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St. Petersburg mayoral candidates scramble for votes before Tuesday's primary

ST. PETERSBURG — With the window closing on Tuesday's primary election, mayoral candidates made a final push Saturday to turn undecided voters into supporters.

It worked for some.

Mayor Bill Foster and challenger Rick Kriseman knocked on dozens of doors in predominantly African-American areas south of Central Avenue.

Both men were armed with data listing residents who have not voted by mail.

"We've got a wave of momentum in spite of some difficult challenges," Foster said while walking on 26th Avenue S. "We're out of the funk that held us back. My mission is to keep it going. I have a vision to move this city forward."

Moments later, Otis Crawford III, 51, embraced Foster like a long, lost brother. The 51-year-old landscaper said Foster has served residents well.

"He's real. He talks real," said Crawford, who plans to vote for Foster. "He doesn't come across as a rich politician."

Tuesday, voters will whittle down the field of five to a final pair of candidates for the Nov. 5 general election. The race pits Foster against Kriseman and Kathleen Ford.

The other candidates, Paul Congemi and Anthony Cates, are not impacting the race.

The canvassing also paid off for Kriseman.

He found votes and places to park campaign signs in the Childs Park area.

"I heard your message, and I like it," Lonnie Jones, 76, told Kriseman.

The former City Council member and state lawmaker asked Jones about a yard sign touting Ford.

"Somebody drove around asking if they could put it there," Jones said. "That doesn't mean I'm going to vote for her."

Kriseman, 51, walked away smiling when Jones agreed to put a Kriseman sign in the yard. Another resident allowed Kriseman to replace a Ford sign with one of his own.

"I'm not going to forget about people in these neighborhoods," Kriseman said while walking on 11th Avenue S. "I'm not going to forget about bringing jobs to the city. I'm going to show leadership. I want to be held accountable."

Ford, 56, did not respond to several requests to tell the Tampa Bay Times her campaign activities for Saturday.

But one of her biggest supporters, Ray Tampa, the former head of the local chapter of the NAACP, said Ford was engaging voters.

"Kathleen will provide an honest, ethical and credible government for St. Petersburg," he said. "Kathleen believes in transparency, accountability, and she will make sure the people will have a say in government."

Kriseman and Foster had different tactics Saturday.

Foster, 50, wore a Tampa Bay Bucs hat and a campaign T-shirt from his 2009 race, saying: "Foster in a new era."

He unleashed 40 volunteers across voting precincts in Lakewood Estates and the Lake Maggiore areas, armed with Foster signs and wearing white re-elect Foster for mayor T-shirts.

Kriseman, wearing a teal and white dress shirt, marched with his young son and campaign manager. He had 30 volunteers calling undecided voters.

The campaigns aren't going away.

Messages will still flood Twitter and Facebook as door knocking and phone calls dwindle. Social media became places for candidates to seek donations and a venue for supporters to toss barbs back and forth.

Ford, who used social media the least, often went days without posting information — until Friday. She told supporters to "check back each day for reasons why you should vote" for Ford.

As of Friday, voters had returned 27,409 — or 43 percent — of the 63,245 absentee ballots sent by the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Office.

In the 2009 primary election, residents returned 20,103 — or 33.8 percent — of the 62,155 absentee ballots. Overall, 36,733 residents voted, 23 percent of the city's electorate.

Contact Mark Puente at mpuente@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8459. Follow him on Twitter, @markpuente.

St. Petersburg mayoral candidates scramble for votes before Tuesday's primary 08/24/13 [Last modified: Saturday, August 24, 2013 10:01pm]
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