Flagler Tea Party Straw Poll Winners: Stevens, Westbrook, Warren, Meeker, But Not Schools
FlaglerLive | August 2, 2012
They don’t call it Survey Monkey for nothing. So before you read this story, a caveat.
When the Flagler County Tea Party Group surveyed its membership during the 2011 race for Palm Coast mayor, Charlie Ericksen was the big winner, trouncing Jon Netts with 59 percent to Netts’s 36. Joe Cunnane got the rest. The straw poll was based on votes from 205 participants. FlaglerLive had its own poll, also using Survey Monkey, with 237 participants giving Ericksen 51 percent and Netts 35 percent. Both were wrong. Netts actually won the election with 54 percent of the vote to Ericksen’s 41 percent, though with a 10 percent turnout, participation in the real election wasn’t impressively higher than in the polls.
Survey Monkey is a web-based polling tool that can control for very limited factors, so it’s not scientific. It does allow the surveyor to limit voting to one vote per computer. But the same person who owns, say, two desktops, a smart phone and a laptop can then vote four times.
The tea party just concluded its straw poll for the Aug. 14 primary, two days away from early voting’s start date in Flagler County. To call it a “tea party poll” may be somewhat of a stretch: anyone who could get a link to the poll, and many did, could then send it on to his or her friends and ask them to vote a certain way. Travis Hutson, the Republican candidate for the Florida House seat that includes Flagler County, did just that, pasting the link on his Facebook page with the plea: “Please vote for me, RJ and other republicans in this straw poll put on by the tea party.” Others likely did the same, which means that anyone from Palm Coast to Punxsutawney to Perth in West Australia could vote.
The numbers will be grist for much speculation and partisan hope. Whether they’re predictors of the primary’s outcome is another story. Still, the numbers provide the first non-anecdotal glimpse at some voter sentiment, with a few surprises. (The complete raw results appear below the article.)
The most worrisome surprise–for the school board and school advocates–is a rather emphatic rejection of the school district’s continuation of a half-cent sales tax. The membership voted against it by a 2 to 1 margin, despite the measure’s explicit and rare endorsement by Tom Lawrence, the tea party’s chairman. It’s possible that the membership was, at last to some extent, confusing that half-cent measure with the county’s, which will no longer appear on the ballot.
The county’s bickering with cities over the scope of the tax tarnished its chances–and may well have tainted the school board’s measure, in place to help fund technology and capital improvements. All voters get to vote on the school board’s measure, and the school district’s constituency will be heavily behind it, but the support must be significant enough to overcome resistance among older voters with no children in schools–and tea party voters.
In the race for State Attorney, which is actually open to all voters regardless of party registration–and which will be decided on Aug. 14, with no further vote–Stasia Warren came in well ahead of incumbent R.J. Larizza, with 63 percent to Larizza’s 37 percent. Both candidates are Republicans. Warren is from Volusia County, where she’s been a respected judge for many years. Voters in Volusia, Flagler, Putnam and St. Johns will be casting ballots in that race. Warren is likely to control the vote in Volusia. Larizza cannot win without doing well in the three other counties.
In the race for Flagler County Judge, Scott Westbrook, currently a prosecutor in Larizza’s office, got twice as many votes as the next two candidates in a field of seven: Westbrook got 33 percent to Craig Atack’s and Josh Davis’s 17 percent. Westbrook is the least well-funded of all the candidates in that race. He’s raised just $3,800 as of late July, compared to $20,500 for Atack and $5,100 for Davis. Melissa Moore Stens, who’s raised almost $35,000, came in at 9 percent, tied with Sharon Feliciano. Marc Dwyer got just 7 percent, as did Don Appignani.
In the heavily followed race for Flagler County Sheriff, Ray Stevens was the winner overall and among Republicans, with a commanding 46 percent, a big number in a field of five. John Pollinger was second, with 31 percent, and Fleming third, with a 18 percent. Democrats Jim Manfre and Karl Tozzi barely registered support, with less than a combined 5 percent of the vote.
Another telling race might be the supervisor of elections’, which features four Republicans vying to win the Aug. 14 primary to take on incumbent Democrat Kimberle Weeks. Trey Corbett took that one with 32 percent of the vote. Allen Whetsell was second-best, with 20 percent, closely followed by Pam Richardson (19 percent) and Kimble Medley (11 percent). Weeks got 11 percent.
In the race for the newly formed congressional district that includes all of Flagler County, Ron De Santis, the former Holland & Knight attorney, won in a field of seven Republicans and two Democrats, with 45 percent of the vote. Craig Miller, the ex-restaurant magnet in his second congressional race, was second with 27 percent, and Ormond Beach Florida House member Fred Costello third, with 17 percent. The Democrats in the race–Heather Beaven and Vipin Verma–registered a trace of votes.
In the race for the newly formed Florida House seat that includes all of Flagler County, outgoing county commissioner Milissa Holland’s Flagler connection carried little weight with the tea party membership: the Democrat got just 14 percent, to Republican Travis Hutson’s 80 percent. The only other candidate the membership liked that much was Romney.
Not surprisingly, in races featuring a Republican against a Democrat, the Republican won by long distances: Republican Herb Whitacker, who’s trying to unseat county commissioner George Hanns, a Democrat, took 78 percent of the vote. Debbie Laury, the Republican in the race against incumbent Colleen Conklin, a Democrat, took 63 percent (which suggests some staying power, in such a Republican crowd, for the JFK-quoting, union-endorsed Conklin), while Republican incumbent Sue Dickinson took 69 percent against Bill Corkran’s 31 percent. The school board race is ostensibly non-partisan.
Two other county commission races ae on the ballot. One features only two Republicans, but will be a closed primary (meaning no Democrats or Independents may vote, even though the winner will be decided Aug. 14) because there is also a write-in for that race. The write-in is not a serious candidate but a successful ploy to close the primary and prevent Independents and Democrats from participating. That’s the District 1 race pitting incumbent Alan Peterson against challenger Charlie Ericksen. The tea party membership is virtually split between the two, with Ericksen at 50.3 percent (161 votes) to Peterson’s 49.7 percent (159 votes).
The County Commission District 2 race features Republicans Dennis McDonald and Frank Meeker, the Palm Coast City Council member, and Abigail Romaine, an independent. Romaine won’t be on the ballot until November. The tea party membership is picking Meeker, with 48 percent of the vote, to McDonald’s 37 percent. Romaine got 15 percent.
Asked about the three most pressing problems facing the country today (participants could cast three votes out of eight answers), jobs and unemployment came in first, with 68 percent, the federal budget deficit was second, with 61 percent, and the economy in general was third, with 49 percent. Moral decline was next to last with just 20 percent of the vote, and wars or fears of wars came in at barely 10 percent. (In Afghanistan so far this year, 205 American soldiers have been killed, for a total of 2,069 killed there since American involvement began in 2001. A total of 3,119 U.S. and coalition soldiers have been killed over that time span.)
The group got close to 400 participants this time, casting ballots in 14 races on the ballot, plus the school board’s half-cent levy, and the question about the most important problems facing the country today. Close to 400 people participated, though the number of actual votes in each race fluctuated, with dozens skipping certain questions. For example, 380 people answered the Mitt Romney-Barack Obama question (Romney won that one with 91 percent, roughly the same proportion of black support for Obama currently), but 352 answered the question on the sheriff and 342 on the clerk of court. More than 100 skipped the questions on the school board races, and 91 skipped the county judge question.
The tea party group is staunchly Republican, but not necessarily establishment Republican. The election season in Flagler continues to be animated by rifts between Republican groups that now include the tea party, the local chapter of the Ronald Reagan assemblies, the Republican Executive Committee, and the county’s Republican club. The straw poll may reflect some of those rifts.
That said, the tea party’s membership wields a powerful electoral presence. The tea party attracted 1,000 people, by its own count, when it hosted a meet-and-greet for more than 40 candidates last month at the Knights of Columbus hall in Palm Coast.