads among independent voters, though by a smaller 49%-45% margin. There are 48,146 no-party and third-party voters in the city.
Welch also leads in every racial demographic except Asian or Pacific Islanders. Blackmon landed at 50% support among that demographic with Welch bringing in just 25%, but only four were polled, a statistically valid sample of the actual electorate.
Welch performs best among Black voters with 77% support to 14.5% for Blackmon and leads among White voters 47% to 41%. Hispanic voters break for Welch at 58% to 25%.
Welch leads among both male and female voters, but particularly among women, with 60% of the vote to 31% for Blackmon.
He also leads with more than 50% of the vote among all ages with the highest level of support from the city’s youngest voters, those ages 18-29, with 55% support. That’s also Blackmon’s highest level of support, at 41%, as the group is also the most certain on the race. Only 3% of voters 18-29 polled were still unsure of their vote.
With less than six weeks before the General Election, the poll results show Blackmon has a lot of ground to gain with few avenues to get there. Not only must he sway undecided voters, he must still convince already decided voters to switch allegiances.
While polls have become less trusted in recent years, with misses on major elections, particularly the 2016 presidential election, voters often question their validity. But St. Pete Polls has a good track record in this race. The polling firm, which FiveThirtyEight uses in its polling aggregations in major races, accurately predicted the Primary Election outcome. There, the most recent survey ahead of the Primary Election put Welch 10 points ahead of Blackmon. Final election results gave Welch an 11 point victory over Blackmon.
The candidates are running to replace incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman, who is leaving office because of term limits. Kriseman has endorsed Welch as his successor.