Manatee County's electorate spoke clearly Tuesday by providing county Commissioner Carol Whitmore a resounding victory and handing newcomer Mary Cantrell an upset win over an incumbent school board member.
As expected, Congressman Vern Buchanan won by another landslide. In a close and nasty race observed around the nation, Gov. Rick Scott held on to win.
Floridians have renewed their faith in Gov. Rick Scott and not forgiven Charlie Crist for his political party flip-flops.
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The staggering amount of money spent on this campaign -- at least $104 million on TV ads just since March -- showcased the mudslinging campaigns waged by two polarizing politicians.
In a virulent contest where hostility, fabrications and insults trumped much discussion of candidate positions on public policy and vital issues, thank goodness this is over. No wonder the nation looks at Florida with amusement and alarm.
Let the healing begin.
Since Scott will again enjoy a Republican-dominated Legislature, the state's entrenched conservative agenda will continue. A stronger economic recovery and job creation should be top priorities.
In the season's most heated campaign here, Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore proved experience, deep knowledge of the issues and constituent service could overcome Terri Wonder's populist message of environmental protection alongside development restrictions.
While Wonder managed a strong campaign on those points, mostly about the massive Long Bar Pointe project along Sarasota Bay, Whitmore's solid record on environmental issues apparently stood up well with voters.
Wonder's thin grasp of other major topics came across during debates, especially at a Manatee Tiger Bay forum in which she repeatedly dodged questions or offered vague responses. Voters certainly took note.
The incumbent Republican and Democratic challenger for this at-large seat on the commission clashed repeatedly during those meetings -- sometimes descending into the political muck.
We expect Whitmore to keep her customer service approach to public office, continue to work on recruiting jobs and economic revitalization, and build up our infrastructure.
As a passionate proponent of Port Manatee's potential and chair of the Port Authority, Whitmore is well positioned to advance the progress there. And we appreciate her continuing commitment to serving full time as a commissioner, a vow that benefits county residents.
In Manatee County's other hot race, school board incumbent Julie Aranibar lost to a tough and respected opponent in Mary Cantrell, the former longtime director of Manatee Technical Institute.
During the civil debates between the two runoff survivors of the four-way August contest, both stuck to issues -- on opposite sides. That contrast provided voters with clear choices, and they embraced change.
Voters showed they supported the extensive educational leadership demonstrated by Cantrell and her success at making MTI one of the nation's best technical schools. Cantrell's election puts another educator on the board next to Charlie Kennedy, a Manatee High teacher elected in August.
Aranibar's policy positions and her record as a budget hawk did not resonate with enough voters.
Cantrell overcame the fact that she leased a residence in Manatee County and left her Pinellas County homestead in order to launch a school board campaign. That alienated some voters, but didn't swing the outcome.
Cantrell turned an August primary disadvantage to Aranibar by a narrow margin into a November victory by a comfortable one.
"Schools are about education, not politics," Cantrell said during the campaign. We agree.
With two new members, the school board dynamic could shift considerably. Time will tell.
With an advantage in his campaign war chest, Republican Congressman Vern Buchanan easily defeated Democrat Henry Lawrence. The incumbent's ground game also outpaced the challenger's with Buchanan importing big names from Washington for appearances here.
Lawrence, though well-known for his NFL career with the Oakland Raiders, three Super Bowl rings and his work here on behalf of the wellbeing of youth and children, knew from the beginning he faced a steep climb.
Even lacking the deep resources of one of the richest members of Congress, Lawrence waged a good campaign and managed a respectable vote count.
We salute the Palmetto resident's first campaign for political office, and we hope he returns to this arena. He demonstrated respect and civility, sorely needed attributes in today's political environment.
We expect Buchanan, a Longboat Key resident, to continue to strive for bipartisan solutions to the nation's challenges, and we're confident he'll also continue to press for measures that benefit Congressional District 16, which encompasses western Manatee and all of Sarasota County.
Sunday's early voting
Fresh evidence surfaced this week about the popularity of one day of early voting -- the final Sunday before election day. A groundswell of thousands of Democrats, many African Americans, descended on polls that were open, the Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau reported.
That's a day wrongly denied Manatee County voters. Supervisor of Elections Mike Bennett opted not to include that Sunday in early voting, halting it on Saturday instead.
A recent state law gave elections supervisors leeway in setting early voting days and hours. In the wake of long lines, delayed counts and national disgrace two years ago, Florida rewrote rigid elections law signed by Gov. Rick Scott ahead of the 2012 vote. The turnaround came amid revelations that the GOP indeed designed the old law to inhibit Democratic voters.
Bennett, a powerful Republican legislator who termed out of office and ran for elections supervisor, cannot justify choking off early voting before this Sunday and then maintain a nonpartisan position as elections supervisor.
,Coming Thursday: Commentary on other election results.