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Guido Maniscalco & Jackie Toledo fight for momentum in Tampa City Council race

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Guido Maniscalco was on the campaign trail Sunday morning — just not that early.

The change in Daylight Saving Time meant that the 30-year-old Democrat made sure he didn’t alienate potential voters by knocking on doors before noon. He was out and about, though, with more volunteers than ever to help him. He’s been given a second life but has a little more than two weeks to close his 17-percentage point gap behind Jackie Toledo. His 38-year-old opponent came in first in the Tampa City Council District 6 primary election last Tuesday.

“We’re working all the neighborhoods,” he said on Sunday, just before he was scheduled to campaign in both Seminole Heights and West Tampa, two of the main jurisdictions inside the district. “It’s been a good reception. People can say ‘yes’ all day long, but … you still have to remind them we have another election.”

Toledo agrees.

“What I have heard from people is that they thought the election was over, ” she said Sunday morning while enjoying breakfast with her family. She wasn’t sure what neighborhoods she was about to walk with a group of volunteers, but she knew she was about to spend a few hours doing so. “It’s going to be a very low turnout unfortunately, so we just have to make sure that people know there’s another election coming up,” Toledo says, adding that she’s heard that some voters thought she had already won the election.

“People think okay, ‘we’re done, we can move on’. And that’s not the case.”

University of Tampa political science professor Scott Paine says at the moment, the race is still Toledo’s to lose.

“This is all going to come down to getting your voters to the polls, and that core group of people who vote every municipal election no matter what, and whether those people are up for grabs for not,” says Paine, a former councilman in the 1990’s. He says if one is to assume the turnout will be as low as it was in the primary election (where it was at 12.7 percent, the lowest in Tampa elections in over 40 years), then Maniscalco has to get nearly all those swing voters who supported the third candidate in the primary, Tommy Castellano. He thinks it’s tough but possible, especially if the Maniscalco team has a good voter ID operation and is able to turn those voters out on March 24.

The Maniscalco campaign feels that is possible, emboldened by the endorsement they received from Castellano last week. The 64-year-old air conditioning contractor has made his disdain for Toledo quite explicit over the past two weeks. In a letter he sent to the press five days before the election, Castellano ripped into Toledo, releasing a statement that accused her of running an “embarrassment” of a campaign. In particular Castellano says her responses to some of the controversies that have arisen in her campaign severely lacking.

Democratic political consultant Vic DiMaio says that although Maniscalco and Castellano ran different races, they share a common bond – in part because their families have deep roots in the West Tampa community. “We’re talking about families who have been here for 100 years practically,” he says.

Although Toledo took the majority of the votes over her two male opponents pretty decisively in the primary, DiMaio, who is volunteering his services to the Maniscalco campaign, said he believes that mailers that touted Toledo’s Republican Party roots might backfire against her in the runoff. “The facts are that the Democrats outnumber the Republicans in the district two-to-one. So it doesn’t help to be a Republican. It might help in those three precincts south of Kennedy, but it sure as hell isn’t going to help you in West Tampa or Seminole Heights.”

Maniscalco has touted the 2011 mayoral runoff between Bob Buckhorn and Rose Ferlita as a template on how he can beat Toledo. Although Ferlita was the clear victor in the general election that year, Buckhorn ended up getting all of the major endorsements in the three week interregnum between the two elections and ultimately beat Ferlita decisively in the runoff. Other Democrats refer to what happened in the Hillsborough County District 2 race last year. That’s where Michelle Shimberg, like Toledo the clear leader in fundraising and the establishment choice, garnered the most votes against Sally Harris and Michael Weston in the August primary, but not enough to get to the magical 50 percent plus one voters needed to automatically win the seat. In the primary, strongly helped by Weston’s active support, Harris pulled off one of the biggest political upsets in recent history in the Tampa Bay region when she defeated Shimberg.

But UT professor Scott Paine isn’t convinced that Castellano’s support automatically gives Maniscalco an edge. What could, he says, is if there are any wholesale defections in her support.

“if you saw a lot of people bailing on her because of some of this negative stuff, yeah, that certainly could then turn the tide,” he says.

That hasn’t happened at all so far. And while all of the Tampa Democratic establishment is firmly behind Maniscalco, Tampa Republicans have rallied around Toledo. And perhaps an extra element in Toledo’s favor is the potential impact of two major unions who have endorsed her candidacy, the  West Central Florida Federation of Labor and the Tampa Firefighters, Local 754. On election day an official with the Firefighters union could be seen distributing literature and pumping up Toledo’s candidacy at one precinct in Seminole Heights.

Toledo is hoping the issues that have put her campaign on the defensive are behind her now. “We’re very excited,” she says. “It’s going to stay positive, I have a lot of things to offer the city. I just hope that the voters see that.”

There are 15 days left before the runoff. Time that both campaigns will need to actively energize the voters who came out for them the first time around, and, especially for Maniscalco, to cross over or decide to vote for him for the first time. “That’s the game,” he says. “Motivating people to vote.”

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Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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