It’s the final weekend before St. Petersburg voters decide on a new Mayor Tuesday, and the two candidates running to replace incumbent Rick Kriseman will be hard at work making their final case to land the job.
Former Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch faces City Council member Robert Blackmon at the ballot box.
Welch plans to spend his weekend getting voters to the polls, waving signs and meeting with voters in the community. Welch rallied voters Thursday evening on Central Avenue after participating in the Roll to the Polls event at the Carter G. Woodson African American History Museum.
Saturday, he’ll be rallying voters at an event on 18th Avenue S and 34th Street from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. And on Sunday, he’ll be spending most of the day at the Come Out St. Pete Halloween on Central event, followed by sign waving from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on 31st Street and 54th Avenue S.
“With Election Day just around the corner I feel a sense of pride and accomplishment in how we ran this race,” Welch said. “We spent our time focusing on inclusive progress, not the sleazy politics, underhanded tactics and false rhetoric that does nothing but divide our community. Over the next (few days) I will continue to focus on uniting and turning out voters who will be my Partners in Progress for our City.”
It’s not uncommon for contested mayoral races in St. Pete to quickly turn divisive. Kriseman saw that happen four years ago when his reelection campaign against former Mayor Rick Baker turned into a partisan matchup that put Donald Trump politics at the center of debate.
And the Welch/Blackmon matchup has been no different, with the most recent televised debate featuring almost constant mud-slinging between the two. And like four years ago, partisanship has also reared its head, despite the race being technically nonpartisan.
Welch is a registered Democrat, while Blackmon is a Republican. The candidates are barred from mentioning their party affiliations, but it has been apparent in talking points and endorsements, with Welch claiming support from numerous local elected Democrats and Blackmon earning support from local Republicans. And Blackmon has played on that, sending out mailers earlier in the campaign — some targeting Republican voters with conservative messaging, and others, almost identical, advertising himself as a progressive to Democrats.
And it is Blackmon who might have the most ground to cover heading into the final three days of campaigning. Blackmon trails Welch 16 points, according to the most recent poll in the race. A St. Pete Polls survey taken Tuesday showed Welch leading Blackmon with 55% support to Blackmon’s 39%, with just 6% of voters still undecided, a pool not large enough to bridge the gap.
But Blackmon is undeterred.
“We have an action packed final few days ahead of us. This race has never been about who raised the most special interest money, but about who has the best and most innovative ideas to move our city forward,” Blackmon told Florida Politics, referencing Welch’s leading fundraising throughout the General Election campaign.
As of the most recent campaign finance data available Friday, Welch had raised more than $1 million between his campaign and affiliated political committee, Pelican PAC. Blackmon, who entered the race much later, raised less than $600,000 between his campaign and political committee, Prosperous St. Petersburg.
“We will continue to message through grassroots strategies such as door knocking, phone banking, sign waving, and continuing my record of visibility and accessibility to all people throughout our city,” Blackmon said. “Unlike my opponent, 100% of our outreach is conducted by unpaid volunteers.”
Blackmon will be at a booth Sunday at Come Out St. Pete’s Halloween on Central, and his campaign is making as many media appearances as possible through Election Day.
“And of course, I am still actively working as the City Council representative for District 1 through January, so I will continue to have a heavy presence at City Hall,” Blackmon said.
And he’s not worried about polls.
“This race is a lot closer than public polling or the political elites would have you believe. We are going to fight all the way to 7:00 PM on Tuesday, and I am confident we will surprise a lot of people along the way,” Blackmon said.