TAMPA — The first public polling in months shows former Tampa police chief Jane Castor with a commanding lead in the race to replace term-limited Mayor Bob Buckhorn.
In a survey of 429 registered Tampa voters conducted by St. Pete Polls on Monday, Castor had the support of 45.3 percent. That is more than triple the percentage of voters who chose the second place candidate, retired banker and philanthropist David Straz Jr. He polled at 12.9 percent.
The poll was released moments before a mayoral forum Tuesday hosted by the Tampa Bay Business Journal. The results didn't come up during the forum, but afterward Castor said she was going to continue to push hard in the four weeks left before the March 5 election.
"It's very, very encouraging," Castor said. "I'll continue to work hard every single day and take nothing for granted."
The poll, with a margin of error of 4.7 percent and conducted by automated phone calls, showed 10.8 percent of voters remain undecided.
If the winner of the March 5 election doesn't capture more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two candidates proceed to an April 23 runoff.
"With this many qualified candidates competing in the race, it's something that defies probability, but it's clearly something that I'm working hard to achieve," said Castor, the city's police chief between 2009 and 2015.
According to the latest campaign filings, Straz has spent about ten times more than Castor — just under $1.4 million for Straz, compared to about $138,000 by Castor and an affiliated political committee.
Straz spokesman Jarrod Holbrook said their campaign has different polling results.
"Our polls are different. And we're not going to comment on any other polls," Holbrook said.
Rounding out the field in the poll are retired judge Dick Greco Jr. at 9.3 percent, City Council member Harry Cohen at 7.5 percent, former county commissioner Ed Turanchik at 6.7 percent, City Council member Mike Suarez at 6 percent and branding consultant Topher Morrison at 1.4 percent.
Castor dominated the poll no matter how you sliced the results. She captured 60 percent of the 18 to 29-year-old vote and 44.5 percent of the black vote despite other candidates' frequent criticism of her policy as chief of ticketing bicyclists for minor infractions in an effort to reduce crime. She has since apologized for the policy, which disproportionately affected black people.
Turanchik said he has internal polling results and an ongoing canvassing operation that show him with much more support than the one done by St. Pete Polls.
"It's junk," Turanchik said.
Greco Jr., who entered the race just before the qualifying period ended in mid-January, said he wasn't going to change his approach.
"I don't know they're always accurate or you can count on them," Greco said of polling data in general. "Always run like you're behind no matter where you sit and that's what we're going to do."
Contact Charlie Frago at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727)893-8459 . Follow@CharlieFrago .