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Thursday, Jun 21, 2018
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Steve Otto Columns

Otto: District 13 race was one bad TV commercial

It's always fascinating watching the spin following something as overblown as this week's District 13 special election in Pinellas County.

And maybe “overblown” isn't the right word either. When the huge political machines that dominate politics in this country dump so much time and money on a single congressional race that will have to be contested all over later this summer, “overblown” doesn't quite fit.

I think if you're looking for a quick picture of this race, it came as winner David Jolly was summoned to the stage to accept victory from a video of TV game show host Bob Barker inviting him to “Come on down!” as the theme song from “The Price is Right” played.

Somehow, that says it all. The results of this race were as much about money as anything else. Millions of dollars spent largely on television advertising by both sides took half-truths and outright lies and slicked them up to pound out commercial after commercial until we went running for Netflix.

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From the beginning, Jolly was seen as a third or maybe fourth choice for the Republicans. As the campaign continued, it was obvious those perceptions had merit. By voting time he looked less a leader and more just another stiff who will fit in perfectly in a do-nothing Congress where he could stay forever.

His opposition was little better. Although smart and someone who at least appeared able to offer some leadership and a strong voice, Alex Sink came off as the carpetbagger she was.

Too bad she wasn't running in Hillsborough County, where on Election Day a steady stream of callers to the elections office wondered why their precincts were closed and they couldn't vote.

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A few days before the election, I spoke with one of Sink's workers who has been a longtime Democratic supporter and who has worked campaigns across the country.

He came to this campaign late and was stunned by its lack of organization. He went on to say it did not appear any better organized than Jolly's campaign. It was his feeling everything was being fought out in TV commercials.

If there was an issue, other than the carpetbagger one, it was the so-called Affordable Care Act.

All things being equal, Sink should have won if only because she seemed to have some personality, while Jolly mostly had that deer-in-the-headlights look. That's how elections are usually won or lost these days. But he — or at least his backers — managed to pin the Obamacare brand on Sink's forehead as if it was a scarlet letter ... and it was.

The only surprise for me was that Lucas Overby, the Libertarian entry, couldn't do better than 5 percent. Nobody expected him to win or even come close, but in a race that was so wretched in its style and lack of substance, at least Overby presented an option. Then again, maybe that's because his people couldn't afford commercials.

At least it's over, and Jolly has a few months to use some of his lobbying skills and do something, which might be asking too much in a do-nothing Congress.

I'll wish him well as he returns to Washington in a very different role.

Meanwhile, just when you thought it was safe to turn on the TV, it was announced this week that Gov. Rick Scott was releasing his first TV ads. Don't you think investigators ought to take a closer look at campaign commercials and see if they really are affecting climate change?

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