The race for St. Petersburg mayor is technically non-partisan. But party politics may have been a factor in the razor-thin primary finish Tuesday night.
According to unofficial returns from the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections, Mayor Rick Kriseman leads former Mayor Rick Baker by just a few dozen votes. Each candidate earned just over 48 percent of the vote, while five other candidates garnered no more than 2 percent of the 56,000 votes cast by city residents.
Kriseman's watch party at the State Theater was distinctly partisan with speakers connecting the incumbent Kriseman to traditionally Democratic issues like gay rights. When Kriseman took the stage, he hammered Baker for his lack of support on the same issues.
"If Rick Baker is elected mayor, he will turn back the clock on St. Pete. He will take us back to a time of backroom deals, to a time when the rainbow flag and the flag celebrating Black History Month didn't fly proudly over city hall," he said.
For most of the race, Baker led Kriseman in the polls. And on Election Night, he continued with that message, criticizing his rival on sewage spills, the downtown Pier, and public safety.
"We've got a great city, so I get it, I understand, I helped build that great city,” he said at his event held at a hotel just a few blocks from Kriseman’s event. “But the problem is that you can't stay a great city if you keep making the colossal mistakes Rick Kriseman is making and really ignoring the will of the people of St. Pete."
If Tuesday night’s watch parties are an indication, the next few months of the campaigns between Kriseman and Baker will be increasingly partisan.
In a fire-up-the-crowd speech to Kriseman supporters, Pinellas County School Board Member Rene Flowers pointed out all the Democratic leaders there, from city council members to state lawmakers like Sen. Darryl Rousson and Rep. Ben Diamond.
And Kriseman - after recognizing his family and thanking volunteers – gave a shout out to former Democratic President Barack Obama for an endorsement made just last Friday.
While the race was supposed to be non-partisan, it took on a decidedly different air with Kriseman trying to tie Baker to President Donald Trump.
Baker's fellow Republican, former U.S. Representative David Jolly, believes that Kriseman’s attempts to tie Baker to President Donald Trump will continue as they head to a Nov. 7 general election.
"And this is going to be a head-to-head match-up, and the question's going to be how nationalized does this become, both on the campaign finance side and national figures on the Republican and Democratic side," he said.
While Jolly said he thinks Baker will keep the race local, he suspects Kriseman will try to follow up Obama’s recent endorsement by bringing the former president to town.
Democratic State Representative Ben Diamond was at Kriseman's watch party last night and downplayed the partisanship. He says most new voters aren't thinking about party loyalty.
“The fastest growing voter block are people that don’t register with the Democrats or the Republicans. They’re just looking for solutions and good government,” he said.