Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Politics

Money will be key in St. Petersburg mayor's race

ST. PETERSBURG — Bill Foster raised three times more than Kathleen Ford in the 2009 mayor's race. He also captured the lion's share of endorsements.

But he didn't bulldoze his way to victory. He won by only 2,350 votes, or 6 percent.

Now that Foster is battling Rick Kriseman, how much money each candidate can get — and how it's spent — will be key.

"This is a different kind of race that St. Petersburg hasn't seen before," said Gregory Wilson, principal at the political consulting firm Parsons-Wilson.

Kriseman is a seasoned politician who has won several elections and collected more cash than Foster in the primary. Foster has the incumbent advantage but is facing criticism over how much he accomplished in his first four years. Fewer than 900 votes separated them in Tuesday's primary.

A Tampa Bay Times analysis of campaign contributions found that both men reached out to political heavyweights, business leaders, friends and family to raise money in recent months.

Foster holds the current advantage, with about $37,000 on hand compared to Kriseman's $10,000.

Through Aug. 22, Kriseman collected $155,684 versus Foster's $148,673.

In months leading up to Tuesday's primary, Kriseman outspent Foster, $44,000 to $37,000, to produce and air television commercials. Kriseman needed the exposure to overcome his absence from a citywide ballot in 10 years. After he left the council in 2006, he served in the Florida House for six years.

When it came to stuffing mailboxes with ads, Foster topped Kriseman, $32,000 to $15,000, records show. A Jacksonville group also helped Kriseman by sending mailers to homes.

Neither man would say how much they hope to raise between now and the Nov. 5 general election, but it's likely to be as much or more than they raised for the primary.

"We're going to raise the money to run a successful campaign," said Foster, 50.

Kriseman, 51, agreed: "You need to raise enough money to effectively communicate your message."

In 2009, Foster spent $133,000 between the primary and general race.

Political standing is also different this year.

Looking back to 2001 and 2009, Rick Baker and Foster marched to victory in general elections over Ford with fatter war chests and more support from business groups and former and current elected officials.

While the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce gave Foster a lukewarm endorsement this year, Kriseman has support from half the City Council and other officeholders.

Foster and Kriseman also have a smaller pool of voters to chase.

In 2001, Baker and Ford collected a combined 46 percent of the vote in the primary, allowing them to target 54 percent of voters in the general election. In 2009, Foster and Ford's combined total accounted for 53 percent of the primary vote, allowing them to target 47 percent of voters.

Last week, Kriseman and Foster captured a combined 80 percent of the primary vote.

Both said they will target voters throughout the city, not only the African-American neighborhoods where turnout was low.

Residents also should expect an onslaught of negative ads.

Despite the race's nonpartisan status, it's likely that it will come down to Foster the Republican versus Kriseman the Democrat.

Foster criticized Kriseman last week for receiving $30,000 in support from the state Democratic Party. The GOP gave Foster about $400 for research in the primary. It did not lend any support in his 2009 race.

State Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, called on the Florida GOP last week to enter the race. He didn't want Foster, his friend, standing alone.

It apparently worked.

"The Republican Party of Florida will continue to be helpful to the Foster campaign," said chairman Lenny Curry.

When asked about the GOP saddling up, Foster said: "I didn't know it was coming, but I am going to work to raise money from St. Petersburg voters who have a stake in this election."

Kriseman said he isn't worried: "If you don't have the right message, voters aren't going to support you."

Wilson, the political consultant, said that even though Foster and Kriseman plan to reach across the aisle for votes, he expects them largely to target Republican and Democratic bases.

One GOP endorsement could help either man.

Foster and Kriseman are quietly coveting Baker, a political St. Petersburg heavyweight who worked hard to elect Foster in 2009. Both men served on the council under Baker.

"I've had plenty of conversations with Mr. Baker," Foster said. "I would love to get (his support). I still consider him a very close friend."

Kriseman countered: "Mayor Baker and I have talked several times. I'd love to have his support. I'd be honored."

Baker did not return several calls.

Mark Puente can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8459. Follow on Twitter @ markpuente.

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