Turnout increased for runoff in precincts that Braddy won


Published: Wednesday, April 17, 2013 at 6:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, April 17, 2013 at 6:00 p.m.

For Gainesville Mayor-elect Ed Braddy, the runoff strategy was to build on existing support in the western suburbs and to make inroads with voters on the city's east side.

On Tuesday, Braddy, a former two-time city commissioner, unseated incumbent Craig Lowe by a comfortable 10 percent margin.

In a race where total turnout hovered around 16 percent, voters came out in the highest numbers and percentage in District 2, the area Braddy represented as a city commissioner from 2002 to 2008.

There, turnout was more than 26 percent, and Braddy received almost 65 percent of the nearly 5,700 votes cast.

He took his former district by about 1,650 votes, which was more than his margin of victory citywide.

As in March, Braddy also performed strongly in the western, primarily suburban District 3.

He received about 56.5 percent of the 3,675 votes cast. In that district, turnout of 17.6 percent was above the citywide average.

At several precincts that Braddy won handily, including the University City Church of Christ, Gainesville Baptist Church, The Atrium and Westminster Presbyterian Church, turnout was above 35 percent and increased from the March 19 regular election to Tuesday's runoff.

Braddy said the March election "reveals where your strengths are so the strategy becomes building on your strengths" and "not to get complacent where we won March 19 but double our efforts."

Lowe could not be reached for comment Wednesday. His campaign manager, Nick Mildebrath with WWD Strategies, said that, for the most part, the margin of votes was wider and the turnout was higher in the precincts Braddy carried.

"From the other side, it was clear to me that it was a well-organized and energized effort," Mildebrath said. "Certainly in local elections, an enthusiastic base can make a huge difference."

Mildebrath added that the Lowe camp felt it also had a strong get-out-the-vote campaign with phone calls, mailers and walking door to door.

Lowe carried his former Commission District 4 with more than 65 percent of the votes cast. But turnout was less than 10 percent there.

That district includes the heavily student-populated precincts at the Reitz Union and the Phillips Center on the University of Florida campus. At each of these precincts, the number of registered voters exceeds 5,500, but turnout for city elections traditionally hovers at 2 percent or less. Tuesday was no exception.

Lowe also carried District 1, which includes east Gainesville, with almost 57 percent of the votes cast. But turnout in that district was also low, at just more than 10 percent.

Back in March, that heavily Democratic district went to its former Commissioner Scherwin Henry, who received 56 percent of the vote.

With Henry not in the runoff, Lowe's performance in the district improved by about 33 percentage points — from about 24 percent of the vote to almost 57 percent. But Braddy also saw significant gains, going from a little less than 16 percent of the votes cast to more than 43 percent.

Braddy said that, while his initial campaign plan was to "carry my own district before I go out elsewhere," he reached out to community leaders in east Gainesville between the regular election and the runoff.

He said he also felt his campaign's messages of making Gainesville affordable to residents and businesses and improving basic infrastructure before embarking on expensive plans such as bus rapid transit resonated in the area.

Looking at the low turnout in the precincts that Lowe carried, local Republican political consultant Alex Patton, with Ozean Media, said that, between March 19 and Tuesday, some Lowe supporters "became disillusioned and lost enthusiasm for returning to the polls for him."

He said he also believed Lowe's March 21 arrest on charges of driving under the influence was a factor.

"In general, you have to remember that voting, at its most basic level, is emotional," Patton said. "Conservatives were fired up because they thought there was a chance to win, and Craig Lowe supporters were less than enthusiastic about returning to the polls for him."

Patton also said political opponents were able to chip away at Lowe over issues such as the biomass contract and the hiring of his former campaign manager as a mayoral aide outside a competitive process.

University of Florida political science professor Dan Smith said it was not surprising for turnout to be higher in the suburban, northwest area of the city or for voters there to back the conservative candidate.

The difference, Smith said, was the low turnout for Lowe.

"I think there was a lot of disillusionment with the incumbent among his supporters," Smith said. "The dropoff in the turnout where Craig Lowe should have done well was as important as the turnout in the areas where Ed Braddy did well. Craig Lowe needed to do well in east Gainesville, and he did. But people didn't turn out."

Smith said he also felt the DUI arrest played a factor in Tuesday's results.

"The life was taken out of the campaign," he said.

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