Local politicians took the August and November elections for a test-drive at the East Side Regional Hob Nob on June 26 at UCF, answering questions that could only come locally. The event, a catch-most roundup of politicians competing for posts in Orange and Seminole counties, fanned tables of candidates out underneath the Bright House Networks Stadium bleachers like an impromptu meet and greet.
“We had a monsoon come through just as we were setting up,” said Cory Skeates, president of the Oviedo-Winter Springs Regional Chamber of Commerce, which co-hosted the event with the East Orlando Chamber of Commerce. “We had some candidates calling asking if they should even come.”
But they came in droves, as grip and grins traded time with sales pitches as would-be representatives from the city level to the U.S. Senate turned out to make their case for candidacy. More than 50 candidates and more than 700 potential voters turned out to find out who will be representing their area.
But what kept them on the edge of their seats for four hours was a straw poll that summed up the leanings of nearly 450 voters from the two counties.
The results of that poll made a significant break with larger polls, particularly in presidential candidate polls for the November election. Though President Barack Obama led Republican challenger Mitt Romney by a margin of 48 percent to 43 percent in a July 2 Gallup poll of 3,050 registered voters, Romney won the East Side Regional poll by 74 percent to 22 percent, with the remainder undecided. That tally comes with 444 votes cast.
Straw poll results:
Visit tinyurl.com/hobnobresults to view the straw poll results.
Similarly, in the race for one of Florida’s two U.S. Senate seats, longtime democratic Sen. Bill Nelson led in a June 27 Quinnipiac poll by a 41 percent to 40 percent margin over challenger and U.S. Rep. Connie Mack. Six candidates are vying for that position. At the hob nob’s poll, Mack won 226 votes to Nelson’s 98.
Skeates said that differentiation from the national average is just a factor of the typical demographics of political hobnobs.
“For some reason or another, especially depending on where [the hob nob] is held, you tend to get more Republicans than Democrats,” Skeates said. “From the votes it looked like it was a heavy Seminole County crowd.”
As opposed to Orange County, Seminole County has historically leaned heavily Republican, further accounting for the deviation. Case in point: In the U.S. Senate race, the combined four Republican candidates won 311 of the 417 total votes cast.
“I don’t know how reflective you can think the results are going to be,” Skeates said. “I certainly don’t think Romney is going to get 74 percent of the vote.”
But at the local level, the results could be more meaningful, with voters representing a smaller area that more closely resembles the local electorate.
Ted Edwards, who currently occupies the Orange County Commission’s District 5 seat, won the straw poll with 141 votes against his sole opponent Gina Duncan who gathered 76 votes.
“That was very gratifying,” Edwards said. “We’re just hoping to continue to have the support of the voters in east Orange County for the work we’ve been doing.”
Although Edwards was ahead in the straw poll, Duncan said she was able to collect the 1,100 signatures needed to qualify as a candidate in less than 90 days because of her message, which revolves around bringing government to the people — something she said resonates with her constituents who are not always close to where the Commission meets downtown.
“I plan to host a town hall meeting once a month in all areas of the district,” said the retired banker who’s now a silent partner in a travel business. “The district is so large now with 119,000 people. They should know their commissioner, and I should know their issues.”
Regardless of early monsoons and congressional sessions that kept some national-level politicians out of the event, Skeates said the hob nob was a big success.
“We were really pleased,” Skeates said. “A lot of the hob nobs I’ve been to, you come out and it’s just campaign staff. Of the 55 or 56 candidates all but four showed. We weren’t sure what to expect because of the weather, but everybody who said they would show up showed up. It worked out just perfectly.”