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Bankson breaks the trend in beating Ruth


Political Opinion/Analysis

In 2014, the political landscape of Apopka changed, but maybe not the way you think.

Joe Kilsheimer defeated long-standing Mayor John Land. Commissioners Diane Velazquez and Sam Ruth also rode that wave and formed what has been described as “a coalition of sorts”; which is to say those three candidates share a vision of how to govern Apopka and formed an intangible alliance. Mayor Kilsheimer and Velazquez won by about 500-vote margins and secured about 55% of the electorate. Ruth’s margin of victory was less than 200. Turnout over the previous five cycles (2006-2012) was between 941 and 2,436. In 2014 it skyrocketed to 4,948 in the general election and 6,155 in the runoff.

In 2016, two trends continued. Despite no mayoral election, turnout remained in the 5,000 range (in the runoff it was 4,941), and Kyle Becker won with a 500-vote margin (55% of the electorate) over 39-year incumbent Commissioner Bill Arrowsmith to continue the trend of Kilsheimer-aligned candidates prevailing by similar margins and percentages.

So is this “new” Apopka electorate? Candidates in alignment with Kilsheimer will keep winning until there are no more seats to win?

Outgoing City Commissioner Sam Ruth Bankson was able to defeat Ruth in the March election, but also hold his lead in the April runoff.

Doug Bankson doesn’t think so.

Bankson was able to overcome the trend with a 55-45% victory of his own. Only this was against Ruth – a part of the original alliance.

Many believe that Apopka voters sent an anti-incumbent message, and that losses by Land, Arrowsmith and Ruth are a warning to incumbents both now and in the future. But these two outcomes could be saying something different.

So what happened?

When you run against a 39-year incumbent like Arrowsmith, it would be impossible to defeat him without critiquing his record, and contrasting yourself with him. Becker chose this route.

Bankson did not. Instead he chose to run his campaign “in his own lane”. He ran “for” the seat instead of against Ruth. However, Bankson ran against a two-year incumbent who lost three previous elections before winning in 2014 by less than 200 votes.

So how did he win?

Like most any goal, mission or initiative, there are fundamentals that should be followed in order to be successful. A political campaign is no different. Politics has the reputation of being a four-letter word – but it doesn’t have to be that way.

Team Bankson built a platform that put its candidate in a solid position to deliver a message that connected with Apopka voters. They had a large team of volunteers, raised funds successfully, kept the Bankson name and message in the minds of voters for the entire term of the campaign, and then for another 30 days. Bankson beat Ruth in the March general election, but was also able to hold his lead in the April runoff.

But political skills and strong fundraising are not enough. If the candidate’s message does not resonate and they are unable to connect with voters, all the money and political savvy in the world won’t matter. If you need proof of that fact, just take a look at the list of well-funded candidates in the Republican Presidential field that never cracked 10% support. Money is important. Political skills are important too. But neither of them will win elections on their own.

Bankson has solid name recognition in Apopka; at least equal to that of Ruth. He is well known from years of community service, as a pastor of a popular church and several years on the Board of The Chamber of Commerce.

So how did Bankson break through an alliance that seems to crank out victories over established candidates?

Bankson was able to connect with voters. Bankson ran "in his own lane" against a two-year incumbent who had lost three previous elections before winning in 2014.

Clearly in Apopka there are two well-known groups of voters. One is an established base of voters who have lived in Apopka for generations. They favored Mayor Land, Commissioner Arrowsmith, and in this election Bankson. They are more likely to favor fiscal responsibility and caution in government spending than economic development. They are a very solid base of support who turnout consistently to vote.

The second group is a little less established in Apopka. They may have moved here in the last 10 years. They favored Kilsheimer, Velazquez and Ruth. In this cycle they also voted for Becker. And while they have less time in Apopka, they are probably larger than the Land group. They favor economic development more than they value a reserve. They too are a solid base of support that turnout consistently for elections.

The Land and Kilsheimer groups are easy to understand. They are like Democrats and Republicans. They are loyal, they support their candidates fiercely and they agree with their candidates’ ideology. It is not that either group lacks independence or the ability to think for themselves.

This third group of voters is the least consistent of the groups, but probably the fastest growing and the one that may decide a lot of elections in the future. They have fewer ties to Apopka. They probably work outside of the city. They are the “bedroom-community” group. They may keep up with national politics, but may or may not get interested in local races. It’s how 10,000 voters came out in March, but only 5,000 in April. They aren’t loyal to local candidates and may not even be aware of alliances.

But while they aren’t as loyal or as consistent in turning-out for elections, they may be the voters that decide elections in Apopka. They do not have a sense of loyalty to either group, in fact they pretty clearly voted for both Bankson and Becker in a plurality in this election.

In order to win future Apopka elections, it may be important to get to know these mysterious voters, connect with them and keep them excited enough to turnout and vote – maybe twice.

It looks as if Bankson was able to crack the code.

City Commission/ Elections


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