Sarasota GOP Looks Past Straw Poll

Politics

BY JACOB OGLES SRQ DAILY FRESHLY SQUEEZED CONTENT EVERY MORNING TUESDAY JUL 31, 2018

A straw poll that some candidates had hoped would provide a boost in the middle of campaign season will likely never see the light of day. But party leaders now hope to move forward and explore ways to improve the security of the informal election two years from now.

The Republican Party of Sarasota on Saturday hosted its Primary Election Grassroots Straw Poll at Robarts Arena, which attracted every major Republican candidate for statewide office this year. In addition, candidates for local office down to the Charter Review Committee gave speeches to the 1,200 people gathered at the rally. Joe Gruters, chairman of the Republican Party of Sarasota, says the event serves as a chance for the party to energize the base and get individual volunteers engaged. “We want to put people to work in our four offices in the county," he says.

But irregularities involving supporters of candidates in the governor’s race ultimately tainted the straw poll itself. Witnesses told the campaign for Adam Putnam that supporters of his primary opponent Ron DeSantis had gotten ballots out of turn and turned them in. Elizabeth Cuevas-Neunder, a supporter of DeSantis and member of the Republican Executive Committee said she got votes and handed them to people who she was sitting with, but said she did not vote more than once.

“This was a very poorly organized event,” says Cuevas-Neunder, who says she does not want her name besmirched by the incident. She is still demanding that the party release the results of the straw poll.

In addition to the ballot accusation, party leaders say a number of non-Republicans likely voted. A speech by Gov. Rick Scott, who is running for U.S. Senate this year, was disrupted by protesters at the event, and party officials say many ballots appear to have been filled out by those individuals.

Ballots this year were distributed when people got in line for free slices of pie. 

While the straw poll is informal and has no bearing on the actual Aug. 28 primary, it can be read as indicator of grassroots support for candidates, and campaigns often publicize when they win. But that won’t happen this year. “Decision made, let's move forward,” says Christian Ziegler, a county commission candidate and state committeeman for the party. “Just a fun straw poll that some take too seriously when we have much more important things to be doing.”

Gruters says he still considered the event a success, as candidates mingled with voters in a personal setting. “There is nothing like a live, in-person event to press the flesh and meet voters in person,” he says.

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