In many races on today’s ballot, it’s sometimes as much about who or what is not on the ballot as who is.
President Donald Trump is not on the ballot, but for some races, loyalty to the President is a big factor for Republicans like Mike Miller, Scott Sturgill, Fred Costello, Michael Waltz and John Ward wanting to win.
The downtown establishment, whatever that is, is not on the ballot. But in contests such as those for Orange County Mayor and Orange County School Board chair, it is spoken of as often as the candidates Jerry Demings, Rob Panepinto, Pete Clarke, Teresa Jacobs, Nancy Robbinson, Matthew Fitzpatrick, and Robert Prater.
While Costello, Waltz, and Ward are battling for the primary chance in an open seat for Florida’s 6th Congressional District, and Miller and Sturgill for the chance to take on an incumbent in Florida’s 7th Congressional District, the marquee congressional race is in Florida’s 9th Congressional District, where two Democrats, incumbent U.S. Rep. Darren Soto and former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, are battling for the clear advantage in the November election over Republican Wayne Liebnitzky.
Most of Orange County contests voters are considering Tuesday are nonpartisan, but Democratic and Republican leaders and operatives know who’s who, and this could be the year that Democrats finally flip a county with a decidedly blue voter registration base into Democratic control.
And though there will be no party descriptions on the ballot for most local races, those party descriptions are driving much of the campaigns.
Yet with multiple candidates in most nonpartisan races, the issues will be more about whether anyone can win outright Tuesday or whether these elections turn into preliminaries with runoffs to follow on Nov. 6.
Orange County voters will be considering Demings, Panepinto, and Clarke in the nonpartisan mayoral election. Almost universally the assumption is that Demings, the Orange County Sheriff, is leading. The question for Tuesday is whether he will get the 50 percent-plus he needs to win the office, or whether he’ll miss, giving either Panepinto or Clarke another nine weeks and a shot to overcome him Nov 6.
The same is true for the countywide chair of the Orange County School Board, where outgoing Orange County Mayor Jacobs is riding eight years in the county’s top office and high name recognition in an effort to overcome Robbinson, who has solid backing from much of the downtown establishment. Fitzpatrick and Prater, like Panepinto and Clarke, are hoping for a second-place finish that might force a runoff.
The Orange County races already are breaking records for campaign spending.
Overall, the three mayoral candidates have spent $1.9 million, with Demings spending just over $1 million of that in his official campaign and another $260,000 through his independent committee, Orange County Citizens for Smart Growth. Panepinto spent $518,000 in his campaign and another $201,000 in his independent committee, Vision Orange County. In the mayor’s race, $360,000 was spent in the closing weeks.
In the Orange County School Board chair’s race, the four candidates spent another $264,000, with Robbinson spending $131,000 and Jacobs spending $115,000.
The fate of party control of the Orange County Commission is not likely to be decided Tuesday, as most of the races are expected to go to runoffs in November. But with the prospect of Demings winning the mayor’s seat, and the guarantee that Democrats will protect the one seat where they have an incumbent running this year, they need to win just one of the other three seats up for election this year to get a majority for the first time since 1998.
District 6 incumbent Commissioner Victoria Siplin, the only Democrat seeking re-election, is expected to have a relatively easy victory, but the other three seats are wide open without incumbents and likely to head to runoffs. Her opponent, Robin Harris, also is a Democrat.
In District 2, three Republicans and one Democrat are on the ballot. There is at best an unlikely prospect that any will win outright, so the question is whether the Democrat, Patricia Rumph will gain one of the top two spots or it will be left to two of the Republicans, former Orange County Commissioner and state Rep. Fred Brummer, Orange County School Board Member Christine Moore, or Mark Byrd.
In District 3, Democrats Mayra Uribe and Soil and Water Conservation Chairman Eric Rollings face four Republicans, Pete Crotty; former Belle Isle Commissioner Bobby Lance; former Orlando Police Officer Bill Moore; and Randy Whiting.
District 4 also is a wide-open brawl between Republicans Susan Makowski and Gina Perez-Calhoun, and Democrats Nicolette Springer, Kevin Ballinger, and Maribel Gomez Cordero.