TAMPA — Two public polls released a week before Election Day show former police chief Jane Castor firmly in control of the Tampa mayor’s race.
But one poll shows glimmers of hope for David Straz, the retired banker who has relentlessly attacked Castor's three-decade career with the Tampa Police Department.
The University of North Florida's Public Opinion Research Lab shows Castor over Straz by a 64 to 28 percentage point margin in a survey of 653 likely voters done between April 10 and 12. The poll has a margin of error of 3.7 percent.
The poll contains good news for Castor: 78 percent of likely voters think the city is headed in the right direction. Castor has the backing of most of the city’s political and business establishment.
It also has a nugget of encouragement for Straz, with a majority of those polled opposed to red light cameras, a program he has vowed to shutter.
Meanwhile, St. Pete Polls took the pulse of 552 likely voters on Monday, about 221 of whom had already cast a ballot. Overall, Castor has a 57-34 percentage point lead in that survey.
That poll showed Straz performing strongly among black voters (55-32 percent) and splitting the 18 to 29-year-old vote.
To catch Castor, Straz will likely need high turnout from those groups along with Latinos, who the St. Pete poll survey also showed splitting their vote between the two candidates.
The St. Pete poll didn't break down how many black, young and Latino voters were polled, but did statistically adjust the survey to capture those groups. Its margin of error was 4.2 percent.
Among the 41 percent who have already voted, 70 percent picked Castor. Among those who haven't, the race is tighter at 48 to 39 percent.
Castor nearly won the March 5 election outright with 48 percent of the vote, tripling the vote total of Straz, who made the runoff from a seven-candidate field with 15.5 percent of the vote.
Since then, Castor has mainly focused on a platform that can generally be described as moving the city forward along the path begun by outgoing Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who has endorsed her. She has said she'll focus on improving the city's transit options, slowing gentrification in the neighborhoods and upgrading the skills of the city's workforce
Straz, 76, hasn't spent as much time on his platform, which during the general election focused on spreading the city's wealth to neglected parts of minority neighborhoods in East and West Tampa.
Instead, he has gone on the attack, portraying Castor, 59, as part of a cabal of good-old-boys that ignore poor neighborhoods in favor of rewarding insiders.
He has also spent the last few weeks accusing Castor of manipulating crime stats while in a leadership position. Those charges faltered after a paid expert acknowledged he never examined the data. And a state report cited by Straz as proof that Castor was lying actually said the department's numbers were correct and hadn't been fudged. Three former officers have stepped forward to say crimes were downgraded during Castor's watch, but none have offered hard evidence.
The candidates have met for two televised debates this month. A third and final radio debate, co-sponsored by the Times, is scheduled for Friday on WTMP.
Straz has spent about $4.6 million on the campaign, most of it from his own pocket. Castor has raised $1.9 million, including at least $200,000 from Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and affiliated entities. The race is by far the most expensive of any city contest in Tampa Bay history.
As of Tuesday morning, 29,297 people, or 12.73 percent of registered voters, had cast early ballots. That’s a substantially higher rate than during the first phase of the race.