TARPON SPRINGS — In these difficult economic times, the candidates for Tarpon Springs City Commission are resorting to old-fashioned ways: shoe leather and face-to-face contact.
They are walking door-to-door, shaking hands and looking as many residents as they can in the eye to ask for their vote in the March 9 election.
"The grass roots, shoe leather campaign is very effective," said Susan MacManus, a political science professor at University of South Florida's Tampa campus. "The face-to-face contact of a voter enhances the likelihood someone will turn out."
Candidates for Tarpon's upcoming election are asking for money, but only two have raised a substantial amount at this point in the campaign.
In campaign reports filed Jan. 15, commission incumbent Chris Alahouzos managed to pull in $12,262. David Archie, who is running for mayor, brought in $11,339.
Alahouzos' opponent Beverly Z. Kurpinski raised $1,560 for the same period. Matt King, who faces Archie, netted $3,665.
Jeff Larsen has raised $4,450 in an effort to earn the seat being vacated by Commissioner Peter Delacos. Opponent Joe Muzio has raised $3,515.
"People are not spending money," Muzio said. "If people are not spending, the last thing they are going to do is give campaign contributions. Can a candidate blame them? Absolutely not, because putting food on the table is the priority."
Larsen said folks "might not be giving money," but they are offering their time, which also is valuable.
Kurpinski said she is walking Tarpon neighborhoods, but she recognizes her opponent's ability to raise money.
"If you are Greek and running as a candidate, it's not hard to get money," said Kurpinski, who is running for office for the first time. "There is not an economy issue if you are Greek."
Alahouzos, a Greek-American, noted that he hasn't had any difficulty raising money because the residents notice the work he is doing for Tarpon Springs. Alahouzos said he is still out in the community trying to shake as many hands as possible.
Money is important during an election campaign, MacManus said. But the counter to overflowing coffers is a solid reputation in the community.
"Money helps you build name recognition, and if you have widespread name recognition, that's positive, that can go a long way," she said. "But if you don't have name recognition, money is essential because that's how you are going to get it. You have to buy it."
A heavy cash flow doesn't guarantee a win, MacManus said. Money has to be spent wisely so that candidates are not caught late in the campaign needing cash but having none.
King said his campaign will not focus on television or radio advertising, which can be expensive.
"Primarily, for a campaign in Tarpon it is yard signs and literature," King said. "With TV and radio, you are literally wasting money. We are hoping to have enough money on hand to do a mailing at some point. Those are the things I think are important."
But the timing of the mailing is now more crucial than ever. For the upcoming election, more than 6,000 Tarpon voters have requested mail-in ballots, said Nancy Whitlock of the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Office.
The mailing of those ballots began Friday. They must be returned by 7 p.m. election night. More than 16,000 voters cast ballots in Tarpon's last election.
"We need to get that campaign literature to the people who are probably going to vote before January is over," King said.
Archie said the economic hard times have forced supporters to give smaller and smaller amounts. He's accepted $4 and $5 donations. In addition, the cost of everything has increased, from postage to yard signs.
"It forces you to take the cheapest route, and that's the walk-and-talk route," Archie said. "I'm used to getting out and talking to people and asking people for help, and this year I've had more people offer support than ever."
Reach Demorris A. Lee at email@example.com or (727) 445-4174.