Wednesday, July 18, 2018
Opinion

Daniel Ruth: Florida Senate 19 results show every vote counts

It is one of the oldest, most shopworn axioms in political life: Every vote counts. You may now yawn.

If you have any doubts about the power of a single vote, just ask President Al Gore. Or perhaps not.

But as we learned from Florida's primary election, every vote certainly did count, especially those 73 ballots that were cast giving Rep. Darryl Rouson a skin-of-his teeth victory over Rep. Ed Narain to win the Democratic primary for the Florida Senate District 19 seat.

This contest always promised to be a nail-biter. District 19 has to be one of the odder drawn (read: stupid) districts, generally covering St. Petersburg south of 22nd Avenue N before skipping across Tampa Bay into Hillsborough County and Tampa. And the field was crowded with Narain and former Rep. Betty Reed on the Hillsborough side of the district squaring off against Rouson and a deep-pocketed newcomer, lawyer Augie Ribeiro, on the St. Petersburg side of Tampa Bay.

Hold whatever opinion of Rouson you like. But this much is certain. The 61-year-old lawyer is a fairly savvy political operative, which is just a fancy political science way of saying he really knows how to count.

In a four-way field, this was an election predicated as much on the quartet of candidates cancelling out each other's advantage as it was a grand contest of political ideals.

And that is where Rouson started to count.

The Tampa Bay Times' Caitlin Johnston reported that on election day, while Narain, Reed and Ribeiro busied themselves touring precincts across District 19 pressing the flesh, Rouson was nowhere to be found. Instead, the normally dapper, well-turned-out candidate was hunkered down in his campaign headquarters, attired in a T-shirt working the phones.

Call after call, Rouson dialed up registered voters from normally low-turnout precincts, personally asking people to please take the time to cast a ballot. It is estimated the Rouson campaign contacted several hundred voters on primary election day alone. Did it make a difference? Well, Rouson finished the night 73 votes ahead of Narain. Or put another way, it certainly didn't hurt.

Other factors may have contributed to Rouson's narrow win. The weather was lousy earlier in Hillsborough, not so much in Pinellas. There's also this intangible: As a younger man, Darryl Rouson worked with Father George Clement, one of Chicago's more well-known community activists. And if Chicago politics is adept at anything, it is the art of counting.

There's no question delivering inspiring speeches, airing fancy commercials, and passing out a multitude of yard signs and bumper stickers are all certainly very important in any campaign.

But then there is the very unsexy, nitty-gritty, nuts and bolts element to any political race that is equally vital, and that is the tactile personal connection between a candidate and a constituent. Oh, and there is this, too — an election isn't over until the polls close. Rouson understood that, too.

It is human nature for people to respond positively when someone asks for their help — or their vote.

Rouson worked the phones for hours, cold-calling people to ask for their help.

The result was a 0.2 percent landslide for Rouson.

We see this all time — elections decided by razor-thin margins. And it is a cautionary tale leading into the November elections. You may not be in love with one candidate or another. But you'd better vote. For we are reminded of yet another age-old cliche: Elections have consequences. Your one modest, humble, seemingly unimportant vote isn't so meager, after all.

And if you have any doubts about that, just ask one happy primary winner who faces only token opposition in the November general election. How happy? Let us count the ways. All 73 of them.

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