By Marianela Toledo | Florida Watchdog
MIAMI — If this were anything other than a political campaign, the penalty flags would be flying.
But it is a political campaign, and so far, the race for Florida governor is getting pretty nasty.
The Republican-run website www.floridadems.com doesn’t sugar coat:
“Allison Tant claims to be a fighter for the values of Florida’s middle-class families, though she doesn’t believe they should be able to keep more of their own money and doesn’t support budgets that include record state-based funding for education.”
Tant is the newly elected chairman of the state’s Democratic Party.
The Democrats’ realrickscott.com reads like a rant:
“The Real Rick Scott: He’s spending $100 million to try to make you forget his real record:
- An administration mired in scandal.
- Cuts to education, big hikes to college.
- Big giveaways to wealthy special interests and corporations.
- Disrespecting immigrants — and denying them of their rights”
At first glance these websites seem like the real deal. But look a little harder and you may end up confused.
The state Democratic Party appears to run www.floridadems.com. Once on the main page, visitors are greeted with a map of Florida and the party’s perennial symbol: The donkey. Scroll halfway down the page and you’ll find The Team, each with a photo and a biography of state party leaders. They include Allison Tant, president of the Florida Democratic Party, state Rep. Darryl Rouson D-St. Petersburg, and Allie Braswell, a former candidate for state Chief Financial Officer.
But take a close look, and it becomes clear the website is a ruse. Scroll to the bottom of the page and the it is plainly marked: Sponsored by the Republican Party of Florida.
“This is not a joke,” Susan Hepworth, press secretary and deputy communications director of the Republican Party of Florida, told Watchdog.org
“The website was created was to look like that. The Democrats didn’t think to buy the domain, so we took advantage of that and bought it,” she said.
Besides, she said, “They (The Democrats) set up a website to talk bad about Rick Scott.”
Indeed they did. The website created by the Democratic Party of Florida, called www.rickscotts2013.com, slings its fair share of mud.
“Rick Scott tried to use 2013 to whitewash his political image. He failed.”
The Democrats also have advertising spots highlighting what they claim to be the governor’s scandals, failures, incompetence and missteps.
It doesn’t end there. In July, the Florida Democratic Party launched RealRickScott.com, where they blow up the governor’s “extreme agenda” and exaggerate the controversies of his administration and his support of the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law.
It seems clear the 2014 political season is going to be as hot as an August day in the Florida Everglades.
“We will use all vehicles available, including digital properties, to carry our message to voters across the state,” said Susan Hepworth, press secretary and deputy communications director of the Republican Party of Florida. “Thanks to Rick Scott and Florida’s job creators our economy is in much better shape than it was while Charlie Crist was asleep at the wheel as governor.
Joshua Karp, communications director of the Florida Democratic Part,y said the point of all the insults and dirty fighting is to give Florida residents the real facts of the Scott administration.
“I do not think it is a negative campaign, but to show people what Scott has done and what we have to offer,” he told Watchdog.
University of Miami law school professor, Internet blogging and elections analyst Michael Froomkin said the rickscott2013 site is less deceptive than the Floridadems site. Within a second of reading, it’s obvious what’s going on, he said.
“The Floridadems site is much more misleading because … it uses a donkey logo that people might think was real and … you probably have to read at least four lines of the first column to figure out it’s a fake,” he said.
So how does this all bode for voters heading into election season?
“I think Floridians are as weary as others of partisan constipation, ideological sclerosis and the erosive effects of extremists,” Kenneth W. Goodman, a professor and co-director of the ethics programs University of Miami, told Florida Watchdog. “You do not hear the phrase ‘ethical campaign’ very often, but I think we’re ready for less lying, less use of personal destruction as a tactic and less vitriol.
“A rough-and-tumble campaign is fine, but please – enough eye gouging and hitting below the belt. Ravenous political ambitions are just not worth further damage to our precious institutions and our beautiful country,” Goodman said.
Contact Marianela Toledo at Marianela.Toledo@FloridaWatchdog.org twitter @mtoledoreporter