Candidates gear up for Election Day
The months have whittled into weeks and the candidates have begun their final push to Nov. 6 when voters will decide who will have the opportunity to help shape our future at the national, state and local levels.
Lee County voters, besides casting a ballot for president, will vote for a U.S. senator and representative, as well as senators and representatives on the state level.
Voters also will decide on county commissioners, a school board member and a sheriff, among other offices.
Lee County Supervisor of Elections Sharon Harrington said it is these local elections that voters should be most concerned with.
“It starts at the ground level. If you have a pothole, do you think the president is going to do something about it?” Harrington said. “You call your councilman because he may live on the same street.”
The biggest race, obviously, is between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney for president, but other important national races could change the balance of power in Congress.
Incumbent Bill Nelson, a Democrat, will face U.S. Rep. Connie Mack for the Senate seat Nelson holds. That race also features seven write-in and unaffiliated candidates, though none are local.
Mack’s seat in the19th Congressional District will be filled by either Republican Trey Radel, who won a candidate-heavy primary in August, or Democrat Jim Roach, who didn’t face a primary. Brandon Smith of Naples also is on the ballot.
In the 17th District, GOP candidate Tom Rooney will battle Democrat William Bronson and write-in candidate Tom Baumann.
For state office, in the 77th District, which encompasses Cape Coral almost exclusively, Republican Dane Eagle will face Democrat Arvella M. Clare.
In District 78, Heather Dawes Fitzenhagen of the GOP takes on write-in candidate Kerry Babb.
In Senate District 30, current deputy majority leader Lizbeth Benacquisto will face Democrat Debbie Jordan.
Four of the five county commissioner seats will be up for grabs. In District 1, Cape Coral Republican John Manning faces write-in Gerard David Jr.
District 2 will have a three-way dance, with GOP candidate Cecil Pendergrass going against write-in Neal Moore and unaffiliated John W. Sawyer.
District 3 will see Larry Kiker, who stunned incumbent Ray Judah in the Republican primary, battle unaffiliated Charlie Whitehead, while in District 5, GOP incumbent Frank Mann faces Independent Party of Florida candidate Matt Miller.
For Lee County Tax Collector, incumbent Larry Hart, a Republican, will face unaffiliated James Chandler.
In the fight for the non-partisan District 2 school board seat, incumbent Jeanne Dozier battles former school board member Bob Chilmonik.
For the Lee County Sheriff’s post, incumbent Mike Scott, a Republican, has a pair of challengers in write-in candidate Christian Meister and unaffiliated Lee Bushong.
Harrington said it will be these last two races that should be the most heated. Indeed, the candidates haven’t been afraid to throw barbs.
Also at stake are three seats on the Lee Memorial Health System Board of Directors in districts 1, 3 and 5, where 13 people will vie for the three non-partisan seats.
Harrington has said that in a county tilted toward Republicans, those who have won the GOP primaries have usually gone on to win the general election, since their November challengers are usually write-in candidates or from minor parties.
Early voting will run from Oct. 27 to Nov. 3, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., at any of the five voting locations throughout Lee County.
“More than two-thirds voted before the elections in 2008. That was amazing. Will we reach that this time?” Harrington said. “Many people don’t know who they’ll vote for. Will it be a deterrent?”
Harrington said they have received 60,493 requests for absentee ballots so far, and they hope to reach the 2008 total, which was around 90,000.
However, Harrington also said she doesn’t think Lee County will reach the heights of voter participation as it did four years ago.
In 2008, more than 85 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot, 271,772 to be exact. Of them, 66,478 voted early, and 81,422 were absentee voters, leaving 123,849 to vote on Election Day.
John McCain won Lee County by more than 11 percentage points over Obama, the presidential race victor.
“Early voting is unpredictable. It’s a popular way to vote, but I don’t feel the electricity this time,” Harrington said. “As people of my generation have aged, things have changed dramatically. The patriotism isn’t quite there.”
Harrington said she expects about 75 percent of eligible voters to cast their ballots, adding, “I hope they prove me wrong.”