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Key races could pump up projected turnout figures

in Statewide/Top Headlines by

Primaries do not normally gain a great deal of attention or interest among the average voter. Those voting in primaries are often the liberal or conservative ideologues, or those focusing on specific issues.

Florida has a number of interesting primaries contested Tuesday. There is no better guide to today’s elections than the one put out by Peter Schorsch and the team at FloridaPolitics.com. If you missed it, you can find it here.

Turnout can sometimes be abysmally low. The last time Florida had a primary in a presidential election year was in 2012, when only 21 percent of eligible Floridians bothered to cast ballots.

In fact, the state has not had a turnout higher than 30 percent since 1992, when 35 percent of voters showed up to vote. That might change Tuesday because more than 1.7 million Floridians had voted before the polls opened up today.

If Florida’s capital county of Leon is any indication, we might see the highest turnout in recent memory. Leon County Supervisor of Elections Ion Sancho predicts more than 100,000, or 55 percent, of Leon County’s 194,723 eligible voters will cast ballots by 7 p.m.

This is a staggering number, fueled by early voting and voting by mail. While a tiny fraction of counties can approach this percentage, if his prediction is even close to accurate, the state could rightfully expect a turnout at least in the 30s. The county’s turnout was only 31 percent in 2012.

What is driving such a surge? Sancho believes it is competitive races and one other significant factor.

“We are, in my opinion, the most educated voters in the state of Florida,” he told the Tallahassee Democrat. “We understand the importance of voting, so I am not surprised we have seen the numbers we have seen.”

Mensa credentials aside, Leon County has two closely watched races to help drive turnout. On the Democratic side, the redrawn Congressional District 5 seat has embattled incumbent Corrine Brown of Jacksonville fighting multiple opponents. While still containing Jacksonville, the new district has half of Tallahassee.

Her biggest foe isn’t even on the ballot. That obstacle is the federal government, who indicted her on fraud charges in July. Her other problem is today’s opponent, former state senator Al Lawson of Tallahassee.

Another competitive race for Congress is driving Leon County and north Florida Republicans to the polls. A nasty primary race between Dr. Neal Dunn, Attorney Mary Thomas and former U.S. Attorney Ken Sukhia has roiled the airwaves.

Dunn and his outside groups butted heads with Thomas and her outside groups about who is deeper into the sinister clutches of Charlie Crist. For his part, Sukhia has portrayed himself as the best choice behind door number three.

Competitive local races can also drive turnout. Leon County also has one of the best of those, a nasty race for superintendent of schools.

Is there a huge upset in the works in Florida on Tuesday night? Probably not, but there will be plenty of data to analyze beginning Wednesday.

Although this is a different kind of election year, we can expect analysis on what it all means for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton come November. We are more interested in what it means for the anticipated fall matchup between Marco Rubio and Patrick Murphy and tonight’s other expected winners.

Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at Bob@ramos-sparks.com.

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