BRADENTON – Manatee County Commissioner Michael Gallen's reelection campaign may have just gotten more difficult, as a write-in candidate has filed for the race. Gallen won the seat in 2010 via an open primary, thanks in part to Republican support. Florida election law allows all voters to participate in primary races when there is no opponent registered outside of the primary and it essentially becomes the de facto general election.
Write-in candidates are something of a loophole and have often been used strategically to close open primaries when one candidate figures to do better without the other party's participation. In 2012, 22-year Manatee County Commissioner Joe McClash lost to current District 7 Commissioner Betsy Benac by only 494 of more than 25,000 votes cast, in a Republican primary that would have been open had a write-in candidate not filed.
Conventional wisdom says that McClash, who had considerable support from Democrats thanks mostly to his strong environmental record and endorsements from both the Sierra Club and Manasota 88, would have easily picked up the needed votes, had Democrats not been excluded. The write-in candidate, Thomas Dell, mounted no campaign of any kind and appeared to be nothing more than a strategic device.
District 2 is a deliberately gerrymandered district that was created in 1992 as part of a settlement with the NAACP to allow for a greater chance for an African American to win a seat and give that minority a chance for representation on the board. That year, Gwen Brown won the seat and held it for the next 16.
In 2010, Gallen defeated Brown and became the first Caucasian to ever win in the district. He is facing two African Americans in the August Democratic primary, Palmetto City Commissioner Charles Smith and former district 1 candidate Corie Holmes. This week, Troy Thomas of Palmetto filed paperwork to run as a write-in candidate, which will close the primary to Republicans, even though whoever wins the race will effectively walk into the seat after the November elections. The ratio of African American voters, the overwhelming majority of whom are registered as Democrats in district 2, will almost certainly be higher as a result, which could give Smith and Holmes an advantage, though having the both of them in the race also threatens to split the African American vote.
Gallen has mounted an effective campaign thus far, amassing over $25,000 in contributions as of the last reporting date. Holmes and Smith have raised less than $2,000 each. Thomas did not immediately return a call for comment on his write-in campaign.
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