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The two sides battling it out in Tallahassee-Leon County races say many contests are a toss up

 A long dais with dark leather seats, computers and microphones
Craig Moore
WFSU Public Media
The balance of power on the Tallahassee commission could change, depending on Tuesday night's primaries

Tuesday, Aug. 23 is primary day in Leon County, and no one knows what’s going to happen. The majority on the Tallahassee City Commission is up for grabs—certainly in November—and maybe even tonight. And the political brokers working behind the scenes (and the candidates) are hoping to emerge victorious.

Bob Lotane is the publisher of the progressive blog Our Tallahassee and a former city commission candidate. A self-described “keen observer of the scene,” he says it’s hard to predict the outcomes of local races because, unlike in national elections, there’s rarely any polling.

“In fact, if there’s a reliable or even an unreliable poll out there, I haven’t seen it. So, everybody’s pretty much shooting in the dark, looking for signs and whatever. I learned when I was a candidate in 2018 and people thought I was going to do a certain way and I didn’t do nearly as well -- that you just can’t tell these things."

Incumbents Mayor John Dailey and City Commissioner Dianne Williams-Cox and city commission candidate Dr. David Bellamy have far and away the most money of all the candidates. In a normal year that would be decisive, but Lotane says this year isn’t normal.

“And the issues are very keen. People are watching these elections, they’ve been aggressive, people have used methods that haven’t been used before, so the money thing may be muted because of that which makes it even more unknown."

Fueling this year's local election cycle is the fallout from a controversial decision by the city-county Intergovernmental Blueprint Agency to give Florida State University $27 million for football stadium repairs and upgrades. There's also suspicion after the conviction of former city manager Scott Maddox on federal corruption charges.

"But without polls, it’s really hard to tell. So you have to go with the old classic, Who’s got the most money? If that’s the case, the establishment is going to win it going away, but I think it’s a little quick to be calling that one," said Lotane.

The establishment candidates, as Lotane calls them, have indeed broken fundraising records. But Commissioner Jeremy Matlow, the thorn in Dailey’s side, is also running for reelection and leading a passionate opposition and openly backing a slate of candidates who've also been supported by Our Tallahassee. Passionate voters are a wild card.

“Look at Jeremy in 2018. That was one with a lot of passion, not much money, he came out of nowhere. Look at Jack Porter, look at Brian Welch. Those were elections that were well-financed, but they certainly didn’t have the most money. But the passion overtook the money, so that’s why these Tallahassee local campaigns can be a little tough to judge on traditional political measurements -- such as money," said Lotane.

Bugra Demirel, chairman of Grow Tallahassee’s political action committee, declined to comment on this story. Grow Tallahassee is pro-development and backs its own slate of candidates—having endorsed Dailey, Williams-Cox and Bellamy, among others.

“We are a non-profit,” he wrote in a text. “No one gets paid on my end to do what we do. Our mission is about public policy and education. Yes, we have an agenda, but we are upfront and public about it. Our Tallahassee is a private LLC with for-profit motives. They are trying to be a news source by creating conspiracy theories about me, my family, my business and anyone around me…If Lotane one day creates a non-profit (like we did) and wants to discuss elections and politics, I’ll be right there to challenge him.”

Polls are open Tuesday till 7 p.m. Those who are waiting in line at 7 p.m. are allowed to vote.

Follow @MargieMenzel

Margie Menzel covers local and state government for WFSU News. She has also worked at the News Service of Florida and Gannett News Service. She earned her B.A. in history at Vanderbilt University and her M.S. in journalism at Florida A&M University.