LISTEN LIVE

Tampa Bay Area Voters Turn Out To Decide Governor, Senator And Amendments

Nov 6, 2018

Voters turned out across the Tampa Bay area, motivated by high-stakes races for U.S. Senator and governor, as well as a long list of 12 constitutional amendments and local tax referendums.

More than 5.2 million Floridians had already voted before Election Day, and early voting across the country smashed records. The election — expected to be close — has the potential to shake up the political landscape in the third largest state in the country.

Jachee Davis, 20, headed to the polls in Pasco County and called on his generation to turn out to vote.

"We need young people to get out and vote," he said.

That's just what Alaina Groskreutz did. The 18-year-old from Pasco said it was a duty all should shoulder.

"Everyone should have a say-so in what our country is doing," she said.

In St. Petersburg, just after the polls opened this morning, people were lined up and ready to go. Even kids and a few dogs were among those waiting.

People were standing in line outside of the Coliseum in St. Petersburg waiting to vote this morning. Loretta Siniff was there to vote 'no' on the Harborage Marina Referendum, which would expand the area of its submerged land lease with the city.

“It's a tight area and they wana put more docks out there — wide docks for 150 foot boats; however if they managed it better, and they took care of their property, that would be different," she said. "They're not though.”

Across the area, several other voters said they were also motivated to vote because of the list of amendments and referendums on the ballot.

In Tampa, Walter Reuben Diaz said 'yes' to the half-penny sales tax for schools. He said he knows how uncomfortable it is to be stuck in a hot classroom.

"Not good," he said.

In Plant City, voters streamed in and out of the Bruton Memorial Library where Eric Wolfe was casting his ballot. He spent last week going through his sample ballot, so he said he came prepared. And although he said he votes in every election, he came out today because of Amendment 4, which if passed, would restore voting rights to some felons in the state.

It wasn't just the amendments that riled up voters. Florida is a perennial political battleground state, and it's no different this year in several races that will determine who controls Congress and state government.

St. Petersburg voter Beth Johnson says she’s always voted for both Republican and Democratic parties over the years. But because of the current political climate and how "people are treating each other," she says she’s hoping for a “blue wave” today.

“It's always been more about the issues for me and this time I pretty much voted by party-- it makes me sad,” Johnson said.

Johnson says she’s been voting for a long time and that this midterm election is probably the "most important vote ever."

The Race for the U.S. Senate

After a bruising and bitter U.S. Senate campaign, Florida voters are choosing whether to keep three-term incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson in office or replace him with Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

The choice could help determine whether the Senate stays in Republican control.

The two candidates are heavyweights within each party. Nelson has withstood years of GOP dominance to remain the only statewide Democrat, while Scott is a two-term governor who was urged to run by President Donald Trump.

A loss by the 76-year-old Nelson would likely end his political career and make it nearly impossible for Democrats to retake the Senate. If Scott loses, it could be a blow to his future political ambitions.

While the two men differ on a range of issues ranging from gun control to health care, the election has been more about character and competence and the candidates' respective relationships with Trump.

The Race for Governor

Florida voters will also decide whether to keep the state in Republican control or whether to elect a Democrat as governor for the first time since 1994.

Today's election between former Republican U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis and Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum brings an end to a race where President Donald Trump has had a heavy presence and Gillum was pulled from the campaign trail by a hurricane and a mass shooting.

DeSantis is hoping to ride President Donald Trump's backing to victory in the governor's race, while Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum has sought to energize his party's voters as an unabashed liberal.

Gillum's path to the nomination was a surprise, winning against four better-funded challengers. Hurricane Michael pulled him off the campaign trail in early October when it left nearly all of Florida's capital without power. He again rushed home Friday, canceling campaign events after a man shot six people at a yoga studio, killing two before taking his own life.

DeSantis won the primary against better-known and better-funded Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam based largely on Trump's endorsement. Trump visited Florida twice in the final six days of the election to try to boost turnout.

Local Issues

Hillsborough  County residents get to decide whether they want to pay a penny sales tax to fund traffic and transportation projects and whether they are willing to pay a half-cent sales tax to fund public schools.

Record Turnout

Early voting records were shattered with 38 million people voting early, according to the U.S. Elections Project at the University of Florida, which tracks turnout.

If early voting makes up a third of all the vote, that would amount to a turnout of 114 million people, or 48.5 percent. That would be the highest rate since 1914.

It could also be that early vote totals make up more than 33 percent, as the number of people utilizing early voting has increased year after year. Plus, more states have instituted the practice. Given that, early voting is projected to make up a slightly higher percentage of the total vote.

Michael McDonald at the University of Florida projects that anywhere from 105 million to 107 million total votes (or higher) could be cast. 105 million would be a turnout rate of about 44.8 percent. That would still be the highest since 1970.

We won't know actual turnout for days or longer. But the point is: we have more data now to show that turnout in going to be highest for a midterm in a generation.

Also, by the way, early voting in Arizona, Nevada and Texas -- all states with important Senate races -- was higher than the entire total vote cast in those states in 2014. And each state had governors’ races, and Texas had a Senate race.