The special election campaign to fill the 13th Congressional District of Florida seat in the U.S. House of Representatives is no more raucous, hyperbolic, dishonest, and all around incoherent than most. In fact it’s about average, which means it’s very dishonest and incoherent indeed.
Watching the TV ads in this hotly contested race — I’m obliged to as I live in the same TV market as St. Petersburg, the largest city in CD13 — it’s makes one wonder why anyone ever contributes to a political campaign. And as this race, rightly or wrongly, is considered to have national significance since it will say something about the national mood (whatever that is), lots of money is pouring into this one from all points. The mute button on lots of Central Florida television remotes will be put to good use between now and March 11, the date of this special election, which probably isn’t as special as the national political experts believe it is. At least the local broadcast industry will do well out of this fandango.
As is the case in most races in the republic, the candidates in this one, at least those of the two major parties, eschew calm and reasoned discussion of what they would do to bring the country back to strength and respect abroad and prosperity and cultural cohesion at home in favor of calling their opponents names.
Republican candidate Dave Jolly doubtless overstates the case when he accuses Alex Sink, his Democratic opponent, of using a State of Florida aircraft to go on vacation in the Bahamas. She only took the plane to Miami and got the rest of the way on her own hook. If it was improper even to take the Tallahassee to Miami hop on the taxpayers’ dime, this is a minor abuse of the privilege of office, a misdemeanor. Jolly also accuses Sink of not managing the state’s money properly when she was Florida’s CFO. This is a hard one for voters to understand, and impossible to communicate in a 30-second ad.
Sink’s charges are wilder. They amount to outright distortions on important issues. In her ads and in the one television debate held so far she accuses Jolly of attempting to privatize Social Security and throw the future of senior citizens onto the stock market. He’s done no such thing. He has repeatedly said that the government must keep the promises it has made to everyone who is invested in the system. Jolly talks about entitlement reform in general terms, but his approach to Social Security reform is so timid I wouldn’t be surprised to see him take some fire from the right on the issue. The charge is baseless and Sink knows it is. But there seems to be a Democratic Candidate Union work rule requiring all Democrats seeking office to accuse their Republican opponents of attempting to take Social Security away from seniors, whether or not said opponent has ever even uttered the word Social Security in his life.
Sink, her campaign, and the various groups supporting her, have branded Jolly with a scarlet L for having worked as a lobbyist. After leaving his long-time employment with the late Congressman Bill Young — whose death in October after 43 years of representing CD13 is the reason for this special election — Jolly indeed did work as a lobbyist in Washington. Hardly a crime, though Sink would have you believe it is so in Jolly’s case.
Sink’s horror of the vocation of lobbying seems to have popped up very recently. When Sink was president of Florida Operations of NationsBank from 1993 to 2000, she was active with the Florida Bankers Association and the American Bankers Association, the main function of both of these fine groups being — wait for it — lobbying. Shudder. And it would not take long looking down the list of the contributors to Sink’s current campaign to spot enough names to make up a fair stable of lobbyists. No word yet from the Sink campaign of any intention to return the tainted contributions from those plying this evil trade.
So the accusations fly back and forth on television ads while Central Floridians build up slabs of callus on the thumbs they use on their mute buttons. There may or may not be further debates. Sink isn’t very good on her forensic feet, and so isn’t keen on debating. But the ads and the debates may be for naught, or at least for very little. Polls, mostly done by local firms with questionable competency, are all over the place, ranging for a five-point Jolly lead to an eight-point Sink lead. Taking political temperatures is difficult enough in presidential years when large percentages of voters turn out. In off years it’s even more difficult to determine who the likely voters are.
But little of this sound and fury may matter. Turn out has historically been very low in off-year, special elections. Predictions run from a high of one in three to a low of one of five registered voters expected to cast a ballot in this one. So the business may well be settled by which candidate is able to get his or her voters to the polls. Republicans have historically been better at turning their voters out in off years, but Democrats are coming on. So taking things all around, I plan to stick with my fearless forecast that this one trends close. And whoever wins, Republicans will still control the House.