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Shelli Eddie’s historic Sarasota commission victory due in part to Keen strategists

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Commissioner-elect Shelli Freeland Eddie’s historic city commission victory over Stan Zimmerman in Sarasota’s District 3 came after months of comprehensive voter targeting and messaging, according to an analysis released by Keen Campaigning exclusive to FloridaPolitics.com.

With campaign strategy guidance from Keen consultants Andre Torkelson and Chris Hawes, Eddie aggressively courted a targeted coalition of racially and politically diverse supporters, engaging both the “super voters” of field lore as well as those who traditionally sit out municipal elections.

The result was a resounding 54-46 win over the incumbent Zimmerman in a election which saw a 164 percent increase over 2011 minority voting levels and the highest Hispanic turnout the district has put up 20 years.

Keen boasts that using their voter targeting, attorney and business owner Eddie became the first African-American elected to the City Commission outside of the city’s Newton community, where the majority of Sarasota’s black voters reside. Only 11 percent of registered voters in Eddie’s District 3 are minorities.

According to the release, during the final stretch of the campaign they helped the candidate pursue a strategy that transcended door-to-door canvassing and phone banking measures, boosting her share of the vote from 35 percent in March to 54 percent by election day last Tuesday.

When Eddie teamed up with Keen in April–after gaining a plurality a contested three-way election led by campaign manger Zach Morrison against Zimmerman and Democratic candidate Matt Wooddall, a former Keen client–“Eddie’s runoff campaign grew beyond canvassing and phonebanking to include increased radio interviews, radio advertising, newspaper advertising, and expanded canvassing material designed to guide new or unfamiliar voters,” the release reads.

“Those steps, as well as an effort to avoid partisan communication whenever possible, were critical during an election season when another local race had Democrats and Republicans feuding over partisan involvement.”

Rising above partisan politics evidently was a factor in her 894-774 vote win over Zimmerman–who took over the District 3 seat via an appointment following former Commissioner Shannon Snyder to run for a county seat–as Eddie’s total surpassed the 801-vote total among registered Democrats.

Beyond cobbling together ideologically diverse media allies, Eddie was able to bring out the minority vote with customized messaging to Hispanic voters in Spanish and significant outreach to African-American voters in  Sarasota’s 40-year-old African-American newspaper, Tempo News. African-American voters in District 3 turned out at a 212 percent increase over 2011 levels.

“Many say that low voter turnout amongst minority voters in municipal elections is due to voter apathy. I disagree!” Eddie wrote in a guest column in Tempo.

“I believe (minority voters) haven’t been given the opportunity to support a candidate that has your interests at heart. I also believe that political campaigns historically overlook minority voters during local municipal elections, versus working to embrace and increase their participation in the electoral process. That must change.”

Ryan Ray writes about campaigns and public policy in Tampa Bay and across the state. A contributor to FloridaPolitics.com and before that, The Florida Squeeze, he covers the Legislature as a member of the Florida Capitol Press Corps and has worked as a staffer on several campaigns. He can be reached at ryan@floridapolitics.com.

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