Campaign Parties: A Voting Day Tradition

There are a number of traditions surrounding voting day.

For primaries, the electorate typically shrugs and stays away in droves. The freedom to be indifferent.

For candidates, there’s the last-second flesh-pressing and, for too many, the last loop of annoying, pre-recorded, “my opponent is the anti-Christ” robo calls.

And then there are the campaign parties to monitor the results. Major hotels for gubernatorial candidates; restaurants with ample bars and meeting space for, say, congressional or county commission hopefuls.

These are eclectic gatherings of family, friends, worker bees, party activists, VIPols, political groupies and embedded media. A dynamic of back-slapping and glad-handing. Gushers of gratitude. An atmosphere rife with speculation, down time and pre-returns optimism. The thrill of vicarious victory in the ambient air.

Among those making the Democratic rounds last week: Mayor Pam Iorio. It’s a very good sign when she shows. She’s not there for a cameo. Chances are she’ll be called on for some audience warm-up and a (winning) candidate intro. This night she did the honors for both Democratic congressional candidate Kathy Castor and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jim Davis.

At Valencia Garden, Iorio praised Castor for showing “integrity,” for being a “fighter,” for having “the interests of the average person” at heart and for running a “positive race.”

Over at the Hilton Tampa Airport Westshore, she lauded Davis as a “man of integrity” who is “for real” and “has taken a hit, but the harder the road gets, the better he gets.”

Also among those touching the candidate bases was Frank Sanchez, who was the run-off loser to Iorio in the 2003 mayor’s election. He continues to be a political player composite: a businessman-community activist-party apparatchik who just happens to have more candidate incarnations in his future. Quite possibly four and a half years from now when the vacancy sign next appears at City Hall.

This night Sanchez would pop in at the gatherings for Castor, (District 3 county commission candidate) Chloe Coney, (District 1 county commission candidate) Rose Ferlita and Davis. He also did political analysis for the Spanish language Noticias Univision Tampa.

His take on the significance of having the next governor call the Tampa Bay area home?

“I think it speaks volumes about the political power in this part of the state,” said Sanchez. “You also have the next CFO (Democrat Alex Sink of Thonotosassa or Republican Tom Lee of Valrico). The Senate President (Lee), the last (cue an eye roll) Speaker (Johnnie Byrd). A more cohesive legislative delegation.

“There’s new-found political power for the region that can only be good for this area,” added Sanchez. “I think it can rival South Florida in terms of political clout. There’s a lot of serious stuff going on here.”

Outtakes

*According to Castor, the notably non-negative tone of the District 11 race (to succeed Rep. Jim Davis) was set early when she and runner-up Les Miller agreed in principle to keep it above board and not personal. Not to be presumptuous, but they knew the likely scenario would be a two-horse race (Castor: 53.9%; Miller: 34.1%; no one else in double figures). That agreement helped direct the overall dynamic.

*Castor’s parents had logistical issues on ballot day, because Castor’s brother, Frank , was running for county judge in Palm Beach. The candidate’s mom, Betty Castor, was with her daughter – and, yes, she was working the phones. Meanwhile, the candidate’s father, former Hillsborough County Judge Don Castor, was with Frank in Palm Beach, where he easily qualified for a run-off.

*Ultimate compliment: “I’m proud to introduce a great politician (Pam Iorio) who isn’t my daughter.” – Betty Castor

*The lounge TV at Valencia Garden was tuned to Bay News 9 for updates. Over at the Hilton, the big-screen, break-out room TV was set on ABC, where election results were shown in a continuous crawl. Only problem: the network program, “Prime Time,” had a (really) lengthy segment on strippers , complete with pixilated body parts. Nobody seemed to object.

*Later, when the 11 o’clock news came on, the animated, well-oiled, “Go, Jim, Go” Davis crowd responded in interesting fashion to live shots from the Charlie Crist victory party at the Renaissance Vinoy Resort in St. Petersburg. By far the loudest reaction – a cascade of boos – was aimed at Sen. Mel Martinez. The response was barely partisan to the on-camera Crist, who seemed more disagreed with than disliked.

*Party backing: A frenzied, ad hoc press conference and photo op on a stage ill suited for the purpose don’t lend themselves to the best results. So there was City Councilman John Dingfelder, perched precariously and holding up a Jim Davis sign so that the still photo and video backdrop behind Davis would be something other than chaos.

*Big Sugar meets Reggie Van Gleason: “How sweet it is!” – Jim Davis

*Money matters: Crist has raised some $14 million so far compared to $4.4 million for Davis. That disparity is expected to narrow as the Democratic National Party gets seriously involved.

*Clear choice: Charlie Crist: “Stay the course.” Jim Davis: “Change the course.”

*Final words, primary night:

Kathy Castor: “I’m humbled. I won’t let you down.”

Jim Davis: “I draw my strength from my faith, my family, my friends.”

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