Commentary | ‘Moron’ move: Rick Scott campaign's LeBron James-size gaffe

Miami HeraldJuly 14, 2014 

If LeBron James-size gaffes decided elections, Gov. Rick Scott’s campaign is on its way to fouling out.

On Friday, when Miami Heat fans mourned James’ decision to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers, someone from Scott World had a brilliant idea: Compare the basketball champion to . . . Charlie Crist, Scott’s Democratic opponent.

You read that right.

Scott’s campaign “attacked” Crist by comparing him to the wildly popular star who led the Heat to four consecutive NBA finals, including two titles.

Huh?

The logic behind the Scott “attack” is rooted in Crist’s terrible 2010 decision to run for U.S. Senate and not seek a second term as governor. Scott World says Crist was trying to escape the state’s problems by going to Washington.

“What do these two guys have in common? They both ran away,” the campaign said in an email that contained a picture featuring the likenesses of Crist and James.

The Republican Party of Florida shortly thereafter Tweeted out the image with a link to an older attack ad, titled “Run Away,” that savaged Crist for the poor economy on his watch.

Judging from many responses on Twitter, Scott World looked clueless at best and pusillanimous at worst.

“Seriously . . . Making more Miami Voters not like you is not the way to go and makes my job harder in Miami-Dade. Work with me!” tweeted Stephen McDuffie, a former college Republican leader.

Daniel Ruoss, a Heat fan and chairman of the Florida Young Republicans, let loose a string of angered responses.

“Send in your applications. @FloridaGOP needs a new social media handler,” Ruoss tweeted. “The moron putting out tweets for @FloridaGOP should take a lesson from @JebBush.”

That last message linked to the former governor’s statement: “All the best to @KingJames as he heads back to Cleveland. We’ll miss you in Miami. Thanks for four awesome seasons!”

Fawning responses to Bush followed.

Same with his fellow Miami-Dade Republican, Sen. Marco Rubio, who beat Crist in the 2010 elections and lives in Miami-Dade near Bush: “Thank you to @KingJames for giving us 4 great years! Wish you much success back home in Ohio.”

Unlike some Cleveland fans, who burned James’ jersey when he left the Cavaliers four years ago, most Heat fans still seem to revere the star for what he did in Miami.

Yes, a few Heat fans said and did stupid things, which were duly noted on the ever-snarky conservative Twitter-aggregator site Twitchy. It relished noting how a number of them called James a “trader” instead of a “traitor.”

Twitchy also posted a favorable item on Rubio’s classy tweet about James. It stood in stark contrast to another Twitchy post about Scott World’s backfire of an effort to stoke ire over Crist by linking him to James.

“ ‘Your worst tweet ever’: Florida GOP compares LeBron James to . . . Charlie Crist?” the headline said, referencing a tweet from a Broward Republican named Sheela VanHoose, who worked in Scott’s scheduling office last year.

Annette Taddeo-Goldstein, the Miami-Dade Democrats’ chair, piled on with a reference to the racial animus stirred up recently by another basketball figure, the owner of the L.A. Clippers: “Whoa! Did @FloridaGOP just pull a #DonaldSterling? @CharlieCrist @KingJames.”

Democrats’ attacks are nothing big. But if you’re a Republican and Twitchy is mocking you to its 158,000 followers, you have a problem.

Also, the backfiring “attack” on Crist came on the heels of an Associated Press article days before that detailed numerous unforced Scott errors.

Scott’s defenders argue it all doesn’t matter. It’s just Internet and newspaper noise. There’s truth to that.

Gaffes usually don’t decide elections the way that TV ads do. Scott has paid for about $15 million worth, compared to Crist’s $576,000 in ad spending that he began reserving last week.

Now Scott, once badly trailing, is nursing an inside-the-error-margin lead over Crist in some polls. Crist has also had his share of missteps, notably the former Republican’s decision not to debate longtime Democrat and rival for the nomination Nan Rich.

Crist is almost guaranteed a win in the Democratic primary. But the general election is likely to be close. Every little slip can cost a vote or two.

In that context, Twitter and social media at large, and the nuts and bolts of campaigning and message-discipline, all matter.

The backfiring “attack” on Crist speaks to a deeper problem for Scott World: It’s hyper-aggressive, views criticism (no matter how constructive) as disloyal, and frustrates fellow Republicans time and again — most notably Coral Gables billionaire Mike Fernandez, a million-dollar Scott contributor who quit his role as top campaign fundraiser earlier this year in frustration at what he saw as dysfunction.

Scott World also unwittingly reinforces its own negatives about the governor and the campaign. It has had its share of criticism for being populated by out-of-state advisors and operatives — some of whom live in or have close ties to Washington’s political class.

Aside from whether the LeBron James backfire buttresses the out-of-stater narrative, it’s quite a feat to attack the longtime Floridian Crist for wanting to “run away” from the state when Scott World is populated by many who are A) not from here or B) not intending to stay here or C) both.

It’s clear what should run away from Florida politics: over-the-top sports hysterics.

Take that stuff to Cleveland, where it — like LeBron James — belongs.

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