Gruters to Hang Up Chairman's Hat

Under The Hood


The upcoming election, regardless how it turns out, will mark the end of a political era in Sarasota County. Joe Gruters announced he will not seek another term as chairman of the Republican Party of Sarasota.

Why step away now? Lots of reasons. Gruters two years ago launched his own accounting firm, which now boasts nine employees. He’s raising three small kids at home. This year, he’s juggled a role as party leader, state representative and, thanks to an appointment by President Trump, Amtrak board member. Now he’s the favorite to win a state Senate seat, which will triple the size of his constituency.

Every indication in the world suggests it’s time.

“I loved serving as party chairman,” Gruters says, “but it would be much better for myself and the party to move on now.”

Certainly, this year should serve as reminder how much time goes into keeping the party vital, even in a reliably Republican county. Amid the promise of a national “blue wave,” an impressive slate of Democratic candidates for office filed for nearly every statewide and local office on the ballot. Just to make it more fun, a series of events means every state legislative seat opened up this calendar year, sans the heavily Democratic House District 70.

That allowed Gruters the chance to run for state Senate sooner than expected, but even he faces a tougher race than anyone anticipated. Democrat Faith Babis, who offers the hope of making history as Florida’s first-ever disabled lawmaker, attracted national groups like 90 for 90 to promote her candidacy. At least one noted political prognosticator, MCI Maps’ Matt Isbell, just moved the race out of the ‘Safe GOP” to “Leans GOP.”

Still, the smart money remains on Gruters, not so much because of work done since announcing his candidacy in March as because of the intense party building conducting over 10 years. Gruters notes that in 2008, immediately before he started his chairmanship, Republican presidential candidate John McCain won Sarasota by just 211 votes over Democrat Barack Obama. Four years later, Mitt Romney won the county by more than 15,000. In 2016, President Trump won it by nearly 27,000 and Florida’s electoral votes went to the GOP for the first time in a decade.

More important to Gruters, Republicans beat Democrats in new voter registrations in nine out of 10 years of his chairmanship. The only exception was 2009, his first full year in charge,  and the GOP only trailed Dems by about 50 new voters. In comparison, Obama-mania in 2008 led Democrats that year to net more than 1,500 more new voters than Republicans.

Gruters’ gains for the red team continued in 2017 and all this year, even amid a rapidly anti-Trump national mood. Indeed, if Sarasota does prove immune to and November blue wave, it’s the persistent work of the Republican Party under Gruters’ leadership that built a red bulwark over a decade to defend against harsh political climate changes.

Along the way, Gruters also made Sarasota an early must-stop for presidential hopes, and he gave Trump a Statesman of the Year award in 2012 and 2015. He hopped on the Rick Scott train. Basically, he was MAGA when MAGA wasn’t cool.

Whether Republicans line up to thank Gruters may depend on how candidates do at polls on Nov. 6. As Trump’s approval lifts and red tide finally heads out to sea, Gruters feels optimistic the party will have a good night.

But no matter what, folks in the party should recognize they had a good decade under Gruters’ watch, and owe a great deal of future success to his leadership.

Jacob Ogles is contributing senior editor for SRQ Media Group.

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