With machine and manual recounts now finished in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, Darryl Rouson is the winner in the Democratic primary for Senate District 19.
He defeated Ed Narain by a mere 66 votes (that’s what the Rouson campaign told us. The Florida Division of Elections website shows the difference to be 77 votes. The Tampa Bay Times reports that Rouson received 73 more votes than Narain).
Rouson has been all but officially declared the victor. He now faces a general election foe in Republican John Houman, but is expected to cruise to victory in the overwhelmingly Democratic-oriented seat.
Results will not be certified until Thursday, Sept. 8, but the vote tally will not change.
Early polling in Senate District 19, encompassing parts of both Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, showed that while nearly three-quarters of the district rests in Hillsborough, the remaining one-quarter of voters in Pinellas would be more likely to go to the polls.
That’s just what happened Tuesday, which (for now) has given St. Petersburg-based Rouson an extremely narrow lead over Tampa’s Narain. A recount is scheduled Friday.
As of Thursday night, the two candidates remain just 75 votes apart, with more than 37,000 ballots cast between the two counties.
Although only 26.4 percent of the district is in Pinellas, 42 percent of the total vote count came from there, says Barry Edwards, Rouson’s campaign manager.
“We had the best field operation in the state of Florida in any Senate race,” Edwards said bluntly. “And that’s why he won.”
Four candidates were in the contest, two based in Hillsborough (Narain and former state Representative Betty Reed), and two in Pinellas (Rouson and civil justice attorney Augie Ribeiro).
Although Narain went after Ribeiro in some of his advertising materials, the fact is that Ribeiro’s late entry into the race split up some of that Pinellas vote that was apparently destined for Rouson.
Of the 15,809 people who voted in the SD 19 race in Pinellas, 12,683 went to either Rouson or Ribeiro, with Rouson getting twice as many votes in Pinellas than Ribeiro did.
Conventional wisdom was that Narain and Reed would share a bulk of the Hillsborough vote, and that’s exactly what happened in the early vote and Tuesday night. Narain and Reed combined for more than 52 percent of the Hillsborough vote, while Rouson and Ribeiro took 28 percent.
Ribeiro actually received nearly 1,000 more votes in Hillsborough than Rouson.
Redistricting expert Matthew Isbell explains: “Narain was hurt by Reed’s entry into the race.”
Although the comment was accurate, Reed supporters would take issue, since Reed had, in fact, declared an interest in the seat months before Narain entered the race.
The Reed camp (as well as others in the district) were angered when Narain entered the race back in March, considering that Reed’s endorsement of Narain might have been the key factor in his winning his House District 61 seat over Sean Shaw back in 2014.
As FloridaPolitics.com reported earlier this year, a meeting was held December with the idea of Reed and Narain “trading seats,” with Narain entering the Senate 19 race and Reed returning to a run for HD 61, a seat she held from 2004-2012. Reed rejected the proposal.
What also shouldn’t be overlooked is the power that still resides with the region’s only major newspaper, the Tampa Bay Times, who endorsed Rouson.
And while Narain had the backing from some major Hillsborough County names — Kathy Castor and Bob Buckhorn — Rouson won the support of the entire St. Petersburg City Council (including Republican Ed Montanari), Gulfport officials like Mayor Sam Henderson and Councilwoman Yolanda Roman, and all of the Democrats on the Pinellas County Commission.
Another early poll showing Rouson leading, and Narain in third, received massive criticism after it’s release, but Edwards says it was prescient.
When published, St. Pete Polls pollster Matt Florell said about the survey: “The geographical split is interesting in Senate District 19, with 25 percent of the population residing in Pinellas County and 75 percent in Hillsborough County. But when it comes to the active Democratic primary voting population, Pinellas County jumps to a 41 percent share. Our poll had 43 percent of the respondents from Pinellas County, so it is a fairly accurate representation of who will vote in this primary race.”
Rouson himself said Thursday that it was too soon to analyze how he (apparently) won the contest, but did share that “we are focused.”
“We had a strategy,” he stated. “We did out best not to let other campaign’s take us off our game. The people came out all over the district. Hillsborough to Pinellas, From Riverview to East Tampa, from Midtown to downtown, and they expressed themselves.”