Many primaries that are just around the corner have not yet taken to the airwaves, as I noted yesterday, but Floridians are already being treated to a preview of their gubernatorial race’s fall campaign. While the primaries are still seven months away, Alex Sink and Bil McCollum are clearly favored to win their party’s nominations, which explains why attack ads started flying this week.
The first salvo was fired by the RGA: A 15-second spot going after Sink’s background as the former president of Bank of America’s Florida Operations is the national committee’s first ad this cycle. “As bank president, Alex Sink eliminated thousands of Florida jobs while taking over $8 million in salary and bonuses,” claims the ad, an attack that should resonate since the financial sector is hardly the most popular industry at the moment.
While candidates who have worked in the private sector like to tout that experience, it could be hard for a former Bank of America executive to do so (just as a Merrill Lynch consultant is facing questions about bonuses he received over in New York’s Senate race). The ad concludes: “Alex Sink, not one of us, one of them” - a slogan we are sure to hear in dozens of races this cycle. Given both parties’ tight relationship with the corporate/lobbying world and their attraction to multimillionaire businessmen who will be able to self-fund their campaign, there’ll be plenty of opportunities to question who candidates are looking after, though the question should be asked about the political establishment at large.
In fact, Democrats are showing no sign of being intimidated by the GOP’s efforts to portray Sink as an elitist banker not looking out for the people because they believe they can counter with the same exact argument aimed at the Republican front-runner Bill McCollum. For one, he is a former lobbyist so how can he make the argument that Sink is not “one of us”? But that is not the angle the Florida Democratic Party chose for its response ad, which it unveiled yesterday; rather, they went after McCollum for his tenure in the U.S. Congress (he was in the House before running for state Attorney General). The ad highlights votes he took like raising his pay raise and raising the U.S.’s debt limit, as well as blaming him for how much the debt skyrocketed during his tenure:
Oh, the irony. The debt is now the GOP’s most important issue, and the NRCC is sure to air ads against countless Democratic incumbents blaming them for having agreed to raise the debt limit in a vote this month. But this argument will be made without any consideration of how much the debt skyrocketed during the Bush years - and Democrats will insist that the debt is not the most important measure of the country’s health while voicing the same exact attacks against incumbent Republicans. Of course, that’s not to say that these ads won’t be effective, nor that Floridians aren’t turned off by the prospect of electing a former Republican congressman to their statehouse.
Note that I am not sure whether there is a substantial buy behind this ad, and am somewhat puzzled by the idea that Democrats would already go after McCollum considering there is a slight chance he will not be the Republican nominee. While no one doubts he is the clear front-runner, state Senator Paula Dockery is running as well, and the primary remains far enough that she has time to gain some traction. In particular, she is considered to be a more conservative candidate than McCollum and could have more success if she can link her candidacy to Marco Rubio’s (though Rubio would be unlikely to play along).
The RGA’s choice to attack Sink is more understandable given she looks far more certain of being on the November ballot. That said, the committee’s choice to air its first ad of the year in Florida is an interesting one. While it can partly be explained by the fact that they don’t have to fear going after a Democrat who’ll end up losing the primary, they could have aimed at someone like John Hickenlooper in Colorado, Tom Barrett in Wisconsin or the countless of vulnerable Democratic incumbents. I suspect the RGA might have been motivated not only by Florida’s importance but also by the hope that they could kick Sink while she is already down. (This motivation cannot be present in states like Colorado and Wisconsin, where Barrett and Hickenlooper are polling roughly even which means defeating them looks like it will have to be a long-term effort for the RGA.)
While Sink was highly touted by Democrats when she entered the race in 2009, she has since failed to inspire much confidence that she’ll be able to beat back the cycle’s pro-Republican tide, quite the contrary. Last week, The St Petersburg Times and The Miami Herald both published brutal pieces describing Sink as a lackluster candidate who is barely trying to put together the sort of active and exciting campaign Democrats will need this year. In fact, the former piece makes Sink sound like the second coming of Martha Coakley - simply disinterested in campaigning:
Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Kendrick Meek is everywhere holding grass roots political events, while Sink’s main Republican gubernatorial rival, Bill McCollum, regularly has “Breakfast with Bill” community meetings or rolls out grass roots campaign teams. Democrats say they see little pulse with the Sink campaign unless it involves soliciting campaign checks. “As a grass roots organizer, it’s difficult to make a case for a candidate who is unknown. I’ve never been contacted by the campaign,” said Ann Zucker, president of the Weston Democratic Club in Broward County…
“Alex does not like to work a room, and for the faithful that want to touch her and feel her, she doesn’t radiate that kind of warmth that they want. That’s Alex — she’s not warm and fuzzy,” said former Democratic legislator Sam Bell, a strong Sink supporter.
With friends like that… Of course, some of this fretting likely comes from the fact that Sink has been seeing her poll numbers decline by the month, which after all has been the fate of most Democratic candidates nationwide. But that will hardly make Democrats feel better about a candidate they once believed to be formidable trail by double-digits in one of the country’s most important swing states.
The latest poll, released by Rasmussen yesterday, has McCollum leading Sink 48% to 35%; even if you mistrust Rasmussen, the trendline is brutal since McCollum led by 11% in January and 5% in December. In fact, the closest Sink has gotten to McCollum in the five polls released in 2010 is 9%. That’s a revealing statistic given that the first seven polls of the race found margins ranging from a small Sink lead to an 8% McCollum edge, with most showing the race within the MoE.
A final note about Florida: I can’t help but wonder whether there is any possibility that Charlie Crist might at least attempt to work his way back to the Governor’s race. To be clear: I find this prospect extremely unlikely - most importantly because he would face just as tough a time defeating McCollum in the gubernatorial primary than Marco Rubio in the senator primary. Yet, with two new polls released yesterday and today finding him falling a jaw-dropping 18% behind Rubio (more on this in my polling round-up to come later this week), I am wondering how Crist might react if such polls multiply in the weeks ahead. The Governor is a very ambitious politician who had presidential aspirations and was transparently eying the VP spot in 2008; can he really stick to the Senate’s GOP primary? Unfortunately for him, he might have no good choices at this point - but that doesn’t mean a desperate man will not attempt desperate solutions. At the very least, that’s what Senator Jim DeMint appears to be thinking.