COLLIER COUNTY — They shook hands, played with children and even tried to tempt voters with sweet treats; and at the end of the night, nine candidates for Collier County elected office were declared the unofficial winner.
Now, the candidates running for the county's constitutional, commission and state legislative offices need to wait until August to see if the results of a straw poll Thursday night were any indication of their political future.
The 22nd Politics in the Park, held at St. John the Evangelist Life Center, gave Collier County residents a chance to mingle informally.
This year's event featured 56 participants, varying from candidates for Congress and Collier County Mosquito Control District to Americans for Prosperity and the Democratic Party. But attendees could only vote for candidates in the state legislative, Collier commission and constitutional office races. Those in attendance were allowed to vote once, but there was no age or party affiliation requirement.
This year, 642 ballots were cast, up from 600 ballots just two years earlier.
The event has historically been an indicator of who will win on Election Day.
"It's very important," said Tom Lykos, past president of the Collier Building Industry Association, one of the event's sponsors. "Historically the results are accurate. That's why it's important to the candidates."
Joe Davidow, one of a half-dozen Republicans vying to replace U.S. Rep. Connie Mack, said any event that gets him out in the public is important. Thursday, just hours after the Supreme Court upheld the federal health-care act, Davidow said he was asked dozens of questions about where he stood.
Officials said they heard dozens of people ask questions about the Supreme Court ruling, but Lykos said he tried to advise people to stay away from the hot topic.
"It's a national issue, not a local issue," he said. "I'm not a political animal, but I would recommend local candidates avoid the issue."
Still, the issue was one of the reasons Pat Browne attended the event. Browne said the ruling piqued his interest and he wanted to hear what the candidates had to say.
"It's in my best interest," he said.
Browne said he wasn't a fan of any particular candidate, but was "looking for hope, like everyone else."
Incumbents fared well in the straw poll, with seven of the nine incumbents claiming victory:
■ Clerk of Courts Dwight Brock defeated John Barlow 385 to 211.
■ Tax Collector Larry Ray defeated Steve Wagner 400 to 160
■ Sheriff Kevin Rambosk defeated Victor Ortino 490 to 137.
■ State Rep. Matt Hudson, R-Naples, defeated Pam Brown, a no party affiliation candidate, 356 to 221.
■ State Rep Kathleeen Passidomo, R-Naples, defeated Peter Richter, a Libertarian candidate, 377 to 123. Republican candidate David P. Bolduc came in third with 76 votes.
■ District 1 Commissioner Donna Fiala defeated Republican challenger Steve Cosgrove, 327 to 222. No party affiliation candidate Russell B. Kish came in third with 36 votes.
■ District 3 Commissioner Tom Henning defeated Republican challenger Bill McDaniel 330 to 256.
Not all incumbents came out on top, though.
District 5 commission candidate Tim Nance defeated current Commissioner Jim Coletta 292 to 267. Property Appraiser Abe Skinner lost to challenger Kevin Lilly, who got 340 votes to Skinner's 267.
John Knowles, an elections expert and Ave Maria School of Law spokesman, said straw polls like the one at Politics in the Park are similar to a public opinion poll.
"It's a snapshot, that's really what they're good for," he said.
Still, he said, the polls are often reliable if done accurately.