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District 7 candidates must broaden reach for citywide vote

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

After the St. Pete Primary Election that moved candidates Lisa Wheeler-Brown and Will Newton on to the Nov. 3 primary, we took a look at Election Day data in District 7 to see what strategies the two candidates may find useful.

The general election, however, will be citywide. That means there’s a whole swath of voters to attract in districts where the demographic is entirely different than the mostly impoverished district the candidates would represent if elected.

Looking at numbers from the 2013 municipal election, there were more than 53,000 voters citywide who hit the polls. There are about 19,000 voters in just District 7 and only a little more than 2,000 of them voted in the primary. That’s a large gap.

It’s worth noting, that 2013 figure was when a mayor was on the ballot and fewer people voted for City Council candidates than did for mayor. However, the race between Wheeler-Brown and Newton is expected to be high profile at the citywide level because of the candidates’ differences in opinion on whether the Rays should be allowed to search in other cities for stadium locations.

To add more nuance to just how many people might vote this November, there were about 20,000 voters on average who cast ballots in 2011 when there were eight charter amendments, two referendum questions and four fairly noncompetitive City Council races. The closest race was between current City Council chair Charlie Gerdes and the late Bob Kersteen. Gerdes collected about 11 percent more of the vote.

All that considered, it’s reasonable to expect turnout to be somewhere between the 2011 numbers and those of just two years ago. That’s still a lot of votes for candidates to go after.

The messages in various communities will likely need to be tailored. During the primary campaign, candidates struck an often similar tone on needs for poor neighborhoods like the Southside CRA, better education to improve on the “Failure Factories” and more opportunities for livable wages and affordable housing.

Voters outside the city will likely be focusing on other city issues the candidates would have a vote on. That not only includes the contentious Rays issue, but dealings on things like moving forward with a new Pier and potentially revisiting changes to the city’s historic preservation ordinance.

There’s also the downtown CRA and its connection to the downtown waterfront master plan. Districts 6 and 4 may be the most engaged in those projects and neither has a candidate on this ballot.

Voters in District 4 and some in District 8 may be particularly interested in hearing what plans the candidates will have for improving curbside recycling in neighborhoods where trash is collected from alleyways, but recycling is not. That has been a huge arguing point for the powerful Historic Old Northeast Neighborhood Association and the politically active Historic Kenwood neighborhood. The downtown association has even chimed in with pleas for more flexibility.

The point is, campaigning in District 7 allowed candidates to remain fairly close to one another on issues because the problems facing those communities were mostly straightforward.

When tackling a citywide vote, candidates will need to carefully research neighborhoods and issues facing a more diverse city than just an isolated and poor district.

Campaign mailers should be more specifically targeted. Candidate forums should be meticulous.

There’s also an expanded opportunity to reach more campaign donors who could fund more specified campaigning.

Both campaigns seem to be laying low this week considering it is a mere two days after the primary, but expect things to start heating up again next week. The boiler rooms will be staffed with volunteers and canvassing plans will be hashed.

District 7 citywide will be either candidate’s seat for the taking.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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