Although most people decry negative advertising in political campaigns, strategists say they work, which is why no matter how odious it is to the average voter, it’s not going away anytime soon.
Whether that’s accurate or not, one veteran Florida Republican political strategist admitted at Friday’s Tampa Tiger Bay Club meeting that such advertising can suppress the vote, and be beneficial in helping a candidate win.
“If you can find an issue that would not suppress, but turn people against voting, then we do,” admitted Sarasota-based political consultant Jamie Miller. “That’s part of what we do, and I hate to be that blunt about it, but that’s part of what we have to do.”
Florida Democrats have accused the Republican Party in recent years of trying to suppress the vote by enacting election laws that make it harder to vote, such as the 2011 law that shortened the number of early voting days and hours and tightened other election rules, including voter registration. After an uproar statewide, the GOP-led Legislature added back more early voting hours in 2013.
Pinellas-based Democratic strategist Gregory Wilson agreed that negative advertising suppresses voter turnout. “Sometimes it’s intentional, sometimes it’s just stupidity,” he said, adding that voters should pay close attention to positive messaging, and “ask yourself how truthful that is.”
For all his hard-boiled cynicism, Miller bemoaned the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision, which has helped unleash unprecedented amounts of outside spending over the past three federal election cycles. “If you’re not a political consultant for a Super PAC, or a political party, or a major corporation, you really don’t have much of a job,” saying that there’s just not that much money in running the smaller campaigns that have been his bread and butter throughout his career. In fact, he’s now working in government relations for the second consecutive state legislative session, something that he admits is not something he prefers to do.
The two strategists were joined by former Tampa Mayor Dick Greco and recently elected City Councilman Guido Maniscalco, whose come-from-behind victory over Jackie Toledo in the District 6 City Council election last month was marred with negative advertising, much of it surrounding mysterious third-party mailers attacking Maniscalco that ultimately were later found to have come from a political action committee with connections to a GOP political committee.
Dick Greco boasts of never having to ask people for financial contributions for his various runs as mayor. Talking about anonymous third-party mailers, however, turns his stomach.
“One of the problems isn’t so much the lying or not lying and the stuff that goes in the mail, it’s (that) you can’t tell who it’s coming from. And that’s wrong and that shouldn’t be allowed, period,” he remarked as the audience of around 40 or so people cheered at the Ferguson Law Center in Tampa.
Greco said that during his 2011 run for mayor, two friends (who he didn’t identify) said they wanted to give him $100,000 during the last week of the campaign to form a mysterious political action committee. He said he declined the opportunity.
“Why would you buy into that. And it’s legal?…somebody needs to do something about — where does the money come from and who is forming the PACs? That’s wrong.”
It wasn’t all so heavy duty.
After Greco said he consulted the Bible at times when contemplating what to do with his campaign contributions, another venerable Tampa icon, Joe Redner, asked his former nemesis if he also consulted the Good Book when he instituted the infamous six-foot rule between nude dancers and patrons at establishment’s like Redner’s Mons Venus back in 1999?
“The six-foot rule wasn’t passed for Redner’s place,” Greco told the audience. “Because I’d been in there many times before I got into politics,” he said, as the crowd exploded in laughter. “Actually, he had one of the best places in town for that kind of thing.” He said there were too many of those clubs opening at the time in Tampa, “and the only way you could keep it from happening was to pass the six-foot rule, which doesn’t make a heckuva lot of sense except for that purpose.”
The biggest news that the 81-year-old former Tampa mayor has made recently has been his well-publicized move from his home at Bayshore Regency to a 2,150-square-foot condo near Beach Drive in downtown St. Petersburg.
Greco responded that he and his wife Linda have been making the trek to St. Pete and Pinellas County beaches for years, and sounding a bit wistful, said that unlike his Tampa neighbors who own “three or four houses. One at the beach, one in the mountains.”
He says the reaction from Tampanians has been a bit rich.
“All of a sudden it’s like I moved to Siberia or something to some people,” joking that a friend called and asked if it was long-distance. He added a couple of times that the commute was all of 25 minutes. “It took me longer to go some places in North Tampa.”
“Tampa will always be the hub and the heart of the Tampa Bay area,” he said to those freaked out about his quest for higher quality of life.