No candidate has a stranger Election Day than Diana Finegan.
She should be Commissioner-elect Finegan by now, but because of some childish shenanigans from people who aren’t nearly as smart as they think, Finegan is on the Nov. 8 ballot against a no-party affiliation candidate that virtually everyone in the county concludes is a fake.
Little suggests NPA Paul Grogan has a legitimate campaign. He supported Finegan in the primary, doesn’t live in the district, has conducted no fundraising, not a single campaign event and has spent most of the election season out of the state, as he admittedly does for more than half the year.
Finegan slowed down but did not stop fundraising after her District 2 Republican primary win over Stacey Worthington. She’s collected just under $8,000 since the primary and spent less than $1,000 — mostly on yard signs, oddly.
Grogan, meanwhile, had one haul: On Sept. 27 he collected eight checks for one dollar each. I kid you not.
Voters blocked from the real election in August don’t think this is funny. It’s hard to see whether they’ll take out their frustrations on Grogan or Finegan, or let bygones be bygones.
Naturally, I have some thoughts:
— Finegan won the primary with 57% of the vote over Worthington, but don’t assume that shows the outcome wouldn’t have mattered even with an open primary.
Worthington’s entire campaign strategy would have changed to target those non-Republican voters. Who knows how they would have fared in an actual head-to-head matchup, but Worthington’s fate was sealed as soon as Grogan’s “campaign” reared up.
— Finegan is an election shoo-in against a faceless candidate, but at what margin of victory? Think about it. What does a general election mandate look like for Finegan? Voters need to sweep her into office big time, right?
Incumbent candidates lose votes simply because they’re incumbents (it happens), Finegan’s situation is different. She hasn’t been elected to anything yet. Finegan's the clear front-runner in a race that’s been tainted by a complaint with the Florida Elections Commission alleging her opponent is an illegal ghost candidate.
As a Citrus County political junkie, I’m fascinated by this. It’s not unusual to have Republican candidates win closed primaries and face NPAs in the general election who have no chance of winning. However, those NPAs, while politically naïve, have sincere motives. I’ve met very few people — none, actually — who buy into Grogan’s campaign as sincere.
Under normal circumstances, this is a cakewalk for Finegan.
— Speaking of that, who’s supporting Grogan? And, why? I’ve heard from many non-Republicans who are so angry about being blocked from the primary they’re going to vote for Grogan in spite.
That is an…interesting strategy but unrealistic. Though this year, nothing surprises me. Finegan has supporters, of course, but she also has detractors and has done little to win them over. While she claimed no knowledge of Grogan or his campaign, she didn’t deride it either.
Some voters, bruised after being shunned in the primary, may use the ballot to send a message.
— Finally, a word to the people who are giggling over putting Grogan up to this: Your little joke backfired. All it did was rob Finegan of the momentum all new candidates enjoy with their first win.
New candidates want to feel the enthusiasm of being swept into office, whether by 1 vote or 100,000. Though not her first election, Rebecca Bays won a clean primary open to all voters and has turned her attention to commissioner stuff in preparation of taking the oath.
Finegan, on the other hand, is stuck in a stained general election that, regardless of how big she wins, will feel a little empty. She can thank cynical supporters who believed her only chance to win was with a Republican-only primary. They stole from her the well-earned glow of a first-time winner.
I know some voters aren’t happy about this. If I were Finegan, I’d be livid.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.