GAINESVILLE, Fla. — University of Florida law professor Meshon Rawls clinched the Alachua County judgeship late Tuesday night after a relatively close race with fellow law professor Craig DeThomasis.
The atmosphere of Rawls’ watch party at Harry’s Seafood Bar & Grille was relaxed even as Rawls maintained a small lead over DeThomasis. In the end, she bested her general election opponent 52 to 48 percent.
Throughout the night, Rawls and her supporters took occasional glances at the television tuned to ABC hovering over the annex carved out by Harry’s staff for the watch party.
But even shots of fluctuating FiveThirtyEight probability forecasts depicted on the TV set did little to sour the mood. Sounds of contagious laughter, giggling children and decades-old R&B classics pervaded the air. Rawls, grinning and balancing her toddler on her waist, waltzed from table to table to commiserate with supporters.
Prior to Rawls’ entry, one of her supporters asked attendees to join her in saying grace — one of few moments of pause in a fast-paced and high-octane night.
Even as only half of the precincts had reported by 9:30 p.m., supporters flocked in and out to proffer their congratulations to Rawls as her 52-to-48 lead was solidifying.
Many who attended had backgrounds in government work. Gwendolyn Delores, who organized the watch party, serves as manager, chief investigator and former head of the city of Gainesville’s Office of Equal Opportunity.
Lending a hand to whip up enthusiasm was incumbent Gainesville City Commissioner Helen Warren, sporting an azure “Meshon Rawls for Judge” tee.
The restaurant officially closed at 10, but staff allowed the party to continue for another half hour. Maiya McCray, an 8th Judicial Circuit extern, noticed when the energy began to wane:
“The babies are sleeping,” she said.
A little after closing time, the adults grew restless and listless, and the length of the day was not lost on them. As waiters brought out battalions of bread, one supporter said “I’ve been up since 7:30 in the morning.” Another chimed in: “Me too!”
They had been waiting on the remaining three of 63 precincts to report their results. Supporters chanted “c’mon, three precincts!” as a boom box hummed “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye in the background.
At 10:34 p.m., Rawls’ husband hushed the stereo, announced the party would be wrapping up and announcing the state of the race — that Rawls’ 3,000-vote lead over DeThomasis was sure to hold, that only provisional ballots remained to be tallied, and that the deficit in such ballots remaining would not be enough to overcome her lead, ensuring her victory.
The room broke into applause at the news before supporters meandered out of Harry’s, snagging last-minute photos with the judge-elect.
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Despite her background in juvenile law and children’s rights litigation, Rawls could not publicly indicate whether she supported the two referenda tailored to improving school infrastructure across Alachua County, both of which passed with flying colors. Unlike other positions, judgeships are strictly nonpartisan, meaning judicial candidates cannot publicly voice support or raise funds for political initiatives.
“I don’t want people to think I’d been commenting this entire time,” Rawls said. Prior to polls closing at 7 p.m., the now judge-elect commended a “very clean, very cordial” race.
Fiona Apps, Fred Pohls, Martin S. Taylor, and Jimmy Wales contributed reporting.