In two months, Mayor Rick Kriseman turned a 70-vote lead in his bid for reelection into a more than 2,000-vote victory. He and former Mayor Rick Baker finished an August primary in a dead heat, but the incumbent won decisively on Election Day. How did it happen?
A SERIES OF SMALL GAINS
Kriseman improved in 69 of the city’s 91 precincts for the general election, either widening his margins of victory or shrinking Baker’s leads compared to the primary. Many of these gains were just incremental; Kriseman only picked up more than 100 votes in three precincts compared to the August results. He did better especially in the downtown area, but small steps forward all across the city added up to a comfortable victory.
The mayor made some of his biggest gains in the city’s socioeconomically mixed neighborhoods that lean Democratic. For months he had pushed partisanship, putting out ads and flyers tying Baker, a Republican, to President Donald Trump. He banked on his party coming through in a progressive city, and it appears to have worked.
More than 80 percent of lower Kenwood voters supported the incumbent, turning out at some of the highest rates in the city. He also excelled in Historic Uptown and the Old Southeast. The St. Petersburg race mirrored elections nationwide, including in Virginia and New Jersey, where Democratic candidates also won closely-watched contests.
Ten thousand more voters cast ballots in the general election than the primary, a far greater increase than the last mayoral election in 2013. Nearly 67,000 people voted, for an overall turnout of 38 percent. Kriseman managed a 600-vote lead in mail-in ballots, which Baker had won in the primary. As results rolled in, Kriseman only expanded his lead, taking 12,925 Election Day votes compared to Baker’s 11,996.
BAKER’S STRONGHOLDS NOT ENOUGH
Baker once again saw some of his biggest leads in the wealthy neighborhoods along the bay and in older precincts just east of the Pinellas Bayway. But even though more voters turned out in the city’s more Republican areas of Snell Isle and Harbor Isle, his advantage only increased by about 50 votes in each neighborhood compared to the primary.
Kriseman maintained a grip on his own strongholds, including Kenwood, part of the Edge District, and Greater Woodlawn, while also upping his vote total significantly downtown.
A STALEMATE IN MIDTOWN AND CHILDS PARK
From the earliest days of the mayoral race, analysts said it could be decided in Midtown, home to many of the city’s poorer black residents. The area, along with nearby Childs Park, is full of registered Democrats, but Baker hoped to ride past support there to victory. In the end, he was unable to take a decisive lead or turn out voters in predominantly black neighborhoods in great numbers.
Baker won Midtown and Childs Park by about 400 votes in the primary. Kriseman cut that deficit to roughly 255 votes on Election Day, improving in six precincts in Midtown and two in Childs Park. He even flipped two Baker precincts in the neighborhoods in his favor. Turnout rates remained below 30 percent, lagging behind the city overall.