A Tale of Two Blue Districts

Under The Hood

Image: (left) Sarasota County District 2; (right) Manatee County District 2.

Democrats this year hope to win a seat on the Sarasota County Commission for the first time in decades. The Manatee County Commission notably has included one Democrat on it for about as long. As it happens, the year could end with each board having one Democrat who happens to be the only Black official holding county office.

But there’s a mix of hope and anxiety right now about whether this year’s midterms will be a hospitable environment for either board to end up with one blue seat. What can the results of the August primary tell us in either case?

In Sarasota, Fredd Atkins, a former Sarasota City Commissioner and the city’s first Black Mayor, pulled somewhat of an upset in the Democratic primary in County Commission District 2. Despite spending less than two other competitors, he took 35.3% of the vote to beat sitting City Commissioner Hagen Brody’s 34.24% and conservationist Mike Cosentino’s 30.47%. I’ll leave the mission of how Atkins brings his opponents’ base of support back home for the general election to his campaign. But in total, there were 10,825 Democrats who cared enough about this contest to weigh in on Aug. 23.

On the same day Atkins won, Mark Smith snagged the Republican nomination with 57.77% of the vote over Lourdes Ramirez’s 42.23%. He notably earned more votes than Atkins, with 4,820 Republicans bubbling by his name compared to 3,821 who supported Atkins in his primary. But then only 8,344 Republicans voted in the race at all, nearly 2,500 fewer voters than participated in the Democratic primary.

It seems Atkins’ fate rests in his ability to win over those who favored Brody and Cosentino in August. If the party can unite, Atkins should make up lost ground and win over independent voters (who history shows us are more likely to vote like their neighbors even if they won’t register with a party).

Up in Manatee, another Democratic Primary played out in a different District 2. There, Manatee County Commissioner Bellamy plays defense after winning the nomination over former County Commissioner Charles Smith, a previous foe Bellamy unseated in a primary four years ago. He was able to secure victory winning 63.9% of the vote, though that only represented 2,637 voters. In total, just 4,127 Democrats in total voted in the district race. 

No Republican primary played out but Amanda Ballard, an attorney and counsel to the Department of Children and Families, will appear as a Republican challenger to Bellamy on the November ballot. And there were other Republican primaries held countywide in August, including in District 2. For example, 4,876 District 2 Republicans cast ballots in a congressional primary, more than the number of Democrats who voted in Bellamy’s August Democratic race. A total of 4,427 Republicans voted in one of two state Senate contests. And 4,835 voted in the high-profile county-wide race where Carol Whitmore lost her own County Commission seat. Of note, Bellamy and Whitmore have been viewed as allies on the board despite a difference in party affiliation.

Thanks to changes redistricting wrought in the county this year, the District 2 race may not be one decided in the Democratic primary, as it traditionally has been in the past. Bellamy needs for there to be greater enthusiasm to vote in November to put up a solid challenge against Ballard this fall.

Of course, the primary turnout only says so much. Turnout will be higher in November, with Governor and Senate contests driving voters to the polls. A lot of voters most likely will weigh in on the race for the first time during the general election. And the mood of the electorate about national politics may determine if more Democrats than Republicans vote. Still, August voters represent some of the most politically engaged and reliable participants in democracy. The turnout from the primaries should give a significant hint how things turn out in the general.

Jacob Ogles is a contributing senior editor for SRQ MEDIA who has been covering business, politics and community issues for SRQ Magazine and SRQ DAILY since 2008. He also contributes the Under The Hood column which appears in the Saturday Perspectives edition of SRQ DAILY offering a twice-monthly analysis of the driving forces behind Sarasota-Manatee politics.

Image: (left) Sarasota County District 2; (right) Manatee County District 2.

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