Year in Review: St. Johns County voters prove critical to statewide, national elections

Trump, Rubio, Rutherford, DeSantis amass big local wins on their way to victory


St. Johns County voters once again proved critical to deciding statewide and national elections Tuesday, as big electoral wins in Northeast Florida propelled Republican candidates up and down the ballot to victory.

All eyes were on Florida Tuesday night, with election observers noting that Republican nominee Donald Trump needed Florida’s 29 electoral votes if he were to have any chance of capturing the presidency. After several hours of neck-and-neck voter tallies, Florida was moved into the Republican column thanks in large part to the sizable vote totals Trump amassed in Northeast Florida, which offset Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s strength in the southern part of the state.

Both the Trump and Clinton campaigns recognized the importance of Northeast Florida to securing Florida’s 29 electoral votes. Trump held no fewer than four major rallies in the Jacksonville/St. Augustine area on his way to the White House, attracting overflow crowds at each. And in the final week before the election, both former President Bill Clinton and President Barack Obama visited Jacksonville to campaign on Hillary’s Clinton’s behalf – with Obama and Trump holding dueling rallies Nov. 3 in Jacksonville. In the end, however, First Coast voters helped deliver a Florida win for Trump.

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio also benefited from First Coast Republican votes, retaining his senate seat and fending off a strong challenge from U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy. On the congressional side, former Jacksonville Sheriff John Rutherford easily bested Democratic rival David Bruderly and Independent Gary Koniz to capture the 4th congressional district seat, while U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis retained his newly redrawn 6th congressional seat against challenger William McCullough.

Historic upset
At press time, Trump was the projected winner of 276 electoral votes to Clinton’s 218, with several state tallies incomplete but projected to be leaning Republican. The key battleground state of Pennsylvania’s swing to Trump – securing the presidency – left media pundits in shock.

“It just is stunning to me that Donald Trump has won the presidency,” said FOX News commentator Chris Wallace, who received high marks from both Democrats and Republicans for his turn as moderator of the final presidential debate. “I just can’t believe it.”

At 2:45 a.m. EST, Trump took the stage to the jubilant cheers of his supporters. After thanking his family and key supporters – including former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Dr. Ben Carson – the president-elect delivered a message focused on American unity.

“Now it’s time for America to bind the wounds of division,” Trump said. “To all Republicans and Democrats and Independents across this nation, it is time for us to come together as one united people. I pledge to every citizen of this land that I will be president to all Americans. This is so important to me.”

Trump said his historic electoral upset resulted not from a campaign, but from a “movement” focused on returning power to the American people.

“It’s a movement,” he said, “made up of millions of hard working men and women who love their country and want a better future for themselves and their families.”

County results
In St. Johns County, more than 80 percent of the county’s 172,073 voters turned out, delivering large victories for Republican candidates up and down the ballot. Trump carried the county with 88,633 votes (64.36 percent) compared to Clinton’s 43,037 (31.25 percent). Libertarian Gary Johnson received 3,608 votes (2.62 percent) and Green Party Candidate Jill Stein 860 (.62 percent).

Down ticket, Rubio and Rutherford enjoyed even larger victories. Rubio garnered more than 70 percent of St. Johns County ballots, with 95,693 to Rep. Patrick Murphy’s 35,525. In the 4th congressional district race, Rutherford captured 71.74 percent of the vote with 81,700 votes to David Bruderly’s 26.20 percent (29,834) and 2,229 for Gary Koniz (1.96 percent).

U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis – running for re-election in the newly redrawn 6th congressional district – held onto his seat, receiving 12,496 votes in St. Johns County, or 66.97 percent of the vote to William McCullough’s 6,612 (33.03 percent).

At the state level, Sen. Travis Hutson easily won re-election, receiving 91,840 votes (70.77 percent) against Curtis Ceballos, who garnered 37,938 votes (29.23 percent). District 24 State Rep. Paul Renner also won re-election, tallying 13,233 votes (65.31 percent) against Adam Morley, who received 7,030 votes (34.69 percent).

In the contest for Tolomato Community Development District seat 3, William Fitzgerald unseated incumbent Stephen Grossman, receiving 2,293 votes (52.05 percent) to Grossman’s 2,112 (47.95 percent).

Statewide, the proposed solar energy amendment failed to meet the required 60 percent approval threshold, but amendments approving medical marijuana, a tax exemption for disabled first responders and a homestead tax exemption for some seniors all passed handily.

Local reaction
At a St. Johns County Republicans election night party held at the Mark Lance Armory in St. Augustine, the mood was upbeat and optimistic through the night, as local Republicans watched and cheered as state after state were added to the red column.

Some voters said their distrust of Clinton was one of their reasons for supporting Trump.

“I don’t like her attitude,” St. Augustine resident Justin Costa said. “She has a very bad record of lying. I would rather die than see her as president. That’s how I feel.”

Others cited Trump’s record as a successful businessman. “Everything the man has touched has turned to gold,” Nicole Zaffino said.

St. Johns County Republican Party Chair Bill Korach, however, believes that Trump’s core message of “Make America Great Again” resonated with voters across the nation.

“I think the public wants to turn to somebody that still believes in the promise of America.”

Jon Blauvelt contributed to this report.