Different election dynamics for city runoff election

Published: Wednesday, February 1, 2012 at 7:40 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 1, 2012 at 7:40 p.m.

While 18.2 percent of Gainesville’s registered voters turned up at the polls on Tuesday, 947 of them didn’t bother to pick one of the eight candidates in the race for the City Commission At-large 1 seat.

That drove the turnout of those who actually voted down to 16.9 percent, lower than the average 18.4 percent turnout for city races since 2002.

But Tuesday’s wasn’t an average election.

Voter demographics were hard to gauge ahead of the election, local officials said, because the predominantly Democratic city’s At-large 1 and District 1 seats were sharing the ballot with the Republican presidential preference primary.

It’s equally difficult to say how the lack of a primary will change things in four weeks, when the At-large 1 race will be decided in a runoff on Feb. 28 between Lauren Poe, a former District 2 commissioner, and Nathan Skop, a former member of the Florida Public Service Commission.

On Tuesday, Poe finished on top with 36.2 percent of the vote but will go to a runoff with Skop, who got 24.2 percent, because he didn’t get more than 50 percent of the vote.

Meantime, the voters of District 1, covering east and north Gainesville, elected Yvonne Hinson-Rawls, who received 54.3 percent of the vote in a three-way race.

Hinson-Rawls and the winner of the At-large 1 runoff will be sworn in May 17, replacing the term-limited Commissioners Scherwin Henry and Jeanna Mastrodicasa, respectively.

Poe, who was elected in 2008 and lost his re-election bid in a runoff last year, said he wasn’t sure how the lack of a GOP primary will impact things in a month.

“The numbers will be interesting, but I don’t think it really changes our strategy or the specifics of campaign tactics,” he said.

While city races are nonpartisan, local parties offer support to candidates and party affiliations generally inform candidates’ bases.

The question remains whether Republican support will drop off — and how good it was on Tuesday to begin with.

Poe, a Democrat, will be running against Skop, a Republican, in a city in which 22.4 percent of voters are Republicans.

Stafford Jones, the chairman of the Alachua County Republican Executive Committee, said Skop’s support isn’t drawn along party lines.

“It’s not just a Republican thing,” Jones said. “Nathan’s support was not just Republicans. Nathan’s support was a broad spectrum of people in this community.”

Skop said he wasn’t concerned about not sharing the ballot with the GOP contest.

“This is a nonpartisan election, and there is nothing partisan about being fiscally responsible with taxpayer money,” he said, echoing one his campaign themes that City Hall is spending too much.

Jon Reiskind, the chairman of the Alachua County Democratic Executive Committee, said party doesn’t mean as much in local races, but it still counts for something.

A Skop supporter pointed out that if Skop was the only Republican in the race Tuesday and he picked up all the other Republican candidates’ votes, he would have won with 50.2 percent.

“If all of the resources were combined behind one specific candidate, it’s highly possibly that that candidate could have been pushed further along,” Jones said. “But that’s not what we had. We were blessed with a number of different Republicans running.”

Pegeen Hanrahan, a Democrat and former two-term mayor, said the Feb. 28 runoff will have a “different dynamic” than the one in which Poe was defeated in 2011, noting that District 2 is the most Republican-centric part of the city.

“A citywide race is dramatically different than a race in the most conservative district in town,” Hanrahan said.

While Poe still carried that district, the margin was smaller — 34.6 percent for Poe, 27.4 percent for Skop.

On Wednesday, Skop said he will be able to appeal to a wide range of voters.

Either way, the candidates get to start over in making their pitches.

Or at least with the leftover cash they had going into Tuesday’s election.

Skop raised the most money in the race, $20,490, and had $498.38 in hand.

Poe had raised $18,309.64 and had $860.65 in hand.

The campaign-finance limits have reset for the runoff, meaning someone who gave a candidate the maximum $250 before the election can gave up to $250 again.

Hanrahan said it won’t be a given that donors and supporters will be on board.

“It’s a new day. You can’t take anything for granted,” she said. “You shouldn’t assume people who were with you before are going to be with you again unless they’re your mom.”

Contact Chad Smith at 338-3104 or chad.smith@gvillesun.com.

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