Candidates running without party affiliation face hurdles

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For some, it’s strategic. For others, it’s about principle.

Either way, about a dozen Southwest Florida candidates are running without party affiliation this election season. Several others are running as write-ins, meaning they are official candidates, but their names won’t appear on any ballots.

But running without party affiliation or as a write-in has one major drawback — history shows it’s an almost guaranteed road to defeat.

Lee County Supervisor of Elections Sharon Harrington said no write-in, minor party or no-party candidate has won a local race during her 25 years in office. Same thing in Collier County during Jennifer Edwards’ 12-year run as elections supervisor.

“It’s rare that they win,” said Peter Bergerson, a political science professor at Florida Gulf Coast University, “but you tend to see more of them now that there’s a greater increase in the general public of people who identify themselves as non-partisan in Florida.”

Party-less candidates in Collier this year include Vinny Angiolillo, who is running again for sheriff, and Russell Kish, who is running for county commission.

Lee County candidates running without party affiliation include sheriff hopeful Lee Bushong, and John W. Sawyer III and Charlie Whitehead, who are running for commission seats.

Pam Brown, chair of the Immokalee Fire Control District, is running without party affiliation for state House in District 80. Eddie Gonzalez of Miami made headlines by changing his legal name to to run without party affiliation for U.S. House in Florida’s District 25.

“It’s very unusual to see this many people running as NPA or minority party. Every once in a while you have one or two,” Harrington said. “I think it displays a level of self-confidence from the candidate, ‘Why wouldn’t I be just as worthy as a candidate with a political party?’”

There are about 100,000 voters in Lee County who are registered as something other than a Republican or Democrat — the highest in recent history, Harrington said. There are about 43,000 registered “others” in Collier.

“A lot of new people registering are not designating a party,” Harrington said. “They’re upset with both of them, they don’t want to hear it anymore.”

Whitehead, a former Daily News reporter who is facing Fort Myers Beach Mayor Larry Kiker for the Lee County District 3 commission seat, said he originally entered the race as a Republican to face incumbent commissioner Ray Judah. But when Kiker threw his hat in the ring as a Republican as well, Whitehead said he switched to NPA so he wouldn’t have to face both in the August primary.

“That made two challengers and an incumbent and I know as a newspaper reporter who covered politics for 25 years, two challengers and an incumbent means the incumbent wins,” Whitehead said. “I’m more comfortable as an NPA, anyway.”

Whitehead believes his passion for the job, knowledge and overall personality will be enough to sway people from voting along party lines in Republican-heavy Lee County. Whitehead said he intends to by the “king of the NPAs.”

“Running without party means you don’t have obligations to soft money,” he said. “My supporters are of all stripes and all kinds. They support me because they think I’m the best guy for the job. But those voters … who simply run down the ballot, they’re going to vote for (my opponent). So in that sense it’s going to hurt me.”

Some candidates who run without a party don’t actually expect to win, said Susan MacManus, a political science professor at the University of South Florida.

“It’s about making a statement that the other two parties aren’t getting the job done,” she said. “It’s a statement in opposition to politics as usual.”

Sawyer, who faces Republican Cecil Pendergrass in the Lee County District 2 race, said he is ticked off with much of the way government is running now. He expressed frustration with Lee County’s budget and reserves spending, medical care and what he sees as a “party-first” mentality in Lee County.

“I don’t think party should matter in local races,” Sawyer said. “I’d like to see party politics play a lesser role.”

Sawyer said he won’t be heartbroken if he loses to Pendergrass.

“The sun doesn’t rise and set on whether or not I win this election,” Sawyer said. “I have to stand on principal. It has been fun running.”

Via Sabina Bhasin, Naples Daily News

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including,,, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.