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Chamber Poll: Flagler’s Trump Country; Cuff, Lenhart, Holland, O’Brien and Conklin Win Big

| August 12, 2016

hob nob chamber 2016

Candidates set up for the Flagler County Chamber of Commerce’s hob nob Thursday evening. (Chamber of Commerce)

Non-scientific random polls are not very reliable, straw polls taken at a single event even less so. But they point to trends. And internal campaign polls aside–to which media generally have no access–Thursday evening’s straw poll by the Flagler County Chamber of Commerce of some 250 participants at its candidate hob nob is the first and only indication of how local voters are leaning. And in several races, the results are decisive enough to at least suggest front-runners.

That’s certainly the case with incumbent Sen. Travis Hutson and Rep. Paul Renner, Republicans who each face a Democrat in November (Hutson faces Palm Coast’s Curtis Ceballos, Renner faces Adam Morley of St. Johns County), but whose incumbency and crushing treasure chests, combined with a voting district that leans strongly Republican despite its recent slight tilt left in the case of Hutson’s district, are giving them almost insurmountable advantages.

Hutson and Renner were the evening’s biggest winners, clearing 83 and 82 percent of the votes cast, the largest margins of any races other than Tom Bexley’s 85 percent over Doug Courtney in the race for Flagler County Clerk of Court. But that’s a race in name only.

The poll did not ask participants to vote as they would in primaries, but as if they were looking at a general election ballot. That turned the results into outright popularity contests between all candidates regardless of party. Poll participants, keep in mind, were in majority decidedly Republican, if only because many of them were part of the campaigns represented at the hob nob, and the overwhelming majority of those campaigns were for Republican candidates: Democrats continue to be under-represented in local races, chiefly because, other than long-time incumbents, they are unable to produce serious or well-funded candidates. The poll results often but not always reflected the partisan lean. A total of 249 voters participated, but many did not vote in every race, and there was no way to know how they broke down by party registration or even residency.

A poll that leans heavily Republican, but that suggests a few clear trends, too.

The evening’s other biggest winners–those who cleared 50 percent of the vote or more–included Kaiti Lenhart for supervisor of elections, whose 60 percent was twice the total for Abra Seay’s 29 percent, and miles ahead of Kimble Medley’s 11 percent. In that case, all three candidates are Republican, so the leanings of the voters was irrelevant, and the result likely more indicative of reality.

Milissa Holland, the former county commissioner now running for Palm Coast mayor, appears to be the crushing favorite in a four-way race for mayor: she got 71 percent, with John Brady a very distant second at 16 percent, and Dennis McDonald and Ron Radford in single digits. That race is ostensibly non-partisan. If Holland can clear the 50 percent hurdle at the Aug. 30 primary, she will be the next mayor: no run-off will be necessary. At the moment, the straw poll’s results would suggest that it’s at least a fair possibility.

That may also be the case with the race for District 1 on the Palm Coast Council, with Bob Cuff getting 66 percent of the vote to second-pace finisher Sims Jones, at 19 percent, and–a surprise–invisible candidate Art McGovern getting 15 percent. (McGovern was a little less invisible Thursday: he showed up.) If Cuff’s advantage converts to a clear victory on Aug. 30, beyond the 50 percent margin, that would be especially significant in that it would end the city’s quest for a replacement for Bill McGuire, who just resigned: the council could appoint Cuff to the seat outright, at its first meeting in September.

The third race for council is closer. Nick Klufas is ahead of Pam Richardson, 47-41, with Anita Moeder in third place at 12 percent. That race is likely to end up in a run-off in the November election, with Moeder’s voters then becoming a critical swing factor. So far Moeder has tended to align more closely with Klufas, who has himself strengthened over time.

2016 Election Interviews

Supervisor of Elections

Kaiti Lenhart
Kimble Medley
Abra Seay


Jim Manfre (D)
Don Fleming (R)
Larry Jones (D)
John Lamb (R)
Jerry O'Gara(R)
Rick Staly (R)
Mark Whisenant (R)
Chris Yates (R)
Thomas Dougherty (I)

Palm Coast City Council

Robert Cuff (Dist. 1)
Troy DuBose (Dist. 1)
Sims Jones (Dist. 1)
Art McGovern Jr. (Dist. 1)
Nick Klufas (Dist. 3)
Anita Moeder (Dist. 3)
Pam Richardson (Dist. 3)
John Brady (Mayor)
Milissa Holland (Mayor)
Dennis McDonald (Mayor)
Ron Radford (Mayor)

Flagler School Board

Colleen Conklin (Dist. 3)
Jason Sands (Dist. 3)
Paul Anderson (Dist. 5)
Maria Barbosa (Dist. 5)
Sharon Demers (Dist. 5)
Myra Middleton-Valentine (Dist. 5)

Flagler County Commission

Charlie Ericksen (Dist. 1)
Ken Mazzie (Dist. 1)
Daniel Potter (Dist. 1)
Jason France (Dist. 3)
Dave Sullivan (Dist. 3)
Denise Calderwood (Dis. 5)
Donald O'Brien (Dist. 5)

In local races, the only other candidate to clear the 50 percent hurdle in the straw poll was Colleen Conklin, the incumbent school board member, who beat newcomer Jason Sands 56-44. No one else is running in the race, which makes Conklin’s margin thinner than it looks, though at the same time she can take heart from winning a mostly Republican crowd’s majority: Sands is the Republican in that race, Conklin is a Democrat.

There were other big winners, but not in exclusively local races: Stasia Warren is the clear favorite, with 72 percent of the vote, to win election to the bench in the 7th Judicial Circuit (she is beating Sebrina Slack), Scott DuPont polled 75 percent to keep his seat on the bench (he puts in frequent duty at the Flagler County courthouse), and David Hood is ahead of Linda Gaustatd, but by a slimmer margin, 57-43.

And then there’s Donald Trump: he won the poll with 72 percent, to Hillary Clinton’s 20 percent and Gary Johnson’s 8. Flagler County is expected to lean Trump–like a beach-side tree during a hurricane–on Nov. 8: it went for Mitt Romney four years ago and has gone a bit redder since, though Thursday’s results were more one-sided than even one of the poll organizers expected. Marco Rubio got 62 percent of the vote to keep his U.S. Senate seat, with Carlos Beruff second, at 18 percent, and Patrick Murphy, a Democrat, getting just 9 percent. That suggests an easy win for Rubio in Flagler at least. His numbers are not as decisive in the state, but still comfortably in his favor.

The local race most people have been following as an Olympic sport this season is that for sheriff, and there, the numbers broke out along expected patterns: Rick Staly is ahead with 30 percent, John Lamb is a close second at 27 percent, and Don Fleming third at 20 percent, with Manfre a distant fourth at 7 percent, and less than a point ahead of Larry Jones, his only Democratic opponent. That spells trouble for Manfre in the primary. But for the three front-runners–all Republicans–the numbers were not a surprise, in that all three were expected to be near the top in a field of six Republicans, with the bottom three splitting the remainder vote: Chris Yates got 4.4 percent. Jerry O’Gara, the noisiest candidate of the campaign–his shrilly decibels frequently rattle social media but not much else–got just 4 percent, while Mark Whisenant, one of whose supporters pulled one of the weirdest stunts of the campaign on Monday, polled just over 1 percent. Thomas Dougherty, the independent in the race, got zero.

Thursday’s results will tell the Staly, Lamb and Fleming campaigns that all three are within reach of winning the Aug. 30 primary, likely redoubling the campaigns’ hunts for elusive voters who actually cast ballots in primaries. They’re fewer than most people assume.

The county commission races have not gotten as much attention. The straw poll results are also surprising, with both Democratic incumbents–George Hanns and Barbara Revels–getting beaten, though the heavily Republican vote in the straw poll plays a disproportionate role in those cases. David Sullivan polled ahead of Revels, 49-34, not the most impressive result for an establishment Republican drawing from the county’s establishment voters, so Revels may not be panicking just yet. Jason France, the candidate Sullivan faces in the primary, got just 17 percent.

Republican Donald O’Brien’s numbers were more decisive: he beats Republican contender Denise Calderwood 55-20. Calderwood was asked to not hand out campaign literature outside the building Thursday evening, as she had not paid the fee to participate in the hob nob, as all other candidates inside had. (She stopped, then walked around inside, agreeing not to pass out literature.) O’Brien also beats Democrat George Hanns, who got just 25 percent. That should worry Hanns, who has generally eschewed campaigning and relied on his record and longevity. He was not at the event Thursday evening, as he’s facing a difficult family emergency.

Gretchen Smith.

Gretchen Smith.

Finally, in the District 1 race for county commission, incumbent Republican Charlie Ericksen handily beats his Republican challengers, Ken Mazzie and Dan Potter, with 48 percent to Ericksen, 17 percent to Mazzie and 8 percent to Potter. Even Jason DeLorenzo, the eventual Democrat Ericksen would face in November (if the numbers hold), beat the two other Republicans, with 28 percent of the vote.

“Having an inaugural event you’re always not sure whether anybody is going to show up or not, but at one point we had 50 candidates signed up, we were pretty sure they’d bring supporters, and boy did they bring supporters,” said Gretchen Smith, the chamber’s government affairs director and chief organizer of the event. “The participation and the attendance kind of exceeded our expectation, but that’s a great problem to have. So the good news is, the next time we’ll know.”

What matters, of course, is the vote itself: that begins Monday (Aug. 15) with early voting in Flagler County at three locations, running through Aug. 27, with Election Day on Aug. 30. Voting has, in effect, begun, as voting by mail has already generated 3,155 ballots cast, according to the supervisor of elections.

The full results of the poll are below.

2016 Flagler Chamber Straw Poll

18 Responses for “Chamber Poll: Flagler’s Trump Country; Cuff, Lenhart, Holland, O’Brien and Conklin Win Big”

  1. Donald Trump's Tiny Fingers says:

    An organization in financial trouble finds that 72% of the people somehow affiliated with it are all for the guy that declared bankruptcy a bunch of times. Color me surprised.

  2. PCer says:

    Anyone who votes for Trump is condoning hatred and racism. (For those that are unsure, to condone means to support or approve of.)

  3. Anonymous says:

    The Chamber is falling apart and going bankrupt because it spends too much time in the politics and not enough time doing what they should be doing. I didn’t go, didn’t miss anything, and I am sure the same people go just like they do the forums. How about the Chamber serve the businesses instead of themselves and their friends!

  4. Joe A says:

    Non-scientific random polls are not very reliable, straw polls taken at a single event even less so, especially when there were so many from outside of Flagler in attendance.
    I will disagree with the SOE straw poll simply for the fact that Leinhart took that (bonus) was recommended by Weeks and I think Flagler wants a fresh new Elections Supervisor with no connections to the last regime.
    I agree that Holland will win the Mayor of PC race because of her willingness to fight to get some economic growth here (jobs) and her good standing in the community.
    city council seats are up for grabs and I believe the Sheriff will come down to Lamb, Staly or Flemming but again I believe voters will want to see a fresh new face in the Sheriff’s office with no connection to past regimes.
    Conklin and Middleton- Valentine are my guess at school board and Delorenzo for BOCC, all other races is anybody’s guess. Good luck to all and get out and vote!!!

  5. Robert Lewis says:

    In just love that Nick Klufas. I really hope he wins. This community really needs someone young in there. It’s time for this young man to be elected.

  6. Flagler4Trump says:

    What do you make of the heavy Democratic financial support of Republican candidates like Sullivan and Demers under the pretense of a Conservative PAC? What interest does a wealthy Democrat have in Republican Party politics?

  7. jim says:

    There HAS TO BE FRESH, NEW, BLOOD in the Sheriff’s Office. The ONLY MAN that can fill that position and do IT RIGHT with HONESTY, INTEGRITY, MORALLY, and ETHICALLY is John Lamb. He’s neither a shyster nor a backstabber. TIME 4 A CHANGE!

  8. Dave says:

    Right. And anyone who didn’t vote for Obama is a racist!

  9. Algernon says:

    To Anonymous:

    If you take some time to learn more about the Flagler County Chamber, you might learn that a high priority mission is to advance business and government relations. Efforts by the Chamber in a non partisan way to advance voter education, and to provide training for candidates at all local and regional levels, goes hand in had with that mission. If elected officials and local business people have comfort talking when problems arise, it may be faster and easier to find solutions that address everyone’s concerns.

    In running the “Flagler Votes” program which included Thursday night’s “Hob Nob”, the Chamber, and its two partners, the Flagler Home Builders Association and the Flagler County Association of Realtors, were all focusing on their core responsibility. To quote you, “Anonymous” they were “doing what they should be doing”.

    Any questions? Gretchen at the Chamber can help (437-0106) or ask here and we’ll try to answer.

  10. W.Ryan says:

    The Empire had many forces present in that vicinity which made it hard for the reconnaissance mission to establish accurate numbers of native occupants.

  11. Joe A says:

    @ Jim, and a fresh new honest and integral SOE, the only one that fits the bill is Seay!

  12. OldSeaDog says:

    “…A total of 249 voters participated, but many did not vote in every race, and there was no way to know how they broke down by party registration or even residency…..”

    WOW-how scientific can you get??

    Perhaps we next get a poll taken of Walmart shoppers or maybe a poll of early morning drive through customers at McDonald’s?
    I think just perhaps the Chamber of Commerce might better spend its efforts in trying to attract businesses to this area rather than such poll nonsense!

  13. Algernon says:

    To Old Sea Dog…

    My post above speaks to why the straw poll is useful. Many people waited in line for a half hour to vote. The three sponsoring organizations – Home Builders, Realtors, and Chamber – are trying to elevate public knowledge about candidates AND working to improve the knowledge level and quality of the candidates too. The straw poll is neither scientific or official, but it does help identify and assess trends, as straw polls do in counties all around Flagler too.

    Also this Hob Nob event helps support The Flagler Public Leadership Institute, which is part of the long range voter education process, as shown in these articles from the Palm Coast Observer and from FlaglerLive:

  14. snapperhead says:

    If you take some time to learn more about the US Chamber, you might learn that a high priority mission is to advance business and government relations. Code words for bribery and corruption.

    Civil Justice
    The Chamber seeks to restrict consumers’ right to use courts to hold corporations accountable for wrongdoing. It does much of this work through its Institute for Legal Reform.

    Energy and Climate
    The Chamber favors large fossil fuel and nuclear companies at the expense of the health of our environment, climate and communities. Several major companies left the Chamber after denouncing its retrograde stances on climate change

    Financial reform
    The Chamber’s stances on financial reform are characterized by efforts to delay, weaken and kill stabilizing safeguards. It uses the vague call for “job creation” to push back against regulations meant to stabilize a system that, when it crashes, causes massive job loss.

    Health Care
    The Chamber takes huge amounts of money from big pharmaceutical and health insurance companies to misinform the public on health care reform and to push policies that would increase those companies’ profits while restricting access to health care.

    Political Spending
    The Chamber of Commerce is the largest – and one of the least transparent – corporate lobbying groups in U.S. history. Chamber President Thomas Donohue himself has said, the Chamber intends to “give [members] all the deniability they need.”

    Workplace safety
    The U.S. Chamber consistently opposes federal government efforts to make workplaces safer for workers. Many of these battles involve fine details of rule-making and occur out of public view

  15. Algernon says:

    Dear Shapperhead:

    News Flash. The Flagler County Chamber of Commerce does NOT take its marching orders from the US Chamber. Our outlook is primarily local and secondarily Florida. What you posted may reflect some positions of the US Chamber – as you interpret them – but it’s NOT relevant to our local chamber.

  16. Oldseadog says:

    Well at least Shapperhead got a “Dear” in the salutation. Sounds like me that Algernon is having trouble justifying the actions of the local chamber and questioning about them—just my humble opinion!

  17. Algernon says:

    Dear OldSeaDog…

    No trouble at all with the questions and misunderstandings posed. Thanks.

  18. Leslie Leslie says:

    We are first All Americans, second i do to know why all the hate for Trump, as a businessman he has helped his neighbors, and strangers. i have done my research, he does not lie and if that is bad then he tells the truth to a fault. Hillary has me very concerned, there is enough truth about her lies and corruption in the media out there that should cause any American for pause. A women would be nice this is not the time or the women, that i could ever trust. We must vote our Heart, and i am praying for my children and grandchildren, I believe in my Heart Trump will bring back jobs, and fix our healthcare. Take care of our veterans have been forgotten under this administration, and our First responders will be treated with respect while our Flag will always be standing with pride, I am American First and Trump is speaking my words when he speaks out for American Pride.

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