Decision Apopka 2018
By Reggie Connell/Managing Editor of The Apopka Voice
In modern-day elections, landslides are a rarity. Unless it’s a very small town or the electorate is of one specific ideology, two qualified, and well-funded candidates will almost always be in for a relatively close election.
In Apopka, there have been six general election contests, and five runoffs since 2012, and in all 11 outcomes no candidate eclipsed 55.51% of the vote. Not since 2010 has anyone rose above 60% in an election.
But that changed in a big way yesterday.
Orange County Commissioner and now Apopka Mayor-Elect Bryan Nelson stood on the corner of Central Avenue and Fifth Street for 12 hours on Election Day waving to passers-by, residents, and supporters as they made their way to the VFW/Apopka Community Center to vote. And despite the static nature of manning a post, he changed the structure of Apopka almost as much as the historic tornado of 1918.
Apopka politics may never be the same.
Nelson thrashed Kilsheimer with 63.4% of the vote, the largest margin of victory in an Apopka election since Commissioner Kathy S. Till defeated Sammy Ruth with 65.5% of the vote in 2008. Nelson received an astounding 4,103 votes, the most ever by a candidate for Apopka mayor.
The message was loud and clear, but what caused this overwhelming turnout of support for Nelson? What is the anatomy of this landslide?
In the 2014 Apopka Mayoral General Election, Kilsheimer received 2,353 votes compared to Mayor John Land’s 1,995, and two other candidates combined for 690 votes. The turnout was 4,961. The following month Kilsheimer defeated Land in the runoff with 3,352 votes and the turnout was 6,155. Essentially, there were 1,884 “soft voters” in the runoff (the additional 1,194 voters plus the 690 voters from the general election that voted for other candidates) and Kilsheimer attracted 999 of them.
In order to win re-election in 2018, Kilsheimer would need to maintain his base, and keep those “soft voters” on his side of the ledger. Evidence of this happening would be in a high turnout, and an overperformance in precinct 9204, which was where Kilsheimer drew the majority of his votes in the previous election.
And by 7 pm on Election Day, a record 6,467 voters had turned out, which was a surprising figure considering only 2,637 voted early or mailed in their ballots. It also looked like good news for Kilsheimer when Precinct 9204 had 24.84% participation from its voters, compared to only 17.92% for Precinct 9104.
The groundwork had been laid, it seemed, for a photo finish between Kilsheimer and Nelson.
But soon after 7 PM, partial results were released by the Election Supervisor’s website, and it became clear that while the model for a close election might be present, the results were not.
In 2018, Kilsheimer seemed to only hold his base together, which was good enough to win the general election in 2014, but not good enough to overcome Nelson’s groundswell of support. All of the soft votes Kilsheimer received in 2014 either stayed home or voted for Nelson.
The Apopka Voice Reader’s Poll conducted in February predicted a Nelson victory by a modest margin of 53-47%. It missed by 10% on Nelson’s total mark but was extremely accurate in the Seat #1, and Seat #2 races, correctly predicting all eight candidate’s final position on election day and closely predicting their vote percentages. So perhaps this suggests that Nelson actually had a modest lead in February that extended from 53.6% to 63.4% in the final month of the campaign.
In the 1980 Presidential Election, Ronald Reagan trailed President Jimmy Carter in the polls well into October before ultimately winning the election by over 10% in the popular vote and 489-49 in the Electoral College. This Apopka Mayoral race had that sort of feel to it; a close race that suddenly broke wide open for Nelson in the last days.
It’s hard to know exactly what caused an election between two seemingly evenly matched opponents to turn so one-sided. Both candidates were undefeated, well-funded, both are experienced politicians with strong support bases within Apopka.
Perhaps Nelson just knocked on more doors and found Apopka residents that otherwise would not have participated. Perhaps his signage was just more prominent and that gave voters the appearance that he was the favorite.
But those are intangibles, and it takes more than intangibles for a margin this wide to occur.
Perhaps if the Splash Pad had gone in last summer, or the Alonzo Williams Community Center was completed in the fall, or the City Center had begun to take shape, or the Community Redevelopment Agency had been more visibly effective, Kilsheimer’s message of moving Apopka forward would have resonated with more voters than just his base.
It’s a difficult political puzzle to solve, but one that will be speculated on at least until election season returns in 2020.
Congratulations to you Mayor-Elect Bryan Nelson. It was an impressive campaign. And thank you Mayor Joe Kilsheimer for your service to the community.