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Politics

Attack Ads Flying in Gubernatorial Race

August 16, 2010 - 6:00pm

With early voting already taking place and less than a week to go until the primary elections, candidates across the Sunshine State are taking part in a time-honored tradition of Floridas unique political culture -- and attacking each other.

Perhaps the most divisive gubernatorial battle in Floridas history -- and certainly the most bloody -- took place in 1565 when Pedro Menendez de Aviles, the Spanish explorer who founded St. Augustine, took on French Huguenot Jean Ribault. Both men claimed to be governor of Florida. From his base at Fort Caroline on the St. Johns River in present day Jacksonville, Ribault launched an attack on St. Augustine, only to have his fleet destroyed by a sudden hurricane. Menendez led the Spanish to Fort Caroline and ran the French off. A few weeks later, Menendez found the shipwrecked Frenchmen and slaughtered most of them -- including his gubernatorial rival Ribault.

Leigh Read, a prominent Democrat in territorial Florida, killed Augustus Alston, one of the leading Whigs in the state, in a duel with rifles at 15 paces back in 1839. Read himself was killed by Alstons brother Willis in 1840. Legend has it that Alstons sisters removed the bullet from Augustus corpse so that Willis could kill Read with it. When Prohibition Party candidate Sidney Catts ran for governor back in 1916, he carried two pistols with him on the campaign trail -- and Catts was a minister.

Hardball politics did not enter the Sunshine State in the bitter contest between Claude Pepper and George Smathers for the Democratic U.S. Senate nomination in 1950 like so many people think. Its always been a part of Floridas unique political culture.

Certainly the cast of candidates running for office in 2010 lived up to that cultural tradition on Tuesday.

Health-care executive Rick Scott launched a new ad on Tuesday against Republican gubernatorial primary rival Attorney General Bill McCollum -- linking McCollum with disgraced former Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer.

Any sense of cordiality between the two campaigns has long since vanished and the new Scott commercial is no different, ripping into McCollums connections with Greer, who faces money laundering charges, in harsh terms.

Who backed Jim Greers efforts to hide financial irregularities? asks the narrator of the commercial. Bill McCollum.

This ad frames the choice that Florida voters have a week from today, said Jennifer Baker, a spokeswoman for Scott.Rick Scott is a conservative outsider with business experience and a specific plan to bring jobs and prosperity to Florida. His opponent is a career politician and Tallahassee insider owned by special interests who is so out of touch with the people that he believes government should operate in secret so that deals can be cut. The only way to put an end to the politics-as-usual that have put Florida on the wrong path is to elect a conservative outsider who has a record of creating private-sector jobs. Its time to clean house and shine a little sunshine back on state government.

Rick Scotts latest ad is as fraudulent as the massive Medicare scam that took place on his watch as the disgraced former CEO of Columbia/HCA, shot back Matt Williams, McCollums campaign manager. Considering Bill McCollum was the person responsible for referring the information to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement that led to a criminal investigation and, ultimately, Jim Greers arrest, Floridians will see right through Rick Scott for the fraud that he is.

The irony in Rick Scotts latest ad is that he possesses many of the same character traits as disgraced former Republican Party Chairman Jim Greer, added Williams. Like Jim Greer, Rick Scott has been the subject of endless allegations of fraud and criminal acts.

The Florida First Initiative, a 527 organization supporting McCollum, fired back on Tuesday with an ad of their own bashing Scott.

The ad hammers Scott for not releasing his deposition in a case involving Solantic Urgent Care, a company in which the gubernatorial hopeful is an investor. In a not-particularly-subtle maneuver the ad closes by listing Scotts name -- with the c and the o being represented by a pair of handcuffs.

State CFO Alex Sink, the overwhelming favorite to be the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, launched her first TV ad of the campaign earlier in the week. Hoping to take advantage of voters being turned off by the bitter Republican contest, Sinks ad features two actors who vaguely resemble the GOP hopefuls bickering with one another while the CFO pledges to fight for Floridians.

My opponents have spent their time attacking each other and me, instead of talking about how they will attack the very real challenges facing our state, wrote Sink in a statement on the release of the ad. And I'm calling them on it!

Of course, the Republicans fired back on Tuesday -- running a website and a new commercial attacking Sink.

The Floridas Future Fund (FFF), which is associated with the Republican Governors Association (RGA), launched a new website attacking Sink for her record at NationsBank and Bank of America. The FFF maintained that Sink oversaw at least 6,000 Floridians losing their jobs when NationsBank bought out Barnett Bank.

The RGA and the FFF launched a 15-second ad, blasting Sink for the loss of those jobs while accepting more than $8 million in salary and bonuses.

The more Floridians know about Alex Sinks disastrous tenure as a bank president, the better they understand that she would be an even worse failure as governor of Florida, said Tim Murtaugh, a spokesman for the RGA.Alex Sink eliminated thousands of Florida jobs and in this economic climate, Florida simply cant afford to put her in charge.

The Sink camp quickly responded on Tuesday, with Shellie Levin, who serves as Sinks deputy campaign manager, sending out an e-mail to supporters, attacking the ad.

Alex's new ad has only been on the air for one day, wrote Levin. And already a Republican front group called Florida's Future Fund has started running a false and misleading TV ad attacking her.

We knew the attacks were coming, but never this soon -- it's clear the Republicans think the only way for them to win is if they drag Alex down to their level, continued Levin.

Levin should have known the attacks were coming. They're as much a part of Florida as oranges, sunny days and tourists visiting the forts lining the First Coast where Menendez and Ribault feuded 445 years ago.

Reach Kevin Derby at kderby@sunshinestatenews.com or at (850) 727-0859.

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