Decades back, those enfants terribles of Miami hip-hop, 2 Live Crew, presented us all with a choice: As CLEAN as they wanna be? Or … more tantalizingly … as NASTY as they want to be?
For me, the choice was easy. I’m sure some people didn’t take the measures I did to get the nasty version—I came out of it with some extra trading stamps, I’ll say that much—but my teenage mind couldn’t fathom why anyone would want the clean version of an album.
I think that holds true for political campaigns, too. The winning ones are always as nasty as they wanna be.
In the first half of the race for mayor of Jacksonville, incumbent Lenny Curry spent money and slammed challenger Anna Brosche, who was not buying time anywhere. Critics call it gaslighting. One person close to the action marveled at why it took Brosche weeks and weeks, and even given a runway, why she couldn’t put together an ad depicting the transactionality that Anna’s Army believes defines Suite 400. While many have pointed out the disproportionate influence of Shad Khan, Peter Rummell and the rest of the big-money crew on executive branch policy, clearly it’s too third-rail even for a reformist candidacy to touch in an ad.
What we did get was interesting: Lenny Curry has “nothing to say” about ending the “Curry Crime Wave,” because he’s too preoccupied dissing Councilwoman Brosche. The Brosche ad is a big bet, a six-figure spend in a budget that hasn’t come close to seven figures yet, and might never. The argument is simple. Are you sick of Lenny Curry yet?
If Brosche’s “stop lying about me and solve the crime problem” ad sticks, maybe she can keep Curry below 50 percent and prolong the contest into May. However, that presumption is based on the dynamic remaining static. Sort of like Andrew Gillum’s fourth-quarter messaging, which had no answer for the narrative laid out regarding Hamilton, junkets with lobbyists, and the rest of the small-potatoes horse-trading that helped DeSantis close the deal.
Word is that Curry will drop an ad lampooning Brosche’s spot, and it would be a smart play. The mayor maintains a cash-on-hand advantage, and can play more tricks, including routing money to statewide political committees (Hello, Florida Senate Republicans) to maximize the impact of those buys.
How many shots can Brosche afford (in the literal sense) to throw? Down by 38 in one survey (UNF’s drops today, and will be friendlier), she hasn’t spent much of her own money for this race.
Curry’s campaign has been more measured than one might think. There’s oppo that could have been played, but hasn’t—and might never. That tells me they like their polling. It’s only when GOP campaigns feel threatened that the real stuff comes out. (Example: the brutal hits Ron DeSantis and Adam Putnam ops shopped last year.) So, until Brosche drives up her own name identification and/or Curry’s negatives, the real dirt stays under the rug.
Democrats don’t seem as hip to the game. Even though a metric ton of oppo was there to use against Andrew Gillum, his opponents didn’t bother. It was as if they trusted public polling or something.
Right now, Anna Brosche is a functional Democrat. While there is a bit of a shell game regarding official backing, what’s clear is that the Florida Democratic Party has no problem with local resources being used on a candidate who ran as a moderate, pro-business Republican in 2015. Brosche has been spared from even having a platform in the traditional change-agent sense of the word. And media has spared her even the kind of grilling Bill Bishop got in 2015 over shifting positions on LGBT rights. Her campaign events, if advised to press, are done so sporadically.
She escaped two potentially problematic narratives last week, the kinds that in different cycles may have been blown up. Sunshine Law storyline: a glancing blow. Ethics complaint: mistakes will happen. No rapid response from Lenny Curry’s operation like there would have been in 2015.
The reason is simple. They trust their metrics. If they can win in March with 51 percent of the vote, that’s good enough for them.
Word is, Brosche is tightening her stump speech and strengthening the emotional appeal. She’s going to have to. The fact that Curry’s operation has played this campaign so vanilla suggests they are trying to tamp down whatever populist fire may be building. Apparently there will be a debate at Jacksonville University on March 6.
When they try to destroy Brosche, that means she’s making progress. If they don’t? It’s because their polling says, “Don’t bother.”
Win or lose, it will be interesting to see how Brosche calibrates for 2023, a year that could have her, Daniel Davis, Aaron Bowman and Audrey Gibson in the mayoral mix.