District 72 Remains Region's Hottest House Race

Politics

BY JACOB OGLES SRQ DAILY SATURDAY PERSPECTIVES EDITION SATURDAY SEP 22, 2018

An unexpected contest and surprising upset this year turned state House District 72 into the center of the political world in February. This November, voters weigh in again, and while the race this time will be one of many in the region, it remains one of the marquis battles in the region.

Democratic state Rep. Margaret Good faces former Republican state Rep. Ray Pilon in the Sarasota showdown. Will a still blue political climate carry Good into her first full term? Voters decide on Nov. 6, but a Where The Votes Are analysis found data points either side can read as good news.

In the Aug. 28 primary, when Pilon officially won the Republican nomination, almost an identical number of voters in District 72 came to the polls as did earlier this year. A total 123,951 voted in August. About 122,305 voted in the Feb. 13 special.

The nature of the races differed tremendously, of course. The 72 contest served as the only item on the February ballot. Astoundingly, that still drew 33.5-percent turnout, the second highest voter performance in modern Florida history for a special election. Good won the contest with 52.2 percent of the vote over Republican James Buchanan’s 44.8 percent, of 44,236 votes cast.

The August primary put the Republican contest in 72 below primaries for governor and ahead of school board races. While all voters could weigh in nonpartisan school and judge contests, only Republicans could help decide whether Pilon or Jason Miller advanced to November. Pilon took 64.4 percent, 11,645 votes, to Miller’s 37.7 percent, 6,451 votes.

Interestingly, the primary election attracted more voters to polls in August (17,724 voted) than the special (17,474). Good, uncontested in Democratic primary this time, can’t take credit for that. More likely, a governor primary attracted voters. That’s still good for Good, who knows the Democratic base remains engaged six months after her win. Good’s endorsed choice for governor, Gwen Graham, won the district by about 3,500 votes over Andrew Gillum (less good news for Good, Gillum won statewide).

Meanwhile, fewer Republicans voted in August (19,772) than February (20,177). But the party still holds a solid registration edge. Nearly 11,000 more Republicans than Democrats populated the district as of book closing for the primary election. If the governor race between Gillum and GOP nominee Ron DeSantis remains hot, this still looks like Republican country, especially considering the different dynamics of a general election.

Sarasota Supervisor of Elections Ron Turner expects turnout here to exceed the 58.9 percent turnout from the last mid-term. If that high turnout means more party-line voters, Pilon could put the seat back in the red column. Then again, this district saw higher Democratic turnout than any state House district on the Gulf Coast. Republican turnout was nearly the lowest.

The real game will be winning over independents. In February, more than 6,100 no-party-affiliation voters came out to polls. Good surely took the bulk of them to win an election where 2,700 more Republicans voted than Democrats. But the engagement of independents remains in doubt as of now. They made up 14 percent of the electorate in February but only 9 percent in August, and that was with close school board races reaching voters countywide. Good needs independents to come out—and to support her—to make up the mathematical advantage Republicans enjoy here.

The best thing going for either candidate is they’ve won elections here before. Pilon did so twice, in November 2012 and 2014, and in 2010 he beat a Democratic incumbent in a more Democratic-leaning configuration. But Good won recently, and remains fresh on the mind of the near 20,000 who supported her just this year.

Jacob Ogles is contributing senior editor for SRQ Media Group.

Graphic by SRQ political guru Jacob Ogles shows registration and turnout demographics in two District 72 elections.

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