“Don’t look so angry when you’re talking.”
“Talk about Donald Trump.”
“Don’t talk about Donald Trump.”
“Spend more time in the black community.”
“Spend less time in the black community.”
“Shave your mustache.”
All of this advice — well, except for the part about the mustache — has probably been directed Rick Baker‘s way after he underperformed in St. Petersburg’s mayoral primary.
That he essentially tied an incumbent Democratic mayor in a heavily Democratic city is beside the point. Baker was supposed to be setting up a transition team by now. Instead, he’s scrambling to replenish his campaign coffers as he prepares for a two-month, overtime campaign versus Rick Kriseman, who is suddenly the most important Democrat in Florida.
For the record, I had plenty of advice for Baker, but decided not to sound like Aaron Burr (“Talk less, smile more“) once it became apparent Baker would be armchair quarterbacked by every wannabe political consultant in St. Petersburg.
No, the advice I shared with Baker was to:
a) come up with a mechanism for dealing with all the advice and suggestions he is receiving; supporters want to believe they are being listened to;
b) approach the runoff with as much intensity as possible; having worked one of the last runoff elections conducted in Florida, I remember that in that race the candidate who came out of the gate quickest after the primary won the runoff;
c) raise a boatload of money — quickly;
d) not listen to my advice; the last time I touched a mayoral race in melted down in spectacular fashion;
e) make a single personnel change, namely bench his TV ad man, Adam Goodman.
It brings me no pleasure privately and publicly criticizing Goodman. And it will probably hit me in my wallet, too, as Goodman’s firm has placed several thousands of dollars worth of digital ads on my sites.
But I care too much about St. Petersburg not to say this …
Rick Baker’s ads sucked.
And not only do I think that, but that was the consensus of almost every Baker supporter I spoke to — many of whom are major contributors to his campaign — in the days after the primary election.
“All I saw was an angry man with a mustache yelling about sh*t in the water,” said one prominent Republican donor.
“Where was the super hero origin story?” asked a political operative who has worked on several successful local campaigns.
Here’s the bottom line: Baker underperformed last Tuesday despite spending SEVERAL HUNDRED THOUSAND dollars on television ads. I don’t know what the final figures are, but he probably outspent Kriseman by at least $150,000.
Now, some will say that all that money is exactly why Baker did as well as he did. But that’s not accurate. Baker’s strongest performing precincts were the Republican strongholds in northeast St. Petersburg he was going to win whether or not a single dollar was expended targeting those voters. And I cannot believe he beat Kriseman in Midtown — where the percentage of households with cable TV is less than what it is across the rest of the city — because of his TV ad campaign.
No, Baker got what he got based on his historical reputation and the non-TV buy aspects of his campaign. His media plan did relatively little for him.
Put it this way, Baker invaded Kriseman Island and fought to a stalemate because he had no air cover.
Goodman doesn’t deserve all the blame for this. Baker, of course, bears the most responsibility. If for no other reason than he’s the type of politician who doubles as his own general consultant. Yes, Jim Rimes and Nick Hansen direct the campaign and the aspects of the campaign they oversaw functioned as they were supposed to, but Baker really doesn’t have anyone around him who can take him on a walk to Jesus and say, “Hey, you’re screwing up here.”
Who, after all, can tell Rick Baker, “No!” (Other than his wonderful wife, Joyce, that is.)
And so Goodman kind of operates with Baker the way he always has: compartmentalized to TV, almost as a freelancer. When this works — as it did in Jeff Brandes’ 2010 campaign with the “Woodshed” ad — it can turn the tide in a race. When it doesn’t work, as was the case with David Jolly in 2016 and now for Baker, Goodman’s TV ads can feel disconnected to the realities of what’s happening on the ground.
This was the first ad aired by Baker’s political committee, Seamless Florida.
As The Joker asked in The Dark Knight, “Why so serious?”
The ad is attempting to make a first impression, yet from the 21-second mark on it looks as if Baker is telling the viewer the doctor just found a polyp in their colon.
It is debate whether the sewage system crisis was the issue on which Baker should have attacked Kriseman, but there’s no disputing the fact that this is a sub par spot. It’s not horrible, but there’s simply no zing to it. It’s just more sh*t in the water … as if anyone in St. Pete wasn’t acutely aware of everything shown in the ad.
At this point in the campaign, what voters saw from the Baker campaign was a nebulous, angry intro spot and a slapdash negative hit.
Where’s the Sorkin in any of that?
Where is Baker-was-a-great-mayor-wouldnt-it-be-great-if-he-was-mayor-again?
At his election watch party, Kriseman said something incredulous. It’s reminiscent of the opening scene in “The American President” when President Andrew Shepherd and his staff discuss a line in his speech that lands with a thud: “Americans can no longer afford to pretend that they live in a great society.” Then … nothing. No explanation. No context.
Speaking about the time Baker served as mayor (2001-10), Kriseman said something similar about St. Pete.
“Those days were good for Rick Baker, but they weren’t good for our city.”
Were I Rick Baker, I would drive a truck through that sentence.
First of all, Kriseman served on City Council during those years, so if they weren’t good for our city, he had a role to play in that.
The sentence is also patently false.
The Baker years were the salad days for the city. Even Baker’s critics concede that. The only argument is whether they marked the first or second renaissance in modern St. Petersburg’s timeline.
The years 2001-2010 were very good for St. Petersburg.
Everyone knows this. Well, except for anyone watching an ad from the Rick Baker campaign.
There was no ad of Baker standing in front of the Dali museum with him saying, “We did this.”
There was no ad of Baker standing in front of The Palladium with him saying, “We did this.”
There was no ad … well, you get the point.
All voters saw was an angry man with a mustache yelling about sh*t in the water.
So is this Baker’s fault or Goodman’s?
It really doesn’t matter at this point, does it? The team that was supposed to light up the scoreboard struggled to score points. So what do you do? Fire the head coach or the offensive coordinator?
Sack the OC, is what I say.
The reality is Goodman is, at his core, still a Tampa guy, which is the worst quality to have if you want to write for a St. Pete audience. Give me someone from anywhere else before you give me a Tampa guy.
This begs a good question. Even if Baker were to bench Goodman, who does he go with it at this late date? One suggestion would be to go with the On Message team which seems to know Florida so well.
Another suggestion would be to take a page from a prominent Florida Republican who unseated a Democratic incumbent. That would be Lenny Curry‘s go-to guys Brian Hughes and Tim Baker. (Where was this kind of spot or this one from Baker/Goodman?)
If not either of these, Baker should find someone new to create his TV ads during the general election.
It’s either that or shave the mustache.