Tampa Bay voters rejected some of the worst negative campaign attacks and generally moved toward the center Tuesday in primary elections with typically light turnouts. There were few close races, and judicial candidates who raised the most money did not always win. Incumbent school board members in Pinellas and Hillsborough were re-elected or advanced, suggesting widespread frustration with standardized testing is not rubbing off on them.
In Pinellas County, Republicans stuck with mainstream candidates and signaled the tea party wave of 2010 has run its course. In the countywide District 2 race, state Rep. Ed Hooper easily defeated incumbent Pinellas Commissioner Norm Roche, who rode the tea party anger into office four years ago and has been a divisive figure. Roche is the third county commissioner to lose re-election after voting in 2011 to stop adding fluoride to the drinking water and the only incumbent who still believes that was the right decision.
Republican incumbent John Morroni won re-election in an open primary by easily defeating Tom Rask, who also came from the extreme wing of the local Republicans. Dunedin Mayor Dave Eggers emerged from a crowded field in the commission District 4 Republican primary, beating back a challenge from former state legislator Peter Nehr, who had big name recognition but a checkered personal background. Hooper and Eggers face credible Democrats in the general election, and with Roche gone the commission will continue on its path toward a more collaborative, centrist group.
In Hillsborough, voters turned aside the ugliest campaigns and for the most part rewarded those candidates with forward-looking messages. Incumbent County Judge Chris Nash weathered a mean-spirited challenge by Norman S. Cannella. The attacks were cheap, overly political and out of bounds in a judicial race. Nash showed his character by staying positive, and he inspired public confidence in the local judiciary in the process.
In the liberal, heavily black neighborhoods of central and east Tampa, voters rejected a similar hit job on state House candidate Ed Narain, who was painted by supporters of fellow Democrat Sean Shaw as a tool for Republican Gov. Rick Scott. Shaw mistook connections for clout and an advertising budget for an agenda. Narain won the four-way primary by showing he knows the priority needs to be on jobs, schools and public safety — not who knows whom in Tallahassee.
The strong support for more moderate voices in the District 6 race for a countywide School Board seat suggests incumbent April Griffin has work to do in convincing voters she is more about substance than theatrics. Though Griffin placed first in the eight-person primary, nearly three-fourths of the voters chose someone else. Democrats in the District 7 race for a countywide commission seat showed the same sense of seriousness in selecting Pat Kemp as the nominee in the November general election, casting aside her rival Mark Nash, who mailed a sloppy, bitter attack on Kemp in the closing days of the campaign.
In Pasco County, voters elected a new county commissioner in a race where name recognition counted more than government experience. Political neophyte Mike Wells, the son of Pasco's longtime property appraiser, easily ousted incumbent Henry Wilson for the District 4 seat in the open primary.
All in all, a good night for moderation and common sense.