Sunday, August 27, 2006

Race for GOP Gubernatorial Nomination Tightening?

A poll commissioned by the Florida Chamber of Commerce, carried out by the firm of Insider Advantage/Majority Opinion Research, interviewed 500 likely Republican voters. The poll found 39 percent supporting Charlie Crist and 29 percent supporting Tom Gallagher. 29 percent of voters were undecided. The poll was conducted Aug. 23-24 and had a margin of error of +/- 4 percent.

Following the release of the Chamber poll, the Crist camp released their own internal poll, which put Crist at the magical 50 percent mark and Gallagher 20 points down at 30 percent. This number is closer to the numbers Floridians have been seeing lately, with Crist holding an approximately 20 point. However, polls released by campaigns are too be taken with a grain of salt.

Additionally, Crist has released an ad attacking his opponent. This suggests that he is not completely comfortable with his ability to decisively put down Gallagher. He could also be worried, as has been suggested, by Gallagher's hiring of top notch Republican media man/attack dog and a veteran of Jeb Bush's '98 campaign, Michael Murphy.

Personally, I believe it likely that the polls are closing - they almost always do as a campaign winds down - and this one is almost over. Crist's staff is probably worried that anything less than a crushing defeat, by which I mean 15 points of more, will be taken as not meeting expectations. In these situations, most campaigns will try to play the "expectations game," and talk about how polls tighten and try to lower the bar. However, it is not unheard of for a campaign to kick into overdrive to meet those expectations.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Cleland to Campaign for Busansky

Former Georiga Senator Max Cleland (see photo) will be campaigning for Phyllis Busansky (see photo) on Sunday, August 27. Cleland is Vietnam War veteran and lost both his legs and an arm during that conflict. In the original "Swiftboating," he was attacked by then Congressman Saxby Chambliss (now Senator) in 2002 for opposing a Deparment of Homeland Secuity in an ad featuring images of Osama Bin Laden, Saddam Huessein and Cleland. Cleland wrote the original bill to create the Department of Homeland Security.

Cleland will appear at two events for Busansky. The first will be in Newport Ritchey at the Ramada Inn Bayside at 5015 US Highway 19. The first even begins a 12:30. The event is not a fundraiser.

Later, he will headline a fundraiser for the Democrat. The event will take place at Bella Brava on 515 Central Avenue in St. Petersburg. The fundraiser will begin at 3:00.

Busansky is a former Hillsborough County Commissioner. The likely Republican candidate is Gus Bilirakis, the son of the seat's current holder, Mike Bilirakis.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Tampa Still Angling for RNC Convention

Tampa Republicans and the Tampa Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau are continuing to lobby the Republican National Committee to host its quadrennial convention in Tampa from September 1-4, 2008.

Florida is the fourth largest state in terms of electoral votes. It is also the largest swing state. The electoral votes for the three largest states are not really in any doubt - California (Democrat), Texas (Republican), and New York (Democrat). In addition, roughly half of the swing precincts in Florida are within the range of the Tampa media market.

On Sunday, August 20, members of the RNC site selection committee visited Tampa as part of a forty-eight hour fact finding trip.

The group headed to a private home on Harbour Island for dinner with a who's who of business and political leaders. The guest list supposedly included Florida Republican gubernatorial candidates Charlie Crist and Tom Gallagher, Republican donors Al Austin, Dick Beard and John Sykes, Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard, retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, University of South Florida president Judy Genshaft, and Congressman Adam Putnam.

Invited to additional events Monday and Tuesday are Congresswoman Ginny Brown-Waite; Pinellas County Commissioner Ronnie Duncan; state Reps. Bill Galvano, Rich Glorioso, and Trey Traviesa; executives from TECO, Publix, Sweet Bay, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Tampa Bay Buccaneers; and Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio (see photo).

Despite the apparent advantages of the area, there are some disadvantages - such as the fact that September 1-4 is prime hurricane season. Another can be seen in the last name on the list: Pam Iorio.

How much effort and how many resources is Iorio, a Democrat, willing to spend on bring the Republican convention to Tampa?

Other handicaps include relatively few hotel rooms downtown and poor public transportation infrastructure.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Sink Plans to Buy Air Time Early

Air time for television ads are cheaper the earlier a campaign reserves the spots, but the ability to purchase the time at the cheaper rate for the last weeks of the general campaign.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Tampa Tribune Profiles Candidates in District 1 County Commission Race

The Tampa Tribune filed profiles on candidates for the open 1st district seat on the Hillsborough County Commission. The incumbent, Kathy Castor, is running for the 11th Congressional District.

The paper profiles Don Kruse, Gary Santti, Brad Swanson, and Tampa City Councilwoman Rose Ferlita.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Smith Wins Endorsement in Davis' Backyard

In the last post, I asked what needs to happen for Sen. Rod Smith to convincingly cut Congressman Jim Davis' lead in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. Perhaps the latest round of endorsements is just what he needs.

Smith was endorsed by the Palm Beach Post, Lakeland Ledger, and Daytona Beach News-Journal.

But none of that compares to the St. Petersburg Times endorsing Smith. The Times is the most respected paper in the Tampa Bay area (no offense to the Tampa Tribune) that Davis represrents in Congress.

While it can be convincingly argued (and often is) that newspaper endorsements aren't worth the paper they're printed on, the decision by the Times editorial board not to endorse the local candidate, i.e., Davis, is a real blow to his campaign.

More Polling in Davis, Smith Race

A Kitchens Group poll taken over August 9-11 shows Sen. Rod Smith pulling to within the margin of error against Congressman Jim Davis. Unlike the McLaughlin poll, which had the race within one point, this new poll gives Davis a 4 point edge. Assuming that Smith's television commercials have closed the gap, this still seems more likely than the idea that Smith has completely erased Davis' lead.

A joint poll by Schroth, Eldon & Associates and the Polling Co, commissioned by the St. Petersburg Times, gives Davis a 35% to 21%lead over Smith. This snapshot was taken a little earlier - August 6-9 - but better reflects what we've been seeing throughout this campaign.

What does this all mean? More and more polls are showing Smith pulling closer, but there are still doubts as to how close. Smith's campaign manager, Paul Neaville, is very strong at directing field campaigns and generating excitement in the base and has worked on governor's races across the southeastern United States. Certainly, he knows how to close a gap on the ground.

But there aren't many more shopping days left until Christmas. The primary is September 5th. Does Smith have enough momentum to pull ahead by then? Smith went on the air first, a gutsy and expensive move, and that gave him the potential for a quick bounce, but Davis will be matching him from now on. My suspicion is that the bounce from the ad wasn't enough for Smith. He has been in public appearances, but Davis comes in with a lot of advantages - including representing the Tampa Bay area. But one thing that ever poll and every analysis has said, is that this race could go either way. With the GOP primary seeming all but finished, Smith and Davis will both benefit from increased earned media as the press turns its focus the Democratic side. Let's see what they do with it.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

GOP Candidates for CFO Win Dueling Endorsements

Rep. Randy Johnson won the endorsement of the Florida State Troopers in his quest for the GOP nomination for CFO.

His opponent in the primary, Sen. Tom Lee, won the support of the National Rifle Association and the Unified Sportsmen of Florida.

Polls Show AG Race, Democratic Gubernatorial Primary Tied; Pres. Bush Drag on GOP Ticket

A McLaughlin & Associates poll taken between August 3-7 shows the race for Attorney General between Democratic Sen. Walter "Skip" Campbell and former Republican Congressman Bill McCollum to be a dead heat, with a statistically insignificant lead for Campbell. He leads McCollum, who has twice before unsuccessfully run for statewide office, by 28% to 27%. Almost half the electorate - 45% is undecided. Another McLaughlin poll, taken in late July, showed the same results.

In the Democratic primary for Governor, the same poll shows Sen. Rod Smith edging into within one point of Congressman Jim Davis. The poll shows Smith forging ahead, with Davis maintaining a 21% to 20% lead. In the July McLaughlin poll, Davis lead 25% vs. only 11% for Smith. However, the rapid change could be due to the volatility of an electorate with so many undecideds and the fact that Smith went on the air early.

Nationally, President Bush's numbers, which had been creeping back up - even approaching 40% in some polls - has dropped back down to 33% in a recent Associated Press-Ipsos poll. Bush's numbers are most likely to hurt GOP candidates for federal office - including in our own 9th Congressional District, but also in the 22nd in Broward and Palm Beach Counties and in the 13th around Sarasota.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Castor Unveils First Ad

Hillsborough County Commissioner and District 11 Congressional candidate Kathy Castor has her first ad up and running.

The ad (available here) is decent stuff. It emphasizes local issues and her accomplishments on the county commission. In an evironment where everyone (Republican and Democrat) is running on the platform that they will not be a rubber stamp for President Bush, Castor is playing on that trend, but with a local twist. She talks about protecting Hillsborough residents against utility companies (energy companies are an excellent villain) and against Republicans when they tried to cut healthcare.

Overall, it's a solid ad. Not very creative, but her lead is such that it doesn't have to be. It's very unlikely than any of her opponents will be able to compete with her on the air, so if she can run this on a decent buy for the last four weeks before the primary, Castor may have this race well and locked up.

Property Insurance Companies Spend Big on Florida Politicians

With rising premiums for homeowner's insurance turning in a major issue in several races (here, here, and here). The Institute on Money and State Politics, which catalogues and analyzes contributions in state races, finds their fingerprints all over Tallahassee.

Sue O'Connell, research director for the Institute, said that in 2004, Florida ranked 10th among all states in total contributions from political donors. But in candidate contributions from the property insurance industry, she said, Florida politicians ranked second in the nation, behind only California that year.

A study by the South Florida Sun-Sentinel found that the industry contributed $11.2 million to Florida candidates and state political parties, with roughly three of every four dollars to Republicans. The 2006 campaigns already have received at least $1.7 million from the property insurance industry.

"It's always hard to say that the money bought something specifically, but the money certainly buys the industry access to decision-makers,'' said O'Connell.

On May 16, Gov. Jeb Bush signed into law a 156-page property insurance bill that, according to the Sun-Sentinel, guarantees higher policyholder costs and bigger insurance industry profits.

Jeb's Foundation Spends More Than $100k on Media Production - Our 100th Post!

Gov. Jeb Bush's Foundation for Florida's Future is continuing to ramp up its operations by paying political advertising firm, the Victory group, $126,750 for "media production." The Foundation paid the political consultants more than $20,000 back in February.

While organizations like the Foundation for America's Future are required to file their disbursements, Bush's foundation is actually listing them on their website. The question is - why?

No one doubts that Bush will not be satisfied to a former governor and the brother of the President, but it is generally agreed that he will not run before 2012 or 2016, though lately he has been letting rumors about joining a presidential ticket as the vice-presidential ticket circulate.

Is Jeb telegraphing his ambitions to potential presidential candidates by keeping his political spending in the public eye?

On a related note, Bush's rumored presidential partner, Senator John McCain, has endorsed Crist in the gubernatorial primary.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Ag. Commissioner Race Has Implications for Republicans Statewide

Downticket statewide races like Commissioner of Agriculture usually attract little attention - and incumbents like Charles Bronson are rarely threatened, with such seats often only becoming competitive after a retirement leaves it open. But this year, in Florida, things aren't working out that way.

A poll by the Republican firm of McLaughlin & Associates found Republican incumbent Charlie Bronson leading Democrat Eric Copeland by a mere 27 percent to 23 percent - within the margin of error - with 50 percent undecided.

Copeland had originally filed to fun for Attorney General, but switch to run for Commissioner of Agriculture after Democratic Senator Walter "Skip" Campbell joined the race. It was widely assumed that Copeland was primarily running to build his statewide profile for later campaign, but this poll suddenly puts him into contention.

The incumbent does has a large fundraising advantage. Bronson has rasied $1,139,473.42 and has $988,830.75 on hand, compared to only $32,390.03 rasied by Copeland, who has also loaned his campaign $132,000 and has $158,454.84 cash on hand. Copeland may be able to improve his fundraising, based on this poll, but will almost certainly remain at a monetary disadvantage to Bronson.

In a broader sense, looking beyond the Bronson-Copeland race, this poll seems to suggest that, at the statewide level at least, Florida voters are willing to give Democrats a chance in virtually any statewide race (gerrymandering has rendered most legislative races uncompetitive - our own SD 16 being a notable exception).

This is upheld by the latest Rasmussen poll, which has GOP frontrunner Charlie Crist's lead over Democratic frontrunner Jim Davis narrowing the lead to five points. In the previous poll, taken in late June, Crist held a fourteen point lead.

Campaign finance numbers courtesy of the Florida Division of Elections.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

National Journal Ranks Florida Senate Race

The National Journal's rankings of the U.S. Senate races places Florida at the 17th most competitive Senate race out of 33 - in other words, not even in the top half.

However, the National Journal also posits that virtually any Republican not Katherin Harris could win 45% of the vote. While 45% is still a long way from 50% plus one vote, considering that polls have been showing Katherine Harris with less than 30% of the vote against incumbent Bill Nelson (see photo), 45% has to look good to the operatives at the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Polls Show Support for Davis, Crist, Sink, and Justice

Recent polls have given the edge in the upcoming primaries to Charlie Crist and Jim Davis (see photo) in the Republican and Democratic primaries, respectively. However, the Democratic primary between Davis and Rod Smith is considered wide open, with 64% over voters undecided. The number of Republican undecideds was only 34%. Additionally, Crist has maintained a strong lead for months, while the Gallagher campaign has been struggling with scandals and poor fundraising.

In other Republican primary for CFO, Tom Lee leads Randy Johnson, but with a whopping 78% undecided, that lead is frankly meaningless. In the general election, Democrat Alex Sink leads both Republicans. In the race for Attorney General, Skip Campbell has a statistically insignificant lead over Bill McCollum.

While the poll was not released, Senate Democratic leader, Steve Geller, told reporters that internal polls showed Democrat Charlie Justice with a ten point lead over his potential Republican opponents. In April, Justice touted another poll, also showing him with a lead over either possible Republican opponent.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Sink Introduces "Porch Parties"

Alex Sink (see photo), the Democratic candidate for CFO, is inviting volunteers to host "porch parties" in support of her campaign.

Porch parties sound remarkably like the house party model for grassroots utilized by Howard Dean in his 2004 presidential campaign. In the Tampa Bay area, Frank Jackalone, the Sierra Club's senior staff member in Florida, unsuccessfully attempted to use the model to organize opposition to President Bush's re-election campaign in Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties.

Johnson Accuses Lee of Using Push Polls in CFO Campaign

Rep. Randy Johnson (see photo) accused Sen. Tom Lee of using "push polls" against him. The Republican legislators are locked in a tight battle for the GOP nomination for CFO.

"The callers of course did not identify themselves, but wasted no time in asking voters if they would still vote for state Rep. Randy Johnson if they knew the following information, and then proceeded to spew personal untruths and innuendo about my character," Johnson said on August 2nd.

Lee, naturally, denies the charge.

Voter Consumer Research Inc., a Houston-based firm, conducted phone calls into Florida. The pollsters — who used information from news reports and Johnson's state house campaign finance reports — asked residents if they would vote for Johnson if they knew he had spent campaign money on items such as dry cleaning, Brooks Brothers and fine china.

Those expenditures were made at least three years ago when Johnson was running for reelection for his House seat, and before lawmakers, under pressure from Lee, tightened restrictions on campaign spending and reporting.

Johnson spent $221.97 for "dry cleaning" in his 2002 reelection campaign. The dry cleaning was for red, white and blue bunting that adorned the stages of his campaign stops, according the Johnson campaign.

President George W. Bush has used Voter Consumer Research for polling on various occasions over the last decade.

According to the Mystery Pollster, a push poll is defined at follows:

If the sponsor intends to communicate a message to as many voters as possible rather than measure opinions or test messages among a sample of voters, it qualifies as a "push poll."

However, many people mistake an ordinary poll, which will legitimately test responses to negative messages, for a push poll. Signs that a poll is a "push poll" rather than legitimate survey research include a caller not bothering with the time consuming tasks performed by most real pollsters, such as asking a lot of questions or asking to speak to a specific or random individual within the household.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

State Report on Red Tide Disputed

A state report claimed that there has not been an increase in the incidences and severity of red tide in southwest Florida, but University of Miami marine biologist, Larry Brand, has already criticized the findings.

"Red tide is more abundant," he said. "You can count on it getting worse."

Other reports see red tide and other harmful blooms increasing on a global scale.

According the Mote Marine Laboratory:

Florida red tides happen when a naturally occurring single-celled microscopic organism called Karenia brevis – which is always present in the Gulf of Mexico – undergoes a population increase. Florida red tides occur nearly annually on Florida’s west coast and occur in other areas of the Gulf of Mexico as well. Karenia brevis produces neurotoxins that can kill marine mammals, fish and other marine creatures. Blooms have been shown to affect humans with chronic respiratory problems such as asthma. Because of these impacts, blooms may also
have major impacts on coastal residents, visitors and economies.

Many environmental groups link red tide to human causes, particularly pollution from agricultural run off.

Commissioner Norman Requests $1 Million for Campaign Contributors' Project

District 5 Hillsborough County Commissioner, Jim Norman (see photo), convinced fellow commissioners Mark Sharpe, Ken Hagan, and Tom Scott to set aside $1 million for sound abatement walls to keep noise from the Suncoast Parkway out of the expensive Cheval West neighborhood.

Cheval residents have contributed more than $5,000 to his campaign - 3% of his total contributions. Cheval subdivision developers Jim and Kathy Stackpoole each contributed the maximum to his campaign.

Redington Beach to Hold Recall Election

Perhaps following California's lead, the small Pinellas town of Redington Beach will be holding a recall election. The recall will try to oust Commissioner Sam Maniotes.

Maniotes plans to challenge the recall election in court on the basis that the charges against him listed on the recall petitions do not meet recall requirements set by state law.

If that effort fails, he said, he will campaign actively to keep his seat.

The initial recall petition, filed in May, accuses Maniotes of neglect of duty, malfeasance and creating a hostile work environment for town employees.

The recall election will be held September 19th.

State GOP Writes Off Katherine Harris

Despite having promised not to write about Katherine Harris again, recent revelations have put a new twist on the saga.

A May 7th letter from Florida GOP Chairwoman Carole Jordan to Harris said, "Katherine, though it causes us much anguish, we have determined that your campaign faces irreparable damage. We feel that we have no other choice but to revoke our support."

Harris' spin was that Jordan was pressured by Republican "elites" to write the letter. In a July 31st statement, Harris called the letter "old news" and said that Jordan had never expressed concerns about her campaign. However, that same day, Jordan said, "our concerns about the race and the nominee's ability to knock off Bill Nelson still exist."