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Friday, Sep 19, 2014
Joe Henderson Columns

Voters the losers in this season of negativity


I feel relatively confident saying that many people have never heard of Elizabeth Cuevas-Neunder, but 11 percent of the voters in Tuesday’s Republican primary chose her anyway over incumbent Gov. Rick Scott. That’s worth at least a raised eyebrow.

And although Democratic candidate Nan Rich didn’t have a lot of money and polls showed she didn’t have a chance, she received more than 212,000 votes against Charlie Crist. That’s the political equivalent of raised eyebrow 2.0.

Pundits say the lesser- and no-names on the undercard of the governor’s ballot attracted so much support because voters weren’t fired up about either of the main candidates. They say the nightly onslaught of “He stinks, No, he stinks” attack and counterattack ads on our TVs contributes to that.

That’s probably true, or have we forgotten about how Republican Mel Martinez smeared Democrat Betty Castor in the 2004 Florida race for the U.S. Senate? He unleashed a deluge of ads accusing Castor of turning the University of South Florida into a hideout for Islamic jihad.

Her crime: When she was president there, she didn’t immediately boot suspected terrorist sympathizer Sami Al-Arian off the faculty. Of course, she wasn’t allowed to arbitrarily dismiss Al-Arian without going through a lengthy procedure, but that little detail was left out of the ads.

Martinez eventually won a tight race.

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Yep, going negative in politics can yield positive results — provided that all one cares about is winning.

“It works because it cuts the core strength of the opponent,” analyst and retired USF political scientist Darryl Paulson said. “Every candidate has something they do well, and if the opponent can attack that it can help them.

“In Crist’s case, his biggest drawback is that he was governor once and could have been easily re-elected — everybody concedes that. But he gave that up to try to be the junior-most member of the U.S. Senate, a body with a high negative image.”

Many complain about the lack of exciting candidates for the state’s top offices, but maybe it’s because people who might be qualified simply don’t want to put up with the baloney that it takes to win.

“It’s one of the reasons we keep getting the candidates we’re getting,” Paulson said.

Just for giggles, let’s say we could coax Tony Dungy into running for governor. Can’t you see the attack ad now?

“Who is the real Tony Dungy? Is it the one holding the Super Bowl trophy — for Indianapolis? Or the loser who had to be fired by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers? And why does Dungy now associate with murderers and thieves? He calls it prison ministry. Floridians call it suspicious. Tony Dungy: Not right for the Bucs. Not right for Florida.” (Paid for by Citizens Paranoid from Out Of State).

Going negative can cause more than carpal tunnel syndrome from repetitive pressing of the mute button. In a nonpresidential election year, it can cause disgusted and disinterested voters to stay away from the process completely.

That’s potentially bad news for Crist and great news for Scott. There are about 500,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans in Florida, but turnout Tuesday in Democratic strongholds like Broward County (10.7 percent) and Palm Beach (11.9 percent) was weak.

That will change in the general election, when issues like the medical marijuana amendment are likely to drive a greater number of voters to the polls. Will that be enough for Crist, though?

That’s hard to say.

Here’s something easy to say, though. If you think mud has been flying to this point, just wait until you see what happens from now until November. Better wear a raincoat. This will get messy, and we all lose no matter who wins.

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