For the past year, living in Florida has meant having Gov. Rick Scott and Charlie Crist as constant and mostly unwanted companions.
If you own a TV, you get the picture.
Ad infinitum. Ad nauseam. About $83 million since March.
For months, TV viewers have been forced to withstand a seemingly endless barrage of vicious ads from Scott and Crist as they try to trash talk their way to the Governor’s Mansion, 30 seconds at a time.
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Scott and Republicans have spent $56.5 million on ads and Crist and Democrats have spent $26.5 million. Scott has bought far more ads in Tampa Bay than anywhere else: It’s the biggest TV market in Florida and Crist’s home base.
“Gov. Scott is betting his mansion on Tampa,” said Scott Tranter, a principal and consultant for a Republican-leaning data analytics firm, 0ptimus.
Using data from broadcast stations and the Florida voter file, 0ptimus has concluded that Tampa Bay viewers have seen the most negative ads from Scott about Crist, with 95 million impressions since Sept. 1.
That means a Scott ad has been seen in whole or in part 95 million times across the Tampa Bay TV market.
In a first-of-its-kind race where both candidates have been governors, voters say the two men have cheapened and demeaned the high office they seek. Their total lack of mutual respect is magnified by the fact that they refuse to address each other as “governor” and instead use “Rick” and “Charlie.”
“They have absolutely denigrated the office,” said Anne Corona of New Port Richey, president of the West Pasco Republican Club.
What Corona says she hears from her neighbors is that the ads are almost useless in educating voters about how the candidates would solve the state’s problems.
“The negative campaigning doesn’t define either candidate’s positions on the issues,” Corona said.
Many ads contain outright falsehoods, such as Scott’s ad in which an investor claimed he was “swindled” by Crist (he wasn’t) or Crist’s ad that claims Scott invoked the Fifth Amendment in a deposition to avoid jail time for fraud (it was an unrelated legal dispute).
All those ads have clearly accomplished one thing: Scott and Crist are among the least-liked candidates for statewide office in Florida history.
“The negative campaign turns me off,” said George Welch, 50, a Republican from Dade City. “I wish it wasn’t so dirty.”
Jerry Schreiber, 75, of Miami, a Democrat, said he’s wearing out his remote.
“It sure has affected me using the mute button,” Schreiber said.
“Disgusting,” said lifelong Republican Jim Kaehler, 81, of Lutz. “You’d think the campaign managers for the candidates would be a little smarter about what they’re doing.”
The campaigns poll voters on a regular basis. Their numbers tell them which of their TV ads are getting the results they want.
Public polls show that over the course of the campaign, the popularity of both men has tanked, and Crist’s has fallen steeper because he used to be more popular than Scott.
Scott entered the TV ad war first, in March, with a positive message about how his hardscrabble childhood made him more concerned for Florida’s families.
The ad was soon forgotten, drowned out by a torrent of negative attacks.
Scott calls Crist corrupt and dishonest, a slick politician and a lousy governor.
Crist calls Scott a liar and a thief who ducks the truth and is just too shady.
It’s advertising, a form of mental persuasion or mind control, and it works.
In the Tampa Bay TV market alone, the two campaigns have spent $21 million on ads, more than any other in the state.
That’s because Tampa Bay is a place with a lot of swing voters, and TV ads in Tampa Bay don’t cost as much as they do in Miami.
Statewide, since mid-September, Scott has filled airwaves with two ads more than any others, according to 0ptimus.
Nearly 10,000 times, Scott has aired the spots highlighting Crist’s ties to Scott Rothstein, a campaign donor-turned-convicted Ponzi schemer.
Scott’s campaign makes no apologies for its strategy.
“Charlie Crist has a terrible record. We have plenty to talk about,” Scott spokesman Greg Blair said.
During the same period, Crist has mainly run two TV ads about healthcare fraud at Scott’s former hospital chain and showing Scott taking the Fifth Amendment in a long-ago deposition. Crist aired the two ads 6,400 times in the past five weeks.
The strategy is obvious: Call the other guy a crook and hope that voters agree.
Each side accuses the other of an underhanded but effective trick: Carpet-bomb the state with so many negative ads that many people will refuse to vote.
That would shrink the universe of voters to a small but highly reliable nucleus of true believers, and Republicans have outperformed Democrats in past midterm elections in Florida.
“It’s the new normal: Suppress the vote with negative ads,” said Mitch Ceasar, chairman of the Broward County Democratic Party and a Crist supporter. “I really think it’s part of Rick Scott’s strategy.”
Online, both sides use short-handed titles for their ads on YouTube: “Swindled,” “Shady,” “4,000 Lies,” “Smears,” “For Sale,” “Ran Away” — and its Spanish version, “Nos Abandono.”
Those titles reflect the current state of democracy in Florida better than anything.
Tampa Bay Times staff writer Katie Mettler contributed to this report.