SEMINOLE — Patricia Plantamura's stunning performance in Tuesday's council race blindsided many in this city.
A third-time council candidate, Plantamura not only unseated incumbent Tom Barnhorn, she managed to outpoll former state Rep. Leslie Waters, who has strong name recognition in the Seminole area.
"It was a big, big shock to me. ... I was in a state of 'What just happened?' " Barnhorn said Friday. "All I've been getting the last couple of days is shock calls (asking) 'Do you know what happened?'"
Waters said she, too, was stunned.
"I was just totally shocked that, first of all, the incumbent, he came in third," Waters said. It just goes to show "you can never take for granted (that) an incumbent has it made."
Plantamura led the field of four with 29.9 percent of the vote, 37 votes in front of Waters, who took 29 percent of the vote. Barnhorn, who was seeking his second term on the council, polled 26.5 percent of the vote and first-time candidate James Quinn trailed the field with about 14.6 percent of the vote.
Plantamura and Waters will take the two open seats on the council. They will be sworn in March 24.
Plantamura was less surprised by the results. She said she had learned a lot from her two previous campaigns for council, but she also had help. Ed Helm, former political chief of the Pinellas Democratic Party, masterminded her campaign.
Plantamura said she stressed the fact that she is a teacher and has a background in law enforcement.
"I think that struck a chord," she said. "That was really significant with a lot of people."
But the big thing, she said, was using data and having access to helpers. The data set that was the most important, she said, was list of voters who got mail-in ballots. Plantamura said she targeted those people because the campaign knew they had the ballot in hand and would be prone to use it.
Barnhorn said Plantamura also had phone banks, plenty of volunteers and organized mailouts. By contrast, Barnhorn said, his campaign consisted mostly of himself and his wife going door to door. And, his wife became ill during the latter part of the campaign, reducing his staff by half.
Next time around, Barnhorn said, he plans to learn from Plantamura and run his campaign more like "a machine."
Waters, an experienced campaigner, said it does take awhile to learn how to be a candidate. That's something Waters seems to have down pat. She, too, had phone banks, scads of volunteers and signs. She also raised a lot of money to finance her race. But she also went door to door and visited businesses.
"I'd like to ... be called 'the grass-roots machine,' " Waters said. "I had a grass-roots campaign going on."
Waters predicted, however, that Barnhorn would be back. And Barnhorn himself said he plans to run again.
If he doesn't run next year or the year after, Barnhorn might want to set his sights on 2012. That's when Waters' term will be up. And she has already announced she has big plans for that year.
"Dennis Jones terms out in 2012," she said. Jones, R-Seminole, has held his state Senate seat for a while, so there will likely be many hopefuls, she said.
Waters said she'll "start a hellious campaign because it hasn't been open in a long time."