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New poll: Four candidates ahead of the pack headed into the Sept. 1 primary

ST. PETERSBURG — The mayor's election is a four-way horse race, with more than a third of voters saying they are still undecided, a new St. Petersburg Times/Bay News 9 poll shows.

Just days before the Sept. 1 primary, Bill Foster, Kathleen Ford, Deveron Gibbons and Scott Wagman have separated themselves from the 10-candidate pack, according to a poll of 600 St. Petersburg registered voters.

Foster led with 17 percent, followed by Ford and Gibbons with 13 percent each. Wagman was in fourth place at 10 percent.

The next closest candidates — Jamie Bennett and Larry Williams — each had 3 percent.

The poll, which surveyed residents who said they definitely planned to vote in Tuesday's primary, was conducted Aug. 20-24 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

That puts the top four candidates in a statistical dead heat.

The results only slightly differed from a June St. Petersburg Times/Bay News 9 poll, which bunched Ford, Foster and Gibbons, trailed by Wagman and the other candidates.

Foster saw the biggest jump with a gain of 9 percentage points, while Ford saw the smallest, gaining 3 percentage points.

"I still have a full plate of events and the poll doesn't change anything the Foster campaign is going to do this weekend," said Foster, a 46-year-old lawyer and former City Council member.

Perhaps most surprising is that 36 percent of voters who say they definitely will vote remain undecided. Candidates said they would work to reach those voters in the election's final days.

"I haven't narrowed it down completely yet," said Tim Thomas, 45, an undecided voter and general manager of Cypress Multigraphics. "I'm hopeful that whoever wins will continue the good job that's been done by the current administration."

Regina Thornton, 54, of Shore Acres said her problem is she likes several candidates.

"I know Foster is a great guy and he'd do a great job," she said. "But I really liked Wagman. And then I like Deveron. I know he's supported by Charlie Crist, which is important to me."

Foster leads among women and voters 55 and older, the poll found. He and Ford, a 52-year-old lawyer, are tied among voters who said they planned to vote early or who said they already voted.

Ford, who narrowly led in the June poll, deflected questions about Wednesday's results and instead went after Foster over questions surrounding a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays.

Foster has said he favors a new stadium at the Tropicana Field site sometime after 2015. But only if voters agree by referendum.

"Mr. Foster wants to renegotiate the agreement for a new baseball stadium, which the taxpayers really do not want and cannot afford," Ford said. "We have to make sure we clarify our message to make sure the folks understand that I know we cannot afford a new stadium."

Gibbons, 36, an executive with Amscot Financial, leads among voters under 55 and African-A­merican voters. The only African-American candidate in the race, Gibbons has support from 42 percent of African-American voters; Williams, a 64-year-old business owner, polled second among African-Americans with 5 percent. "I'm running as hard as I can," said Gibbons, a first-time candidate and former aide to Mayor David Fischer.

Meanwhile, Wagman, who has pumped $140,000 of his own money into the campaign and has raised $100,000 more climbed from the second tier of candidates to the first.

"Given the margin of error (in the poll) it's extremely close," said Wagman, 56, a former owner of a paint manufacturing company. "

Retired lawyer Ed Helm, 64, student Richard Eldridge, 47, and restaurateur John Warren, 60, each received 1 percent. Paul Congemi, a 52-year-old advocate for the homeless, had no support.

The survey, administered by Communications Center Inc. of Lakeland, tried to mirror the demographic makeup of St. Petersburg's 157,826 registered voters.

Almost 15,000 people already have cast ballots early by mail, according to the Pinellas Supervisor of Elections Office. In the last mayoral primary in 2001, a total of 37,129 people voted.

Polls are open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday. Voters may call (727) 464-6788 or visit www.votepinellas.com and click on "Current Elections" to confirm polling places .

New poll: Four candidates ahead of the pack headed into the Sept. 1 primary 08/26/09 [Last modified: Monday, August 31, 2009 1:48pm]

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