As Election Day arrives and St. Petersburg voters prepare to choose the city’s next Mayor, it’s time to dredge up the oldest cliché in politics: It’s all about turnout.
Yeah, I know, you’ve heard that in every election, but that doesn’t make it any less true or important for both Ken Welch and Robert Blackmon. They’re the candidates who advanced from the August Primary to Tuesday’s General Election.
Multiple City Council seats are on the ballot as well.
The latest survey by St. Pete Polls gave Welch a commanding 16-point lead, which could send a mistaken message to many voters that they don’t need to show up because the race is over. Welch, hoping to become the city’s first Black Mayor, has done his best to convince them that it is not.
“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.”
Local elections can be tricky to handicap. In what looks like a blowout race, it’s tough to say with certainty where the enthusiasm gap lies. And despite some recent lively snark from both candidates in the last debate, it’s fair to say it has been a relatively low-key march to get to this point.
Compare that to the contentious 2017 race where incumbent Rick Kriseman narrowly defeated former St. Pete Mayor Rick Baker. Kriseman received endorsements from former President Barack Obama and now-President Joe Biden. Baker, meanwhile, didn’t get an endorsement from then-President Donald Trump, but he did face a constant barrage of attempts to tie him to Trump’s brand. Analysts largely agreed, it was that connection that tanked Baker’s campaign and helped Kriseman land a second term.
But no such stuff this time, although Welch received endorsements from U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, former state Sen. Arthenia Joyner, and Kriseman.
Blackmon received Baker’s endorsement, along with multiple Republican state lawmakers’.
Although the race is nonpartisan, Blackmon is a Republican while Welch is a Democrat. In St. Pete, registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 88,055 to 49,527, according to data from the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections office.
Would Blackmon supporters look at the polls and decide to take the dog on a walk instead of voting?
But could Welch backers figure it’s in the bag and get busy doing other things, forgetting to vote?
It could happen.
Probably won’t, though.
As of Monday afternoon, turnout was at more than 19%. Of the mail ballots already returned, nearly 19,000 came from Democrats, compared to about 10,000 Republicans. The X-factor (maybe) is the more than 5,000 voters with no party affiliation who have already voted.
So, we wait for the voter’s verdict. That decision likely will come shortly after the polls close Tuesday at 7 p.m.
There will be a victory celebration in one camp and a concession speech in the other. St. Pete, which has transformed from sleepy to dynamic in recent years, will have chosen its next leader.