With race car sponsorship flap, it’s deja snafu for Charlie Crist campaign

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You would have thought after the week Charlie Crist had endured during the last part of June — with even his hometown newspaper jabbing him for being off his game — that whoever is in charge of his campaign pleaded with the rest of the staff, “Please, for the love of God, can we just get through the holiday-shortened week without another screw-up!”

Unfortunately for Cristworld, that was not to be. In fact, it was deja snafu all over again for the increasingly sluggish Crist campaign.

Last week began with the Tampa Bay Times‘ Adam Smith blurbing on the Buzz blog that the Crist campaign was sponsoring a race car in the Coke Zero 400. The week ended with Crist’s name being scrubbed from said race car, but not before the Republican Party of Florida filed an elections complaint and the Crist campaign being made to look like it can’t walk and chew gum at the same time.

Phil Parsons, of Phil Parsons Racing, said he pulled his sponsorship agreement with Crist out of respect for his business partner Mike Curb, a Republican and former lieutenant governor of California.

‘He didn’t feel comfortable and he’s been a huge supporter and partner to us from the very start,” Parsons told The Sporting News. “In respect to Michael, we decided to take it off.”

The Florida GOP had filed a complaint that the advertisement’s value to Crist far exceeded the $3,000 limit on campaign contributions. The Crist decals, which were supposed to go on the car’s hood, would have occupied coveted advertising space that could fetch over $50,000 from a different sponsor.

Crist’s team brushed off the complaint, arguing the advertisement would not have run afoul of any campaign laws.

Of course, Crist’s team brushed off the complaint and the incident in general, but how did Crist and Co. manage to screw up something so simple as putting a decal on a racing car?

It all begins with the fact that it was Adam Smith who first reported the news about the NASCAR sponsorship. Let’s assume for a moment that the Crist campaign did not leak this to Smith in order to generate buzz. That’s a big assumption, mind you, but let’s go with it. Smith either received a tip from a Republican looking to jam Crist up (congratulations, you’re plan worked) or by noticing Crist’s name in some sort of NASCAR advertising registry, if there is such a thing.

Assuming — I know, I know — that Smith isn’t a regular reader of NASCAR publications, it’s safe to say that a Republican (who, of course, reads NASCAR stuff voraciously) tipped off Smith because they knew Crist would get jammed up, either with the mechanisms of that large of an in-kind donation or with an easy-to-predict backlash against Crist.

Here’s a recommendation to the Crist campaign: Any time Adam Smith pops up in your caller ID, go ahead and assume that he is attempting to screw you. Because he is. That is his job. He is a reporter. And he is a reporter who, deep down, does not respect Charlie Crist. He is not your friend. He is likely your enemy (if you don’t think so, wait until you read his upcoming profile of Carole and Charlie Crist).

In other words, stop talking to Adam Smith.

If the Crist campaign wants to speak to the Times, call Steve Bousquet or Michael Van Sickler or Alex Leary. Whatever you do, stop answering Adam Smith’s phone calls.

Of course, it’s not Smith’s fault what transpired after he posted the item, but it’s possible none of it would have happened had Smith not found out about the sponsorship until the middle of the week.

Moving beyond Smith, it’s amazing to me that the Crist campaign did not have the details of this sponsorship locked-up. Did the campaign not know that Parsons’ business partner was a former Republican elected official? If not, why not? If it did, did it not occur to anyone that a Republican politician might have a problem broadcasting the name of a Democratic candidate?

Why didn’t the campaign have better answers about the nature of the donation? Was the donation to the campaign or Crist’s political committee? What was the value of the donation? Did the decals have to have a disclaimer? If so, what did the disclaimer have to say?

At no point did the Crist campaign appear to have control of this situation. And that was before the RPOF filed its complaint or Parsons pulled his sponsorship agreement. After that all happened, the situation spun out of control like a race car with a set of bum tires.

Meanwhile, the Rick Scott juggernaut grinds along, not exactly winning over independent voters, but not making the kind of unforced errors Crist’s campaign seems drawn to.

Although they are decided on Election Day, campaigns often are a battle of days and weeks. Win enough days to win the week, political consultants will tell you. Win enough weeks to win the month. Win enough months and, well, you get the picture.

There are a dwindling number of days left in this gubernatorial race and Crist’s campaign is still driving along as if it were missing a gear.


Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.