Friday, February 23, 2018
Politics

Final push for votes in St. Petersburg mayor's race

ST. PETERSBURG

On Saturday morning, Mayor Rick Kriseman greeted a dozen volunteer canvassers at his northside campaign headquarters, thanking them for their willingness to venture out into the swampy heat to corral votes for him.

"There are still a lot of voters to touch. The more we are in contact with them, the more I know we are very supported" Kriseman told the group, which included a contingent of young Democrats from the University of Florida. Kriseman campaign staffers said about 20 volunteers would take part in the get-out-the-vote effort.

"I think we are in a good place. I'm confident that the city wants to continue to move forward," the first-term mayor told reporters.

A few hours later, former mayor Rick Baker spoke to the Tampa Bay Times, saying he felt confident that months of sign waving, door knocking and planting yard signs was paying off in his bid for a third term.

"I think people need to meet you and talk to you. People want to get to know the person who's going to be their mayor again," said Baker, who served from 2001 to 2010.

At Baker's Midtown headquarters, about 20 volunteers wearing Baker shirts prepared to knock on doors. Another group of about 20 Baker supporters had set off earlier from Coffee Pot Bayou.

On the final Saturday before Tuesday's mayoral primary, the two front-runners are fighting over a likely diminishing pile of voters. The latest figures from the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections office showed 33,896 mail ballots had been returned by noon Friday, just under half of the total mailed.

Overall turnout for the 2013 mayoral primary was 50,055, with about two-thirds of the vote by mail. The city has just under 170,000 registered voters for this election.

Local polling has shown Baker with a lead of 6 to 7 points, but short of the 50 percent threshold necessary to end the race on Tuesday. If no one reaches more than 50 percent, the race will continue on until Nov. 7.

One hurdle to reaching 50 percent is a crowded mayoral ballot. Four other candidates are vying for votes: Jesse Nevel, Theresa "Momma Tee" Lassiter, Anthony Cates III and Paul Congemi.

Baker, a Republican, has topped Kriseman, a Democrat, in the campaign cash contest: $1,050,273 to $766,940 through Aug. 24, although Kriseman has bested Baker in "hard money," individual contributions, for the past month.

The "Rick vs. Rick" race for the officially non-partisan office of mayor obliterated fundraising records for a mayoral election months ago.

On Saturday morning, the Kriseman headquarters was still abuzz with the historic endorsement of Kriseman by former President Barack Obama, the first time in the city's history that a president has backed a candidate in the Sunshine City.

Congressman Charlie Crist, who joined the mayor at the small get-out-the-vote rally, said he believed Obama's support would drive turnout on Tuesday.

"That's a big lift at a crucial time. You know, you're coming into the last few days of a campaign, all of a sudden, the former president that everyone misses weighs in with support for our mayor," Crist said to applause.

At Baker's Midtown headquarters, former assistant police chief Cedric Gordon said his former boss' support was local and deep-rooted.

"We're in a very good position based on all the folks we've been talking to," Gordon said. "We're positioned extremely well."

But both mayors admitted to some uncertainty as to what will happen on Tuesday.

"I've been in a few campaigns over the years," said Kriseman, a former City Council member and state representative. "I don't know that you ever truly know where people are. All you can do is work hard and trust the voters."

Contact Charlie Frago at [email protected] or (727)893-8459. [email protected]

     
               
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