ST. PETERSBURG — Voters head to the polls Tuesday for Election Day in the city’s most expensive mayoral race ever. Incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman and former Mayor Rick Baker continued sparring in the two months since the August primary, in which they finished just 70 votes apart. Here are five things to watch in the election’s final hours:
City elections in recent years have not brought out St. Pete’s voters in droves, but general elections tend to see more turnout than primaries. Democrats hold a majority among St. Petersburg’s registered voters. While about 40 percent of Republicans have cast ballots in the last three mayoral votes, Democrats have turned out at lower rates. But since 2013, thousands more Democrats have voted. Kriseman, a progressive incumbent, has injected partisanship into the supposedly non-partisan mayoral race this year, hoping to tie Baker to the unpopular President Donald Trump. He hopes for more Democrats at the polls today.
2. Mail-in versus in-person voting
Baker led the mail-in results for the primary by more than 1,000 votes while Kriseman apparently surged at the polls by a similar margin. In August, 33,896 mail ballots had been filed by the Sunday before the primary. Mail ballots submitted are up this time around, with 35,048 received by Sunday, which could give Baker an advantage.
Ever since Baker announced he would challenge Kriseman, pundits zeroed in on Midtown as perhaps the most important neighborhood in the election. Residents there are overwhelmingly Democrats, but Baker enjoys strong support among African-Americans who still praise the former mayor’s work in the city’s poorest neighborhoods. Baker took the precincts that make up Midtown by about 260 votes in August and also held a roughly 140-vote lead in nearby Childs Park. Turnout was low, with only one of the ten precincts between the two neighborhoods above 30 percent.
4. The narrow margins
Five sizeable precincts had fewer than 20 votes separating the top candidates, three of them around Tyrone Boulevard and Jungle Prada. The other two were downtown and the northern section of Midtown. All told, about 4,700 votes were counted in these precincts, and Baker and Kriseman were separated by just nine. Pulling away in these spots could provide daylight for the winner on Election Day.
2017 Primary votes by precinct
5. The young vote
From “God’s Waiting Room” to a burgeoning paradise for young hipsters, St. Petersburg is a rapidly changing city. Kriseman won precincts with a greater share of younger voters in the primary while Baker held firm to his base of neighborhoods with older residents. But in the two-month sprint to Election Day, Baker has tried to look cooler and cut into Kriseman’s support. He has produced a series of ads in which he has a guitar and wears a T-shirt and sunglasses. Will it work? And with younger voters generally turning out at lower rates than older voters, will it matter?
Times staff writer Charlie Frago contributed to this report.