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ICYMI: The Top 10 interesting moments of Florida’s 2012 primary elections

By on August 14, 2012

There are just hours left before the primary election comes to a close, yet it’s not too early to begin compiling a list of some of the best moments from the 2012 primary.

One caveat: I will pass on including any mention of the GOP primary for the US Senate. Mike Haridopolos dropping out, Adam Hasner dropping out, George LeMieux dropping out — these events, like the campaign itself, are best forgotten.

Here’s my list of the Top 10 interesting moments of the primary elections.

(Dis)honorable mention: Ann Ober’s it-could-get-her-booted-from-the-bench broadside against John Grant - In the race for Hillsborough County Court Judge Group 3, incumbent Judge Ann Ober crossed the line. In a mailing to voters, she noted that her opponent, John Grant, was investigated for making obscene phone calls, had three DUI arrests and finished near the bottom of his law school class. Those charges are all 10 to 24 years old, and it appears that Grant has — as he insists — matured since then. The issue here is not whether Grant has an arrest history, but the context and relevance of charges that are far in the past. As the Tampa Bay Times editorial board, opined, “Her decision to take the low road shows a self-serving indifference that is out of step with her record and character.”

10. Possible upsets in several House races throughout Florida – I keep tellin’ folks: Has there ever been an Academy Awards where every one of the predicted winners actually wins? Of course not.  ’Crash’ beats out ‘Brokeback Mountain.’ ‘Shakespeare in Love’ wins instead of ‘Saving Private Ryan.’ Bottom line: upsets happen. Maybe not in some of the races for the Florida Senate, but certainly in a few House races. In HD 55, Randy Johnson may pick off Cary Pigman; David Phillips is neck-and-neck with favorite Kathleen Peters in HD 69; the race in HD 76 between Michael Grant and Ray Rodriguez is very interesting.

9. The US Chamber donates $250,000 to committee supporting Jeff Brandes for State Senate – To me, this is one of the most important developments of the entire cycle. Not for its specific impact on the race for Senate District 22, but what it says that a national organization donated that much money to a  committee that operates mostly in the shadows. This contribution speaks to the disproportion present in many state legislative races. Just think about it, $250K  into a single State Senate race. Two hundred and fifty thousand dollars once was enough to fund an entire State Senate campaign; now, it’s a week’s worth of television airtime. The second part of this equation is equally important, the fact that the $250K went to Accountability in Government, Inc., a political committee that appears to be bound by few limits on what it can do.

8. Allen West launches emotional ad, “Body Armor” - West, the first black Republican congressman to represent Florida since Reconstruction, is considered one of the more vulnerable incumbents this election cycle. Redistricting has forced him to campaign for another term in a different district, where he must introduce himself to a new set of voters. Undoubtedly, “Body Armor” is one of the best ads produced this cycle. Moreover, the seriousness of this ad underscores just how competitive is the race between West and Democratic challenger Patrick Murphy.

7. Connecting the dots behind Rachel Burgin’s attacks on Tom Lee - Just think about how out-of-bounds an attack must be if it makes Tom Lee a sympathetic figure. But that’s what a mailer attacking Lee claimed, blaring that he “abandoned his marriage for a gambling lobbyist” in his first Senate term. Florida Senate Republican leaders hit the roof. They began contacting the lobbyists and special interests who helped fund the committee behind the flier. Election complaints were later filed against Burgin and the lobbyist who funded the attack. I’d argue that Burgin’s campaign never recovered from the backlash it received after this attack. Still, Burgin’s campaign doubled-down, producing a TV spot that thoroughly demonstrated the weakness of her candidacy. Ending with a photo of Burgin with Senator Marco Rubio (who did not endorsed her), the :30 spot says “the insiders in Tallahassee don’t want me to win.” Actually, it’s more like one set of insiders in Tallahassee doesn’t want her to win, while a second set, which includes uber-lobbyists Ron Book, Jack Cory and Guy Spearman, do want her to win. With production values barely exceeding a PowerPoint presentation set to music, this commercial was disappointingly weak.

6. A barrage of some of the least creative direct mail ever inflicted upon the voters of Florida - As a multiple Pollie Award-winning designer who actually judges the creativity of political direct mail for the American Association of Political Consultants, I believe I can say with some expertise that the barrage of mailers sent to voters this primary is, on the whole, the least creative work I’ve seen during my 14-year career in politics. Take this confusing piece from the Committee to Protect Florida attacking another political committee. What a dog’s breakfast! The worst mailer of them all? This mailer, which indirectly attacks a candidate for not having children even though the candidate’s adult son died of Leukemia.

5. The ugly, no-holds-barred race between Miami GOP Reps. Jose Felix Diaz and Ana Rivas Logan - The rest of the state has nothing on South Florida when it comes to intensity of campaigns for legislative seats. Every candidate is aligned with an alphabet soup of CCEs and ECOs while political consultants change sides as often as they change shirts. Just read this blog post in the Miami Herald and I challenge you to correctly identify who’s who in this race. George R.R. Martin would have trouble keeping up with this Spanish-speaking version of Game of Thrones.

4. The most lethal political ad I’ve seen in Florida politics - I am referring to the ad launched by State Attorney candidate Peter Lombardo, which features an elderly widow holding Lombardo’s opponent, Ed Brodsky, for the murder of her husband because, she contends, Brodsky mishandled the case of the killer, Michael Leon Walker, who should have been in jail for a previous robbery. The Sarasota Herald-Tribune‘s Jeremy Wallace describes it as “maybe the most vicious ad I have ever seen in a local race here.”

3. Conservative groups influencing Democratic primaries – As Kartik Krishnaiyer of the Political Hurricane observed, Republican-aligned interest groups are playing in Democratic primaries looking to get the most business-friendly legislators elected in seats without serious Republican opposition. In other seats where the Republicans have an incumbent or serious chance of victory, these organizations are attempting to nominate the perceived weaker Democrat in order to ensure GOP victory in November.

2. The referendum on Jack Latvala – Thinking of Senator Latvala, I am reminded of the scene from ‘The West Wing’ in which Josh Lyman wonders about how many fronts can the White House successfully defend itself from its political enemies. On how many fronts can Latvala defend himself against his? It seems like every Republican in Tallahassee — Jeb Bush, Don Gaetz, John Thrasher, etc., etc. is lined up against the maverick from Pinellas County. At some point you have to begin to ask yourself why? Because he doesn’t want to see the state’s prisons privatized? Or is it because he would clean out the Augean stables?

1. Money – First, the stats (via Aaron DeSlatte of the Orlando Sentinel). There are 768 candidates for the Legislature, state attorney and judgeships this fall, and they had raised a total of $52.5 million through mid-July. The 112 ad-buying “electioneering communications organizations” had grossed another $18 million. And the slush funds lawmakers and interest-groups create called “CCEs” had raised $62.3 million. On average, a candidate for the Florida Senate candidate has raised $138,267.

Now, the perspective.

Of course today’s elections are more expensive than previous ones. I get, understand and even welcome that. But the difference between the money spent in 2012 and years past is so disproportionate that it’s difficult for many of veterans of so many campaigns to get their hands around just how much money is being spent. At all levels.

Today, a single State House candidate will expend what a State Senator would spend over the course of two or three election cycles.

The money spent in a State Senate race in Florida is equivalent to what is expended in most Congressional races in other states.

And the Congressional races? Allen West just hit the $10 million mark in fundraising. Ten million dollars!

It’s almost difficult to comprehend.

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